Drive a NEV

Ok you need the gas-guzzling SUV to take the kids and the dogs and all your equipment to go camping. But do you need such speed and range to do errands around town?

You might want to consider buying an Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) as a second car for your family. Basically it's an electric golf cart that meets the basic requirements to be an on-road vehicle. They are much cheaper than cars, both in up-front costs and maintenance so you probably can afford one as a second vehicle even if a Prius is out of your price limit.

Electric golf carts use a bank of standard lead-acid batteries. They're designed to be used all day then recharged all night. That means that at the end of the day you plug them into a standard power outlet. If you won´t have such a steady use pattern you can look for a NEV that supports "opportunity charging," which allows you to simply plug in whenever you're not using it.

They may seem simple, but NEVs pack a lot of technology into a very small package. Stripped-down personnel carriers can be found for as little as $3,000, while fully configured burden carriers can reach $20,000. Pricing for new golf cars starts at around $4,000 for a bare-bones model. More typical are prices of $6,000 to $9,000. High-end models with all the extras can cost upwards of $10,000. These luxury models include upgraded upholstery, fancy wheels, lights, and details like radios and cell phone chargers.

The more options you add, the more you’ll pay. Some two-seater golf cars can be outfitted with a rear-facing bench seat that lets them carry four people. Some models are open-topped, some have a roof, and some have a roof and a windshield. Expect to pay $200 to $400 for a top and that much again for a windshield. A rain enclosure – usually roll-down plastic sides – can be a nice extra in wet climates.
Don’t feel compelled to purchase every accessory at the outset: in most cases, you can buy a basic model at first, then make the upgrades as you see fit.

An economical choice is buying a used golf cart. Many dealers sell refurbished carts with 30 day warranties. Used utility vehicles can be found for as little as $2,000. You’ll rarely find anything for much less than that – at least, not anything you’d want to depend on for transportation.

Modern NEVs have greatly increased range and power over models available five or ten years ago. They have features like regenerative braking, which helps recharge the batteries as the car slows or goes downhill. Imagine a gas burning car where the tank fills up every time you stop at a red light.

A distinct advantage of electric golf carts is their cost to operate: it can be five or 10 times cheaper than a gas model. Proof that the technology is good can be seen in golf courses with large fleets: gas-powered utility vehicles are no longer as popular as electric golf carts.

Maintenance is an important consideration for any vehicle. Electric vehicles need to have the water level in their batteries checked regularly, which is a simple but critical task. More significantly, the batteries in electric vehicles need to be replaced every couple of years at a cost of $400 to $500. The overall maintenance costs work out to be fairly similar to gasoline engines - combustion engines spread the cost out more, but require more frequent servicing.

Having basic maintenance done regularly – on the schedule recommended by the manufacturer – can drastically extend your vehicle’s lifespan and improve its performance. Something as simple as making sure there’s enough air in the tires can help safeguard your investment. With proper maintenance, you can expect about 10 years out of an electric motor – but manufacturers report vehicles lasting 15 or even 30 years in some cases.

One thing you need to be careful about: Laws governing the use of NEVs are different to those applying to golf carts. You should check with your local authority for information that is relevant to where you intend to be driving your golf cart/NEV. There are differences regarding use of windshields, headlights, brakes etc. There are also differences regarding where exactly you are allowed drive them.

If you think you might want to upgrade your golf cart to a NEV, contact a licensed dealer, as it makes the registration process simpler for you. A dealer can do the paperwork for you, but only if she or he is licensed.

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