Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some things to consider before buying a NEV

With gas approaching $5 a gallon I've been getting more serious inquiries about owning a GEM. There are some things that one needs to be told about that may not be obvious initially.

Yes no gasoline but . .
You use batteries. I think I saw somewhere on the net that it is under a dime a mile to run the GEM. Still a great deal but eventually the batteries need to be replaced and they are expensive, about $1000-1200 depending on which battery you purchase (flooded or Gel). Don't buy cheap inappropriate batteries, you will regret it. My GEM has about 1700 miles on it and I bought it with 50miles on it and was a year old. Batteries will go bad whether they are used or not. How you drive will effect their longevity also.

Battery life
I currently have, as of this writing, approx 1700 miles on my in 15 months. I still am not sure about how many miles I will go before the batteries need to be replaced. Some folks on the Yahoo group claim upwards of 9,ooo miles on their batteries. Mine probably will not last that long because they sat for a year before I bought them and with my mods I think the life expectancy is reduced. Batteries are rated in charging cycles and the GEM is rated at approx 1000. That means the battery can be recharged about 1000 before it needs to be replaced or worn out which ever is first.

An accident in a GEM (or any NEV) would be very bad, you have virtually no protection. Pay extra attention while driving to make sure the other drivers see you and do not get caviler in a 25MPH car. One good thing about the GEM is that it is an eye catcher.

Time traveled
Depending on where you drive and how you get there you may need to allow more time for travel. With a stock GEM you will have a maximum speed of 25mph on flat ground, it will be less when going up a hill and it is governored to 25mph coming down a hill, though it will be charging the batteries. In short. your maximum speed is 25mph

Rated with a 30 mile range
This is in a perfect world and will vary with conditions: road surface, is the ground flat or inclined, temperature, how you drive, and number of occupants in the GEM. We have a 4 seater and I notice a significant difference in battery life when all four of us are in it. If you can get to a location (re: work) and charge it for a few hours you are all the better. Personally I would rate my range in the 20 mile range. As the batteries drain the GEM loses speed so it becomes impractical to drive much farther.

Driving Habits
Your driving habits will effect range too. Drive like a lead foot and the batteries will drain much sooner. It's just like a gas car, mpg are related to how you drive.

An unmodified GEM has a maximum speed of 25mph so you want to be courteous to other drivers by think about using alternative routes. Unless it's rush hour and I'm not the slowest vehicle on the road I tend to take a side road to get where I'm going. Yielding or pulling over when cars can not pass is a good idea too. I also will scan ahead, by that I mean if I see a traffic light up ahead and there is no way I'm gonna make it I will coast or drive slowly to try and time the light change. With gas prices as high as they are now I've noticed that a lot of people are driving slower.

Where to find & price
If you want new they are handled by certain Chrysler and Dodger dealers. Visit to locate a dealer. Used GEM can be found on ebay or A used GEM should go for about 3-$4000 for a 2-seater & 5-$6000 for the 4 seater depending on year, options, and condition of batteries. The good news if your buying used they do not seem to hold their resale value

Cost to operate
As mentioned above battery replacement can be a big hidden cost of owning a GEM. Electricity isn't free so one must calculate the cost to charge the NEV. has a cost calculator if you know your electricity rate per kilowatt hour. According to the Yahoo group it is around .08 cents per mile to run a GEM

Yes GEMs can be moded. Some more easily than others, depending on the year. Arguably the easiest mode is to increase the tire/wheel diameter. This would increase your speed anywhere from 3 to 5MPH. The downside is your speedometer will no longer be accurate. Another favorite option is to replace the motor with a more powerful one. GEM come with a 5HP (I think starting in the 2008 model year a 7HP was optional, the earliest GEMs may have had 3.5HP motors). Replacing the 5HP motor with a 7.5 or 8.5 HP motor will increase speed but if used aggressively it will significantly deplete the batteries range.

Creature Comforts
A GEM has many options available. Any kind of door on a GEM is optional. Hard doors need to be installed at the factory. Soft and semi-hard doors can be purchased aftermarket. I bring this up because one's hair is a mess in a GEM without doors after traveling. Stereo, CD player, heat, heated seats, it's all available but remember . . . . it's a golf cart

The GEM is not totally green because chances are your powerplant uses fossil fuels of some type to power your home which intern charge your GEM. But you are not idling at a stop light either. The other thing is your should look at it, for most commuters, as a secondary car. by that I mean not your primary car - unless you regularly stay close to home.


Anonymous said...

In the paragraph about time traveled, I found this statement to be incorrect: "it is governored to 25mph coming down a hill, though it will be charging the batteries." When descending a hill the GEM car uses electronic braking to slow the NEV to 25 mph, but does not charge the batteries in this way. Also I felt like mentioning that an 8.5 HP motor is not avaliable but a 7.5 is by an aftermarket company. Overall this is a well written blog.

Joe B said...

If you are going down a hill and the governor engages(electronic braking?) then as I understand it motor becomes a generator. Perhaps I am not using the proper terminology.

The 8.5HP motor is available, here is an excerpt from the Yahoo NEV Group:

"The 7.5HP is $595.00, 8.5HP is $695, and a 9.6HP which is $825.

The 8.5/9.6HP motors are custom built and normally take 5-7 days before
shipping depending on how many orders and parts I have on hand.

If your looking for just a replacement over the 5HP stock motor. Go with the
7.5HP. This will give you close to 50% more power.

If your looking for extreme "SPEED" then the 8.5HP will do the job. The
9.6HP is both "SPEED" and "TORQUE". This is the maximum you can get. The
9.6HP is like a NASCAR / SEMI TRUCK DIESEL MOTOR. This will pull boats out
of docks/airplanes out of hangers/or trailers/equipment in construction

Every customer who purchases motors or gears from me gets the FREE usage of
the Handset Programmer to Program the Gem Controller.

If your Gem is still under warranty is will void the warrant if you modify
it. If you plan on modifying your Gem while under warrant save all your
stock parts.

Thanks Marlon (Phone: 619-247-4044)."

Anonymous said...

I am looking for a heat alternative for the GEM rather than what it is equipped with. We use the GEM for a hospital shuttle and when they put on the heater it drains the battery. We have bought a propane type heater, but I am afraid of gasing out

Anonymous said...

I have a stock 2008 7.0hp Gem E2 I have driven it 7000 miles in 13 months of driving all on the street. It is governed to 25MPH but by tapping on the accelerator while going down hill it can attain speeds in excess of 42MPH (where the speedometer returns to zero) while going down hill. It does indeed charge itself while going down hill especially at high speed on a long decent. Since GEM cars do not coast and the spinning motor acts as as generator on decent I have found that keeping the vehicle at no more than 38MPH is still with in the motors ability without damaging the Bushings.

obroger said...

I just added a blog about installing a stereo in a GEM Car if you'd like a DIY project!

Robert Platt Bell said...

Great blog!

I live on an island where there are maybe 50 GEMs, most of them rentals.

I thought about getting one, but I kept "doing the math" on this, and it didn't add up.

As you noted, the batteries are expensive, and it seems that at about the 5-year mark, they need to be replaced and cost $1000 to $1500, which buys a LOT of gas.

In fact, batteries are the "gas" of the GEM, and for the miles traveled (1500 a year seems to be the norm, and what GEM suggests), the cost per mile is pretty staggering. You could be paying 10-25 cents a mile just in battery costs.

And of course, the vehicles are horribly expensive, too - optioned up they can run $20,000 or more, and the big tax credits are now history.

The alternative - driving your existing car an additional 1500 miles a year, has little or no marginal cost.

(They do not age well, either. A GEM driven 10,000 miles or more, after 5 years, needs a lot of work! I've driven a few older rentals and they get trashed pretty quickly! The local GEM rental guy wants $6000 for these clapped-out wonders. Pretty silly when MSRP on a new stripped model is $7500))

So from a "gas savings" standpoint or economic standpoint, they don't make sense. But neither does a motorcycle.


So it is a FUN vehicle, basically. But I don't have $10,000 to invest in such a vehicle at this point in my life.

Many folks on the Island run modified golf carts (which for some reason, do not require registration on our island, which is a State Park) by jacking them up, fitting larger wheels, and a "speed kit" to bring them up to 25 mph.

This seems like a much cheaper alternative, as such carts can be bought, modified, for about $3000 used, or can be cheaply built from older "retired" golf carts, that can be had for a few hundred dollars at most.

This may be the tack I take. I would like to "build my own" so to speak. I am investigating roof-mounted solar panels, as an experiment. Supposedly, they will recharge a golf cart in about six days.

It would be a good rig for going to the beach and back, anyway...

garry said...

Thanks for posting your insights and experiences.
Anybody looking for Gem Car Chargers or any another accessories!

Ross Cook said...

I've owned a 2006 Gem Car e4 since buying new. I use it mostly for golf and taking the family around our private community. Overall, it is great. Over the years I've installed tons of options from a 7.5hp motor, 16" wheels & tires and soft doors. Though my favorite additions are the amazing stereo / TV / DVDs surround sound system I had custom installed. With today's latest technologies and slim lines of JL Audio marine speakers and amps it has full 7.1 DTS surround sound that out performs my newest cars. The bass comes a custom built box that holds a JL Audio Marine 12" sub and the best part is the box also acts as a perfect platform to place my magaritarator and kegerator. It's a perfect mobile party wagon!