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.
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.
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.
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 gemcar.com to locate a dealer. Used GEM can be found on ebay or Craigslist.org. 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. Gemcar.com 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.
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.