Are There Good Quality Chinese Scooters?
In short the answer is yes – there are definitely Chinese scooters that are of high quality and offer a terrific value to major name branded scooters. The hard part for the consumer is distinguishing a good quality Chinese scooter from a cheap, poorly manufactured Chinese scooter.
If you do an internet search on the subject you will often find a wide range of varying commentary; from owners who have great experiences with many miles of riding without problems, to buyers who have had very unfortunate experiences with cheap, low quality scooters. The reviews you will find on Chinese scooters will vary so widely because the quality of different Chinese scooters varies so widely.
Chinese Manufacturing and Assembly:
To examine the question fairly, you have to know a bit about the history and current state of Chinese scooter manufacturing. In the mid-nineties, major Japanese manufactures like Honda and Yamaha went to China and Taiwan to manufacture their scooters. Unfortunately, the intellectual property on the designs from these Japanese manufacturers was not closely held. Chinese scooter manufacturing expanded and there became several hundred assembly plants building scooters – both for major name brand suppliers, and ones sold under a Chinese name. Soon, a large number of part manufacturers started surrounding the scooter assembly plants to supply parts and components that would ultimately be purchased by assembly lines and placed on scooters. These supporting part manufacturers had widely varying quality. A scooter assembly plant could buy more expense and much better manufactured parts that rivaled brand name manufacturers, or they could buy very low quality, cheaply built parts.
This is where the quality issue arose. Unlike larger Japanese manufacturers, these Chinese assembly lines did not have a brand name. For example, if you went to a known Japanese manufacturer and asked for the cheapest scooter they could build, using the cheapest, low quality parts they could source, their answer would be “we won’t build that as it does not meet our brand’s standards for quality.” If you asked a Chinese scooter assembly plant to build you the highest quality scooter, using high quality parts, their answer would be “yes, we can do that,” but likewise if you asked them to build the cheapest, lowest quality scooter, with the cheapest parts they could source their answer would be “yes, we can do that too.”
Further exacerbating the ranging quality issue was that the Chinese manufacturers do not invest in their own body styles. Rather, assembly plants buy body panels from a nearby supporting supplier (who are all using similar molds to make the body panels – saving the cost of building molds for their own proprietary body designs). Similarly, these scooter assembly plants source engine components, carburetors, wiring harnesses, tires, and the myriad of other parts and assemble a fully built scooter. As a result, you have thousands of similar looking scooters (as they all used similarly molded body parts to wrap around the mechanical components). While looking very similar; those that were assembled on a quality assembly line with quality parts ended up producing scooters that were terrific in quality. Those that were assembled on a low-budget assembly line, using the cheapest, low quality parts available ended up producing very low quality scooters. Currently, you can buy a great quality scooter or a very low quality scooter that look almost exactly the same – the difference being the mechanical components, tires, engines, wiring harnesses that lie beneath all the shiny plastic.
In fact, many of the quality branded Taiwanese and Japanize scooters are manufactured in China – however, having a brand name to protect, these companies select high quality parts to go into the assembly of scooters, and keep a close eye on quality at the end of the production.
Due to the manufacturing and assembly variations, you can now buy a quality Chinese manufactured scooter for half to one-third the price of a branded Taiwanese or Japanese scooter. However, you need to know what you are looking at – as many cheaply built scooters will look very similar in outward appearance.
With the mass production of Chinese scooters, many US based importers started to import and sell Chinese scooters. This again led to another place for variation to occur in the quality of Chinese scooters. Those importers that visit China, build relationships with the manufacturer, have control over the assembly of scooters, and monitor quality bring the US market very high quality scooters at an affordable price. However, there are a number of importers that are just looking for the cheapest cost scooter they can import and sell. These less sophisticated importers pick the cheapest, lowest quality components, and often never visit a Chinese factory to maintain quality control in the assembly process. These importers simply provide the lowest cost product and never stand behind the quality of their scooters.
Dealers vs. Online Scooter Sales:
Making matters more complex, there are a lot of online companies selling Chinese scooters. Since the consumer is purchasing “sight-unseen,” never being able to see the scooter until it is purchased and arrives at their door; the competition among online sellers tends to revolve around supplying the cheapest, lowest quality scooter that can be produced. Once the scooter arrives to the customer, there is little if any recourse or return ability (for a customer to ship back a scooter for return is often almost as expensive as the scooter itself – and that is only if the online seller will take it back once shipped).
The second issue with online sales is that the scooters normally arrive approximately 80% assembled. Thus, customers receive a shipping create (which they need to dispose of), and little to no instruction on how to assemble or properly prepare the scooter for the road. Without checking torque on bolts, changing to quality oils (most scooters ship with engine/gear oil not that is not meant to run the engine), ensuring all electrical connections are tight and sound; many customers ride only a few hundred miles before damaging engines and transmissions, or having components come loose with use.
Finally, most online sales come with a very limited warranty that is hard to make a claim on. While many online companies talk of 3 month and 6 month warranties, they are predominantly “parts only” warranties with significant “loopholes.” This means the cost of labor for the mechanic who fixes the scooter is paid for by the customer. Then the customer must go through a “return of merchandise” procedure with the online company prior to being able to return a defective part for a new one. This makes it very hard for a customer to make a claim on a warranty. Many online sellers will provide poor technical support, long timelines for new parts, and require customers pay shipping for both the return of the defective part and shipment of replacement part (these shipping costs are often higher than the cost of the part itself).
Conversely, a reputable dealer should have a showroom with assembled scooters for viewing and inspection. This allows customers to see the quality of product prior to purchase (limiting the ability for a local dealer to sell a low quality product). A good dealer should also be able to explain the quality components used in the scooters they sell and be knowledgeable on any questions you ask.
Prior to your purchase, a good dealer should have an inspection routine for a skilled mechanic to change oil, check bolts for torque, adjust steering and brake components for functionality, and drive the scooters prior to delivery to ensure everything is in proper working order.
Finally, any reputable dealer should provide a written warranty at the time of sale, and be able to clearly explain the coverage they provide. A good dealer will also have skilled mechanics who work on the scooters they sell, carry parts in stock, and have a strong relationship with the manufacturer to get you replacement parts under that warranty.
Tips For Getting a Quality Scooter:
1. Make sure you have a good understanding of the components and parts used in the assembly of the scooter you want to purchase. If you judge by outward appearance alone, you run the risk of buying a cheaply made scooter that uses low quality parts and components.
2. Unless you are a good mechanic, buy from a reputable scooter dealer. A good dealer will prep your scooter prior to delivery and provide you with a written warranty outlining coverage. Further a reputable dealer with have mechanics and the ability to get parts to honor that warranty. Finally that dealer should have the ability to repair your scooter even if the warranty period has expired.
3. Follow recommended service intervals – changing engine and gear oils and other service items will help your scooter run much longer than one that is not maintained – regardless of quality.
At Metro Scooters, we have researched and select only high quality scooters for sale. We have strong relationships with our distributors who do an excellent job sourcing quality parts, visiting assembly plants, and maintaining quality control over the scooters they import.
Metro Scooters is full service dealership (licensed, bonded and insured) that provides and explains written warranties on all the scooters we sell. We have the parts and ability to repair your scooter if things go wrong. Further, we service and repair our scooters after warranty periods, and specialize in Chinese and Taiwanese scooter repair for those scooters we don’t sell.
We hope this blog post has been helpful. Happy and safe riding.