LINCOLN, California -- Before I bought my NEV, I'll admit--I was a bit skeptical. Would I really drive this thing? Is it safe? Can I use it to replace my second car? If you're like me, you're probably thinking the same thing. For me, buying a pre-owned GEM was a way to try out this new concept without a huge financial commitment.
Nearly a year after my purchase, I'm happy to report that the GEM has exceeded all of my expectations. I'd never want to go back to a "regular" car for trips around town. But I'm sure there are many people in the same position I was: a bit skeptical, but looking for a way to give the whole "NEV experience" a try.
In this article, I'll share what I learned about buying a used GEM, and some helpful questions to ask the seller. While the focus is on GEM, many of the same considerations apply to any used NEV you may be purchasing. Please keep in mind that this is general information, and that you need to be comfortable with your final purchase. If it doesn't feel right, walk away.
Because the exterior look of the cars has remained largely unchanged, it is easy to mistakenly assume that all model years are basically the same. Knowing what has changed over the years will help you make an informed decision--and determine a reasonable price.
When searching for a pre-owned GEM, the most common year you'll find is 2002. The 2002 vehicle had some substantial upgrades over the 2001 model year, including an upgraded 5 HP motor and a new charger. In years following 2002, GEM made more gradual, but still significant, changes.
Here are some highlights of the hundreds of changes made over the years: In 2003, the vehicles were given a number of braking and charging upgrades. An automotive-style acceleration pedal, improved ride and handling, a new digital display, and easier steering were several of the changes made in 2004. After a major design review by Chrysler's automotive engineers in 2005, the new Delta-Q charger was added, steering and suspension were both improved, and a number of other enhancements were made. In 2006 GEM introduced many new and enhanced options, including improved doors and bumpers, a stake-back bed, and more. 2006 also marked the introduction of the e6 six-passenger vehicle. Fast charging was added as an option in 2007, and steering effort was again reduced.*
Many people shy away from the earliest vehicles because of the major improvements made in 2002. But some sellers may lead you to believe that their 2001 is really a 2002. Typically, a 2002 vehicle sells for about $1,000 more than a 2001, so make sure you know what you're buying. Later models sell for somewhat more, depending on the year.
Before you buy a vehicle, verify the date of manufacture on the VIN sticker. This sticker is often located on the inside roof, just above the rear window.
With the price of six new batteries approaching $1,200, it's important to know whether the used vehicle you're buying will need new ones anytime soon. Many, if not most, ads boast, "new batteries". However, a lot of sellers damage their "new" batteries by storing the vehicle for a long period of time or failing to maintain the batteries. Before you get out your wallet, ask a few more questions:
Understanding the "right" answers to these questions is easy. Battery maintenance is not difficult--but a lot of people get it wrong. Follow these simple rules, and your batteries will serve you well:
Many sellers buy new batteries, but don't keep them charged. Unfortunately, the batteries can be damaged relatively quickly when discharged. So if a seller has older batteries, or hasn't maintained the "new" ones--ask for a discount.
Personally, I'd rather buy a vehicle with older batteries at a discount, and install new ones when needed. That way, I'd know for sure that the batteries were properly maintained.
The on-board battery charger is a critical factor in battery longevity. Chargers can undercharge, overcharge, or even damage batteries if not used and configured correctly. GEM has changed battery chargers three times over the years. The first was a Schott charger, then came Zivan, and lastly Delta-Q.
Later models of the GEM house the charger under the hood, which is easily accessible. On earlier models, you can see the charger by gently pulling up and out on the base of the dash. There are hazardous voltages in there, so look but DO NOT TOUCH. The gray dash is fastened with Velcro, which you will hear separating as you pull.
If your vehicle has a Schott charger, you may want to upgrade to a Zivan or Delta-Q. Other charging solutions are available from third-party manufacturers, such as Ride-4-Fun. Schott charges are reportedly not as "smart" about the charge they deliver, and end up reducing battery life. Plan to spend around $800 for a charger upgrade if the vehicle you're considering has a Schott.
Zivan chargers are good, but may need to be upgraded. An upgraded Zivan charger does a much better job of prolonging battery life than the original. There's even an upgrade that will automatically re-cycle your power if you leave the vehicle sitting for two weeks. That's a great feature for people who travel or use their GEM at a second home. Ask the seller if the Zivan charger is upgraded. If it is, you'll see a sticker that says, "MICRO UPGRADED". Even if the charger isn't upgraded, you can pay about $120 to have it re-programmed by Electric Conversions, in Sacramento, California.
Lastly, if you have a Delta-Q charger, you're good to go. Currently, there's nothing to worry about, and no upgrades are available.
In June of 2006, Global Electric Motorcars issued a recall for all 1999-2004 GEMs. The upgrade basically "waterproofs" the electrical circuits under the dash. That can come in handy when you accidentally splash through a pothole on a rainy day.
Many pre-owned GEMs haven't had the recall performed, as evidenced by the lack of rubber sheeting under the dash. The good news is that the service is free and easy. GEM will send a service truck to your home to perform the recall. Don't worry if the recall work hasn't been done--but do make sure you schedule a service appointment with GEM by calling 1-866-764-0616.
One of the great things about a GEM is the huge variety of factory and after-market accessories available. Hard or soft doors are by far the most common accessory, and both add value. Door options are so varied, that its difficult to assess the exact value. But consider that if the GEM doesn't have doors, you'll probably spend around $1,000 for some of the more common door options. Hard doors are different, as they must be factory-installed on new vehicles only.
Other common options include a radio, stake-back pickup bed, or even upgraded wheels or motor. Use caution when considering a vehicle with an upgraded motor or wheels. Any modification that increases the top speed beyond 25 MPH is illegal, at least in California. Check with your local DMV if you have any doubt.
Since not all NEVs are purchased for on-road use, it is fairly common to find vehicles with no license plates, or which are registered for "Non-Operation". If you'll be operating your vehicle on the street, you'll need to weigh the difficulty in getting the vehicle fully street-legal.
Generally, if a vehicle is registered as a "non-op", it is fairly easy to register for street use. If the seller is missing any documentation, such as the title, make sure that they will cooperate by filling out the proper forms at the DMV. Many sellers are eager to move on after a sale, and obtaining the title will be difficult without their assistance.
If the seller is missing the title, plates, or documentation (and you still proceed with the purchase) you may want to ask for a discount to cover the extra time and fees it will take to get the car road-ready. But use extra caution when the seller doesn't have the proper documentation. You don't want to spend your first few weeks as a GEM owner in the lobby of your local DMV office.
As with any pre-owned vehicle, make sure to take a good look at all aspects of the car before you buy. Verify that the lights, brakes, seat belts, wiper, and turn signals work. As the GEM has plastic body panels, check for cracks or blistering. Don't forget to check the sunroof for cracks or scratches. While most pre-owned GEMs have low mileage and are in good condition, make sure you understand what you're buying.
So, you found a great deal and can't wait to get your GEM home. You load it onto a trailer, and merge on to the freeway. Suddenly, the horrifying sound of breaking glass fills the air, as the traffic behind you swerves to avoid the debris. As it turns out, the GEM's windshield makes a great sail, but can only withstand so much wind.
As long as the GEM is facing forward on the trailer, and you keep your speed at the recommended 55 MPH or below, you should have no problems. But don't make the mistake of trailering your GEM facing backwards. You will run the risk of blowing out the windshield.
Determining a fair price for a used GEM can be daunting, especially given the difficulty of assessing the condition of the batteries. Be sure to factor in accessories and upgrades, and never assume the batteries are in perfect condition. Used older GEMs can sell for as low as $3,000, but a typical 2002 4-seat vehicle usually sells for around $6,000. Of course, depending on a variety of factors, these prices can vary widely. Don't be afraid to negotiate!
Compared to "regular" cars, GEMs have relatively few moving parts, and tend to be quite reliable. As long as both buyer and seller understand the special needs of these vehicles, both parties will be satisfied with the transaction.
*Thanks to GEM for their assistance with the model year differences.