Gas vs. Batteries
The first major decision to make when purchasing a new golf cart is to choose between gas or battery powered motors. For first time buys this can be a somewhat of a daunting task as this unfamililar territory-especially when it comes to battery powered vehicles.
There are pros and cons for each side that must be well thought out before diving right in. This article aims to lay out all of these points for both gas and electric powered golf carts to make the decision a little easier for would-be buyers.
Application & Preference
When new customers come in they invariably ask, “What’s better, gas or electric?” My answer is always the same – it largely depends on how you plan to use your golf car and what your preferences are. These days, people get pretty creative with their golf carts so the intended uses can vary more than you might think. For the average user either type of golf car will make a perfectly fine recreational vehicle. Electric golf carts run nearly silently and have no fuels or oils to deal with, perfect for supporters of the green movement. Gas golf carts are a little more on the noisy side and will obviously require gas to operate - regular unleaded, to be exact.
Electric golf carts do depend on their batteries for power, so if you’re someone who wants to use your golf cart for hours upon hours at a time, you may want to stick with gas. This especially holds true for those that enjoy camping and RVing – if you don’t have access to power neither will your electric golf cart.
Another point that’s often forgotten is the amount of accessories you plan to install on your golf cart. If you want stereos, lighting, fans, heaters, etc. all of this takes a considerable amount of power. For an electric cart this energy comes right out of the same bank of batteries that your motor relies on. Gas golf cart accessories will also rely on battery power, however, they feature a starter/generator that will charge the battery on its own while the gas pedal is depressed. This doesn’t mean a gas golf cart battery is invincible - any accessories left on while the cart isn’t running will eventually kill your battery.
In the beginning, golf cars were designed to simply be what their name implies – cars for golfing. While either type of cart can easily haul you and a friend around most reasonable kinds of terrain there are other points to consider when making a decision – especially for those who expect (or demand) a little more.
With horsepower ratings ranging from 10-12 HP, gas golf cars are as much as 3-4 times more powerful than their electric counterparts. An electric golf cart, on average, will feature a 3-5 HP electric motor - but that’s not to say electric carts aren’t impressively powerful in their own right. Light hauling and yard work can be done with either type of vehicle and both will perform satisfactorily. However, those who demand power in off-road conditions with rugged terrain and steep inclines will almost always want to stick with gas power.
As we mentioned before, electric golf carts aren’t for those who wish to joy ride for hours a day. An electric cart will typically get around two hours of continuous motor run time before the batteries will need re-charging. This translates to anywhere between 18-25 miles depending on usage and the terrain – still pretty impressive. On the gas side of things manufacturers have made great strides in improving gas efficiency and the Yamaha Drive currently leads the pack in fuel economy by averaging nearly 29 MPG.
Aside from power sources and horsepower ratings, both types of vehicles operate in much the same fashion. To the untrained eye you couldn’t tell the two apart from each other and for the most part they both ride and handle the same. Both types of vehicles will get about 14-15 mph top-speed (unmodified).
All in all, both types of golf carts have fairly light requirements when it comes to maintenance. With electric carts your main concern lies within your batteries – make sure you check the water levels monthly (at least) and top-off as needed. The batteries are the life-blood of an electric car and with a replacement set costing well over $600 these days it’s not something you want to ignore. With proper maintenance of batteries and responsible charging habits you can expect to get 5-6 years (sometimes longer) of solid performance before they will need replacing. In comparison, neglecting your batteries can shorten their lifespan to as little as 1-2 years.
Gas golf carts, on the other hand, do require periodic oil changes as well as replacement air/fuel filters and spark plugs when necessary. For the do-it-yourselfer it’s pretty routine stuff if you don’t mind getting a little dirty. Filters are relatively inexpensive and golf cart motors take only a quart or so of 10W30 oil after every 250 hours of motor run time. The best way to stay on top of maintenance is to purchase and install an hour meter for the motor and with proper care a gas golf cart can last you a lifetime.
Now that you have a better idea of how both gas and electric golf cars operate, hopefully you’ll have an easier time making a decision. Keep in mind, this article is comparing “standard” golf carts. There are motor and controller upgrades out there to get the power of a gas golf car (and more) in electric form – though that is beyond the scope of this article.