Last updated: January 2nd, 2023
If you buy an electric scooter, are you signing up for years of hassle-free travel, costly headaches, or something in between?
Expectations are everything. And to help you know what to expect, I’ve dug deep through published data and personal anecdotes to shed light on not just whether electric scooters are reliable in general, but also on what parts are most and least likely to cause trouble.
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Here’s whether electric scooters are reliable
In general, electric scooters get more reliable each year. It’s reasonable to expect 500-1000 miles of maintenance-free riding. Flat tires are common, but tubeless tires with sealant can minimize them. Most parts (including batteries) have a finite lifespan, so every e-scooter will eventually require maintenance.
Shared electric scooters don’t last nearly as long, since they’re ridden far more recklessly than most privately-owned ones.
Note that obscure or off-brand scooters are often less reliable and have less manufacturer support than their name-brand counterparts.
Name-brand scooters aren’t perfect, either, but in terms of reliability, they’re well worth the extra $100-$200 up front.
To be fair, issues do arise.
But many are preventable, e.g., by buying a scooter with an appropriate IP rating (water resistance) for your climate and riding conditions.
There’s also a lot you can do to troubleshoot without getting into complex electronics. Many problems first show up as the scooter feeling a bit slow; check out this guide to learn where to look first.
How long do electric scooters last?
Personal electric scooters should last for at least 2 years of daily use, and perhaps far longer if well maintained. Defects may shorten that lifespan, but tend to show up early, during the warranty period. Shared scooter lifespan tends to be much shorter due to abuse.
Good entry-level scooters like the Xiaomi M365 often last 2000 km (12000 miles) or more. There are many reports of owners getting far higher mileage without issues, too.
In other words, it’s reasonable to expect a full year of maintenance-free commuting, based on a typical commute of perhaps 5 km (3 miles) each way. If you commute 10 km (6 miles) each way, then it would be closer to six months, and so forth.
You’d probably need new tires at that point, but the scooter should still be mechanically and electronically sound.
Replacing worn parts would extend the lifespan by years. Some parts, like fenders or grips, are usually cost-effective to replace. Others, like certain electronics, may not be.
That said, take these lifespan guidelines with a grain of salt. Electric scooters only became highly popular in the last few years, plus many current models are even newer.
In many cases, the jury’s still out.
What about public shared scooter lifespan?
Shared public scooters are often abused and neglected, so their lifespans are far shorter: usually just a few months. Despite relatively low mileage—many trips are just a few blocks—they tend to take a severe beating.
For instance, some of Bird’s earliest scooters didn’t even make it one month! That’s on the low end even for rentals, but it does highlight the importance of proper care. It also calls the eco-friendliness of scooter-sharing into question, but that’s a topic for another day…
Flat tires are common (but there’s a solution)
Pneumatic (air-filled) tires are far smoother, better gripping, and altogether safer than solid tires, as covered here.
The only catch? Flats.
Of course, flat tires are repairable and don’t impact the lifespan of an electric scooter. Still, they’re a gigantic hassle to deal with. Far too big to deal with on the way to work, for instance.
So, while a flat isn’t as severe as an electrical failure, it puts a damper on your day just the same.
Fortunately, it’s getting more common to see tubeless, “self-healing” tires on electric scooters. The trick is their internal sealant: a sticky, rubber liquid that fills in small holes before too much air seeps out. In most cases, even several punctures up to a few millimeters wide are no problem.
Tubeless tires with sealant aren’t invincible—no pneumatic tire is—but they can withstand small punctures that would sideline a scooter with tubed tires.
The venerable Ninebot Max was one of the first affordable models to include these as a stock feature, and several other brands have followed suit.
(Obviously, tires do wear out. That’s gradual, since it happens over the course of hundreds of miles at minimum. But unless you wear tires down to their underlying threads, there’s essentially no chance of spontaneous failure.)
Smaller parts may fail sporadically
Besides batteries, which we’ll cover at length in a moment, we don’t have good longevity data on most electric scooter parts.
Some, like wires, can theoretically last forever, but practically speaking, they get corroded or ripped or otherwise damaged at some point.
There’s no calling when that will happen. Perhaps it never will.
But others, like plastic fenders and aluminum frames, can only accumulate so much fatigue before breaking. Thankfully, we know it’s a lower threshold for fenders (which often break) than for frames (which almost never do) but we don’t know exactly what those thresholds are.
Besides, not all scooters experience the same physical stresses. For instance, rentals and private ones experience very different lives, so parts that are generally prone to breaking on one may last many years on the other.
To put it another way, electric scooter owners should expect some small parts to break more or less unexpectedly, but it’s tough to predict which small parts.
Many are strictly cosmetic, or just mildly inconvenient. Others, especially throttle and brake fittings, could be reliability issues. But unless you buy a model with known issues or defects, it’s just not easy to predict.
Batteries are reliable, but don’t last forever
Lithium ion batteries almost never fail suddenly, so they’re extremely reliable in electric scooter use. The chance of waking up one morning to find your battery inoperable is exceedingly low.
However, they inevitably lose capacity over time. And batteries are usually the single most expensive component, so their longevity is a big factor in cost of ownership.
Fortunately, we have excellent general data on what to expect.
So, how long do electric scooter batteries last? Electric scooter batteries, like all lithium ion ones, last the equivalent of 300-500 full charge cycles. They may also lose capacity after a couple years due to chemical degradation, regardless of charging.
In general, you won’t completely drain the battery in real life. Rather than 300 full cycles (i.e., 0%-100%), you’re likelier to get 400-600 partial charge cycles, just as a rough estimate.
You can always replace a battery, so it doesn’t have to limit your scooter’s lifespan. It’s just expensive: often 15%-40% of the entire scooter’s price!
By the way, larger batteries go farther on a single charge, so they require fewer charge cycles to cover the same distance. That means a longer effective life.
The trade-off is that they cost more up front, so it’s best not to buy vastly more battery than your routes requires.
How many total miles is an electric scooter battery good for? Multiply the lifespan of 300 full charge cycles (conservatively) by the real-world range of your scooters. For instance, if it yields 25 km (15 miles) of real-world riding per charge, then battery capacity shouldn’t drop until about 7,500 km (4,500 miles) of riding.
That’s nearly four years of commuting 10 km (6 miles) round-trip!
The capacity loss is very gradual, so you’ll get plenty of miles beyond that point, too.
What’s more, changes in temperature and riding style greatly increase or decrease battery life from day to day. As a result, it’s surprisingly hard to tell exactly when capacity starts to diminish. If in doubt, use your scooter’s built-in battery diagnostics (if available) or a third-party mobile app to get exact battery health data.
Do electric scooter batteries spontaneously fail? They almost never fail outright, but simply lose capacity sooner than expected. That’s not common, though, and the causes are usually unclear.
There have been several reports of lithium ion battery fires/explosions, some of which involved electric scooters. These are extremely rare given the number of devices on the market, but it’s important to understand that lithium ion batteries contain extremely volatile substances. If a short-circuit or puncture (among other factors) mixes these substances, a fire or explosion may result. Causes aren’t always clear, but off-party batteries or aftermarket chargers are often implicated.
Rental company data make electric scooters look like time-bombs.
Fortunately, that’s not remotely true of private ones, like you might be considering. With proper care—as opposed to the perpetual abuse that shared scooters face—you can expect little regular maintenance beyond tire pressure and perhaps cable tension.
Flat tires are the closest thing to a reliability issue that regular e-scooter riders face. Tubeless tires with sealant are the best way to fend them off, even if not quite 100%.
Battery reliability is generally excellent, especially if you stick to major brands (like LG and Panasonic, off the top of my head) and avoid off-brand batteries on super-cheap scooters.
Of course, electric scooters are still relatively young, so we don’t yet know how reliable they are over the long haul.
But at this point, we have every reason to think that reputable brands are fundamentally reliable, and getting better every year.