There are plenty of expats who own and use scooters in China. There are also plenty of guides about buying scooters in China, but what happens after you’ve made your purchase? How do you keep your new scooter from falling apart? This guide will lay out some basic maintenance tips for scooter owners in China.
Scooters and e-bikes are often and, somewhat erroneously, used interchangeably in both English and Chinese - 电动车 (diàndòng chē). Strictly speaking, “scooter” refers to a vehicle that is only powered by a battery and an electrical motor. E-bikes are generally smaller and have pedals as well as a battery and an electrical motor.
E-bikes are cheaper, but also slower and have a shorter range than the bigger and more expensive scooters. But if a scooter runs out of battery, it's dead in the water, whereas you can use the pedals on an e-bike in a squeeze. For convenience's sake, this guide will use “scooter” throughout, but much of the advice is also applicable to E-bikes.
The most common type of batteries you'll find in a scooter are lead-acid and lithium. Both have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. Both types have an average lifespan of roughly 2 - 3 years before their capacity starts to dwindle. Lithium batteries tend to age even if they're not used, while lead-acid batteries can't be recharged as many times. If you bought a scooter second-hand, makes sure to ask how old the battery is and bargain accordingly.
Lead-acid batteries are cheap and reliable but heavy, and won't get you as far as a lithium battery. However, be prepared, as a set of lead-acid batteries can weigh over 30kg. This makes them nearly impossible to remove and charge in your apartment. But buying a new set will only set you back around RMB 500-700, however.
Lithium batteries are half the weight of their lead-acid counterparts and are usually housed in a case (often with a carrying handle attached), which makes them easy to remove and charge. However, they are about three times as expensive, and not as reliable (they might start burning out if they are abused). Both types of batteries can be bought in any scooter store and on Taobao. Look for "电池" (diàn chí), which means battery, or 锂电池 (lǐ diànchí), which means lithium battery. Add 电动车 (electric vehicle) if you can't find any.
There are commonly two types of brakes you'll find on a scooter, drum brakes and disc brakes. Drum brakes tend to wear out faster, but on the flip side you can manually adjust them by yourself. Disc brakes, on the other hand, will last longer but there are no manual adjustments and the hydraulic fluid needs to be changed every 2 - 3 years.
If your scooter is starting to make funny noises when you're using the brakes, it's time to change the pads (drum brakes) or calipers (disc brakes). This is typically not too expensive in China - expect it to be around RMB 100. You can say 请帮我更换刹车 (qǐng bāng wǒ gēnghuàn shāchē ), which means "please help me change my brakes".
Alarms are fantastically useful, and will not only ward off thieves with 120dB, some will even lock the scooter’s rear wheel when they go off, completely stopping it from moving. But remember, if you have a removable battery and are charging it somewhere else, your alarm becomes useless.
Locks may or may not be necessary, depending on many factors. Does your scooter have an alarm? Do you charge it with the battery connected? Do you park it inside a fenced area, or in a yard? If the answer to most for these questions is "no", then a lock is a sound investment.
Stay away from cable locks, as they can easily be cut open. U-locks, U型锁 (U xíng suǒ) and chain locks, 链锁 (liàn suǒ) are generally a safe bet, regardless of if you have a scooter or a regular bike. If possible, always lock your scooter to something stationary. If you have no such option, a disc lock 碟刹锁 (dié shā suǒ), can be just as effective (granted your scooter has a disc brake). They are light, small, cheap and almost impossible to pry open.
Nothing screams "I'm a foreigner!" like wearing a helmet. Chinese scooter drivers seem to avoid this life-saving accessory like the plague, which might be one reason why 37% of all accidents resulting in death or injury in Beijing alone can be attributed to scooters.
Helmets are cheap in China, but many of the cheaper models have no safety ratings. Your best bet is to look for helmets that fulfill the international requirements for DOT, ECE or SNELL. Search Taobao for 头盔 (tóukuī), followed by one of the safety standards to be on the safe side.
Good and healthy tires are very important. Worn-out or improperly inflated tires are downright dangerous; your scooter will have less traction, making you more likely to skid when turning or braking. As for the tire pressure, this varies depending on the type of scooter, the type of tires and the overall weight of the entire carriage. If you have a user's manual, the tire requirements should be listed there. Otherwise, it's usually around 18-24 PSI for the front tire and 28-36 PSI for the back tire. Your best bet is to take your scooter to a scooter store and say 请给我的轮胎充气 (qǐng gěi wǒ de lúntāi chōngqì), which means "please give my tire some air".
Should you ever experience a flat tire (you will), you can either attempt to repair it yourself (which is whole ‘nother article), or push your scooter to the nearest repair shop and say 请把我的轮胎修一下 (qǐng bǎ wǒ de lúntāi xiū yīxià), which means "please fix my tires". It's worth mentioning that they will either patch it up (which usually costs RMB 50-100, or replace it (from RMB 100 and upwards, depending on the type of tire they use). If you’ve never had a flat before on that particular tire, it’s probably worth saving some cash and just getting a patch.
A Dead Scooter
If your scooter won't move or even turn over, it's most likely because the battery has been completely discharged. If possible, you should immediately start charging it to avoid any damage. If you know it's fully charged, then you should open the seat and have a look at the master switch. This switch will completely turn off a scooter (even the alarm). If you've conducted a little Dukes of Hazzard reenactment just prior to the incident, this switch might be your problem as it can be flipped by excessive bumping and jumping. Just flip it back to ON and you'll be good to go. If not, you can try remove the plastic cover protecting the battery and check the cables are still connected.
Plastic cover protecting the battery
If the scooter is still completely dead, bring it to a repair shop and say 我的电动车坏了，你能帮我修好吗? (wǒ de diàndòng chē huàile, nǐ néng bāng wǒ xiūhǎo ma?), which means "my scooter is broken, can you help me fix it?"
In general, most issues with scooters will relate to the tyres, batteries and brakes, usually in that order. Good luck, and happy scooting!
All photos in text body by Niklas Westerlund
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Keywords: scooter maintenance fix scooter china
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