Today: The downside of being an early, electric car adopter.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm tired of waiting for the American auto industry to come up with an affordable all-electric car, so I'm looking seriously into buying a Chinese-made Flybo. I know it has a top speed of 43 mph, and lacks a lot of basic safety and comfort extras (no air bags, no heat ...) but the same is true of the '87 Dodge Raider I'm driving now. I want an electric car not only because of the price of fuel, but also because of environmental issues. My question is, how easy (or difficult) will it be to service this car? I will need to have this auto shipped from Michigan to Wyoming. And I don't know of any Flybo dealerships in the U.S. What could go wrong with this car, and how can it be fixed?

-- Kate

RAY: Kate, you are about to join the wacko fringe. You know those guys who live in yurts, feeding themselves off their own homemade acorn granola and squirrel yogurt? Ask them about their Flybos.

TOM: We admire your environmental ambitions, Kate. And we agree with you that electric propulsion is probably where cars are eventually heading. But it's very difficult to be an early adopter. Especially when you're adopting something that has no serious support network. So, unless you're married to a very handy electrical engineer, who happens to live in a yurt, you're almost certainly sentencing yourself to years of trouble in finding parts and people willing to work on this thing.

RAY: Here's what we'd recommend instead. Adopt the best available, widely supported current solution. Hybrids like the Toyota Prius, and Honda Insight and Civic Hybrid are getting 40-50 miles per gallon. And they're doing it with all of the latest and greatest safety equipment.

TOM: If that's not good enough, there are a number of people who offer plug-in conversion kits for those cars, which will turn your Prius into a car that can be plugged in at night and operate only on electric power much of the time. That's pretty close to what you're looking for now, isn't it?

RAY: And now that America has figured out that things finally need to change, it'll be only a few more years before carmakers are offering real, functional, highly energy-efficient, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. With warranties, air bags, dealer networks and heat! So take it a step at a time, Kate.

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