Mopeds and scooters: How are they different?

By Allstate

Last updated: January 1

Deciding between a moped and a scooter? It's important to understand the differences in performance, features and driving capabilities. Let’s talk about key factors to consider, from design and engine size to licensing requirements and insurance considerations.

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What is a scooter?

Scooters are two-wheeled vehicles with a step-through chassis and footrest platform, according to the Motorcycle Legal Foundation. They’re usually powered by engines ranging from 50cc to 250cc. Despite the difference in appearance, scooters have the same legal classification as motorcycles. That means they must obey the same laws as motorcycle riders, and you must carry insurance to drive on the road.

What is a moped?

Mopeds are also two-wheeled vehicles, but are different from scooters. They typically have a 50cc engine or smaller and don’t go over 30mph. Mopeds can’t keep up with traffic on many roads and highways, so they’re primarily used on city or urban streets. That may be why the Motorcycle Legal Foundation says they’re less common in the U.S.

Where did mopeds and scooters come from?

History of mopeds

The first motorcycle was created by Edward Butler in Great Britain in 1884, according to Britannica. By the 1900s as motorcycles became more popular, the smallest motorcycles were termed mopeds and were characterized by their small engines and their more efficient fuel economies.

History of scooters

Scooters rose to popularity in Europe in the 1940’s due to their maneuverability, according to LIFE. They became popular for their superior fuel efficiency and their fashionable designs.

Mopeds and scooters: key differences

To better understand the key differences between mopeds and scooters, let’s look at a few of their specific specifications side-by-side. The Motorcycle Legal Foundation outlines the following differences:

Mopeds Scooters
Design Compact, often with a step-through frame Varied designs, typically with a step-through frame
Engine size 50cc or less, though some mopeds may have larger engines Scooters can have a wide range of engine sizes
Top speeds Typically around 30 mph Variable due to the variety of engine sizes
Wheels Smaller wheels for maneuverability Larger wheels providing stability, especially on highways
Fuel efficiency High fuel efficiency, ranging from 75-100 mpg Varies based on engine size, typically 50-80 mpg
Comfort Basic comfort features, suitable for short rides Comfort-oriented design, ergonomic features for longer trips
Safety Generally considered safe with basic safety features Varied safety features, including advanced braking systems

Design

There can be overlap between the design of mopeds and scooters, particularly in more modern designs, according to Fix.com. In general, mopeds tend to be on the smaller side. Many mopeds do not have step-through frames though some still do. Scooters tend to have step-through frames and a floorboard for your feet.

Engine size

Mopeds are limited to 50cc or less, boosting their fuel efficiency. Depending on the market, some mopeds may have larger engines. Scooters, on the other hand, offer a range of engine sizes for varied performance.

Top speeds

Mopeds traditionally have engine sizes of 50cc or less, explains Motorcycle Legal Foundation. At the top end, mopeds would have a speed of about 28mph. Alternatively, scooters are less defined by engine size and have variable top speeds depending on their build.

Wheels

Mopeds often have smaller wheels suitable for their smaller engine and general builds. Typically, mopeds are built for greater maneuverability. Alternatively, scooters typically have larger wheels.

MPG and mileage

Mopeds excel in fuel efficiency, providing high miles per gallon. Scooters' mileage varies based on engine size and usage. Motorcycles have an average of around 43 mpg, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). The motorcycle category encompasses a range of vehicles, including scooters and mopeds, so this would be a conservative estimate for these smaller types of motorcycles.

Comfort

Mopeds offer basic comfort features, while scooters are built to be ridden further with rider comfort with ergonomic designs.

Safety

Mopeds and scooters can be exhilarating to ride, but safety is always a principal consideration. Riders should always follow local rules of the road and wear appropriate protective gear.

Cost

Mopeds are generally more affordable up front, and their maintenance costs are economical. Scooters vary in price based on features and engine size.

Do you need a license to drive mopeds and scooters?

The requirements for licenses to operate mopeds and scooters vary based on location and vehicle specifications. Generally, most states in the U.S. require a driver's license to operate a moped or scooter, even if they have smaller engines than standard motorcycles.

However, some states have specific regulations that allow for the operation of mopeds without a full driver's license. Instead, they may require a special moped license or permit. These permits often have age restrictions and may necessitate completion of a safety course.

For scooters with larger engines that exceed moped classifications, a standard driver's license or motorcycle endorsement might be necessary. It's crucial to consult your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or equivalent authorities to understand the specific licensing requirements for operating mopeds and scooters in your area.

Do you need a title for your moped or scooter?

The need for a title for a moped or scooter typically depends on state laws and regulations. In many states, titles are required for mopeds and scooters, especially if they are used on public roads. Titles serve as legal documentation of ownership and are necessary for registering the vehicle. It's advisable to check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or relevant authorities to understand the specific title requirements for mopeds and scooters in your state or region.

Is insurance required for mopeds and scooters?

Insurance requirements for scooters and mopeds vary by state based on a few factors. The definition of a scooter versus a moped versus a motorcycle—if there is a difference between them—can vary depending on the state. It’s important to become familiar with the laws and regulations in your state and municipality for compliance. Most states require liability coverage, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).

Liability coverage

Liability coverage for mopeds and scooters typically refers to insurance that covers bodily injury and property damage that you, as the rider, may cause to others while operating your vehicle.

For mopeds and scooters, liability coverage is required in most states if the engine size exceeds a certain threshold, typically 50cc. The specifics vary by state, so check your local regulations.

This coverage usually includes:

  1. Bodily injury liability: Covers medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and legal expenses if you injure someone else in an accident where you’re at fault.
  2. Property damage liability: Covers damage to someone else's property (e.g., vehicles, buildings) caused by your moped or scooter.

The coverage limits for liability insurance can differ based on your policy and state requirements. Discuss your specific coverage needs and state-mandated limits with your insurer to make sure you have adequate protection.

Comprehensive coverage

Comprehensive coverage for mopeds and scooters is an optional insurance coverage that protects against various non-collision damages. It typically covers losses caused by theft, vandalism, fire, natural disasters, falling objects and other incidents not involving a collision with another vehicle or object.

This coverage is beneficial because it provides financial protection for damages to your moped or scooter that occur outside of accidents. Review your insurance policy to understand the specific incidents covered under comprehensive coverage, any deductibles that apply and the limits of coverage provided.

Collision coverage

Collision coverage for mopeds and scooters is another optional insurance component that covers damage to your vehicle resulting from a collision with another object or vehicle, regardless of fault. This coverage helps pay for repair or replacement of your moped or scooter if it's damaged in a collision.

Similar to comprehensive coverage, collision coverage is not typically required by law but can provide valuable financial protection. Your insurer can help you review your policy to understand your collision coverage, limits and deductibles.

Other coverages

For mopeds and scooters, there are some additional coverages available beyond liability, comprehensive and collision insurance. Consider your need for other types of coverage, including:

  1. Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: This protects you if you're in an accident caused by a driver who doesn't have insurance (uninsured) or doesn't have enough insurance to cover your expenses (underinsured). It can help with medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.
  2. Medical payments coverage: This covers medical expenses for injuries you sustain in an accident while operating your moped or scooter, regardless of fault. It can help cover hospital bills, doctor visits and other medical expenses.
  3. Personal injury protection (PIP): PIP coverage pays for medical expenses, lost wages and other expenses for you and your passengers in case of an accident, regardless of fault. PIP coverage varies by state and isn’t available everywhere.

These additional coverages can provide extra financial support in various scenarios, offering peace of mind while riding your moped or scooter. Contact your insurer to better understand the availability of coverages for your specific situation.

How much will it cost?

Several factors influence the cost of insurance for mopeds and scooters, similar to car insurance. These include:

  1. Type(s) of coverage: The extent and types of coverage you choose will significantly impact your costs. Comprehensive, collision, liability and additional coverages each contribute to your overall premium.
  2. Rider experience: Insurers often consider the rider's driving history and experience. Riders with a clean record and more experience may get lower policy premiums.
  3. Moped or scooter specifications: The make, model, engine size and value of the moped or scooter affect insurance rates. Higher-end models or those with larger engines might have higher premiums.
  4. Location: Where the vehicle is kept and used matters. Urban areas with higher traffic or areas prone to theft might have higher insurance costs compared to rural locations.
  5. Accident/claims history: Just like the rider’s experience, a rider's past claims or involvement in accidents can influence insurance premiums. Those with a history of accidents might face higher rates.

Riders with safer driving histories, lower-risk vehicles and those in areas with less risk typically receive lower premiums. Conversely, higher risk factors increase insurance costs. Consider getting multiple insurance quotes to find the level of coverage and price that fits your unique needs.

Should you consider getting a moped or a scooter?

If you’re considering whether to get one or the other, weighing the pros and cons is important to make an informed decision. Here some high-level highlights for each.

Pros of getting a moped

  1. Fuel efficiency: Mopeds are incredibly fuel-efficient, offering high miles per gallon.
  2. Affordability: They are often more affordable up front and have lower maintenance costs.
  3. Maneuverability: Compact size and lightweight design make them easy to maneuver in congested urban areas.

Cons of getting a moped

  1. Limited speed: Mopeds generally have lower top speeds, limiting their use for longer or highway commutes.
  2. Minimal comfort: Basic features may offer limited comfort, especially for longer rides.
  3. Safety: Being smaller vehicles, they might be less visible on the road, raising safety concerns.

Pros of getting a scooter

  1. Varied performance: Scooters come in various engine sizes, offering versatility in speed and power.
  2. Comfort-oriented: They’re designed for comfort with ergonomic features, suitable for longer rides.
  3. Higher speeds: Scooters are capable of reaching higher speeds, making them suitable for varied terrains.

Cons of getting a scooter

  1. Cost variability: Higher-end models with larger engines can be more expensive up front and to maintain.
  2. Fuel efficiency variance: While generally fuel-efficient, larger engine sizes might offer lower miles per gallon.
  3. Complexity for beginners: Larger engines might require more skill to handle, especially for new riders.

Choosing between a moped and a scooter depends on individual preferences, usage patterns and specific needs. Mopeds shine in urban commuting for short distances with their efficiency and affordability. On the other hand, scooters offer more versatility in performance, comfort. and speed, but might come with higher costs and complexity. Assessing these priorities will help determine the better option for your transportation needs.