Electric car enthusiasts have struggled for years with "golf cart" jibes and only recently with cars like the 2011 Tesla Roadster and 2012 Nissan Leaf has the "ugly and slow" image started to disappear.

In Florida, there's a different problem - people who believe their golf carts are actual cars. So many people are using the cars to pop out for groceries that golf cart dealerships are doing a roaring trade.

Unsurprisingly, the increased number of carts on the roads isn't without its problems. Golf carts aren't technically road legal - they lack the headlamps, taillights, brake lights, licence plate lights, turn signals, seat belts, mirrors, parking brakes, windshield wipers and the horn required on all road legal vehicles. That's quite a list and converting a cart into a LSV or "low speed vehicle" can cost over $1,000.

With a top speed of only 25mph the carts certainly aren't suitable on regular roads, though some communities allow carts to use some quieter roads. Others turn a blind eye as long as their users aren't inconveniencing normal traffic flow. In some areas, tourists are even using them in lieu of a regular rental car. In communities like The Villages, a retirement community near Orlando, FL, there's an estimated 50,000 carts.

With gas prices at $3.50 a gallon or more, the benefits of using the carts are obvious. But we want to make it clear: Golf carts are NOT electric cars.

At between $5,000 and $25,000 carts are potentially a cheaper way of going electric, but they lag severely behind in many of the areas that modern EVs have made huge strides in - range, performance and passenger comfort.

At $27,700 after tax savings for a 2012 Nissan Leaf, you'd have to seriously want a slower, worse-built, less safe and less practical golf cart to spend $25,000 on one - even if it is styled to look like an Escalade, or a Shelby GT500.

Any modern electric car is also capable of greater distances than a golf cart so you wouldn't just be restricted to driving around your local area, and even slower electric cars like the 2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive have enough performance for occasional highway journeys, even if you wouldn't want to take it on the freeway.

We appreciate the motives behind using the carts for local driving - after all, you're saving money on gas and reducing local pollution levels - but we'd still recommend a regular electric car if you're planning to use a cart solely for road use.

We think many people in communities like The Villages could probably do without their gasoline cars entirely, and the money saved could buy them a real electric car.

[Orlando Sentinel]


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