Thursday, December 19, 2019

Scooter Trash

Manipulating your environment is a sure way to avoid depression!

Mark volunteered me to repair a friend's Honda scooter, in exchange for a used Stressless Ekorns chair (which we now have four of, including my office chair).  They aren't cheap, these chairs, but they are good for your back.  Another friend of mind dismisses them as "business-class seating" which in way they sort of are - nice leather chairs that are comfortable for a long flight.

Anyway, we get the scooter home and I started to figure out what it is I have here.  She told us it belonged to her Dad, and she inherited it when he passed away.  She registered it and drove it a couple of times around the island, but stopped using it when she started it one day and grabbed the throttle and it took off across the road and into some trees, cracking the front fascia.   "That was like a year ago or so" she said.   I later deduced it was nearly seven years ago.

I think my friend had this fantasy about riding a scooter.

Someone had tried to work on it, and it was scattered in pieces, including a new front fascia.  I loaded it all in the truck and took it home.  The first thing to do was figure out what it was, and what it was worth.  No point in throwing hundreds of dollars at something worth less than that.  I discovered it was a 2002 Honda CH80 "Elite" scooter, which was made from 1985 to 2007 - an impressive run of 22 years, which is an eon in the auto business or bike business for that matter.  Most were made in Mexico and imported into the United States.

A quick check on NADA guides reveals the scooter sold for $2049 new and today would be worth about $489 retail at a used bike dealer.   Not worth spending much on an 18-year-old scooter.   The next thing to do was to download the service manual.  You can't really work on something without knowing how it's put together.

The battery was, of course, dead, and it wouldn't take a charge no matter how long I charged it.  However, I was able to get it to hold a surface charge long enough to turn over.   I pulled the spark plug, and it was bone dry - and sparked when I cranked the motor.   I squirted some gas in the carb and it coughed and started before petering out.  The damn thing wants to run.

I searched online and found a battery for the astoundingly low price of $22 on Amazon and ordered it.

I suspected that there was likely a fuel problem with the scooter, as it had been sitting for a long, long time.   Gasoline turns into varnish after only a few months, particularity in the South, and this can clog inlet screens, fuel filters, and carburetors.   I was kind of surprised when I opened up the drain plug on the carburetor and no gas came out.   Similarly, the gas tank was bone dry.  I put gas in it and figured out why it was so dry - the carburetor immediately started leaking gas.

They make these scooters to be utterly mindless.  No clutch, no gears, no foot brake, and no fuel petcock like on a real motorcycle.  Instead, there are front and rear brake levers on the handlebars, and the fuel petcock is actuated by engine vacuum, so it turns on when you crank the motor over.   As I guessed (and a quick check of some Honda CH80 online forums confirmed) these fuel petcocks tend to leak over time. 

I took apart the carburetor and it was a mess - clogged with varnish-like goo.  Clearly, it had been taken apart before, and the fuel was leaking right out of the float bowl gasket.  A quick check online revealed that a carb rebuild kit was at least $30, while a whole new carburetor could be had from China for only $50 on eBay.   I read the service manual and the procedure for rebuilding the carb looked pretty straightforward, but tedious.  I ordered a new carb instead.

Hondas are not hard to work on, other than you have to take apart something to take apart something to take apart what it is you want to work on.  To take off the carb, there is a nut in the back that you can reach only by removing the opposite side cover (or gas tank) and the inner fender, and even then, you can only turn the nut 1/16th of a turn at a time, if that!   I only had to do this three or four times, fortunately.

I took the fuel tank out to clean out all the gunge in there as well.  I removed the fuel petcock and the inlet screen - a dark brown (it was supposed to be white) - was clogged and disintegrated into 1,000 pieces.  A new fuel petcock and inlet screen was $9.99, so I bought it.

The gas gauge was broken and it was no wonder - the fuel sender had disintegrated over time.  A new one - a Honda part - was an astounding $63 from Partzilla, but that was the best price around (the Honda dealer wanted over $150 for it!).  I bit the bullet and bought it.  Our budget on parts here was about $150, so we came in a little under, I think.

If we had taken this to a Honda dealer and paid retail prices for parts, it would have easily cost well over $500 with labor - probably more.   It would have been "not worth fixing" at that point.

In the meantime, I cleaned up the scooter and inflated the tires.  The parts came a week later and it took about an hour to install them.  I cranked the bike over and it didn't start.   It had started - unintentionally - earlier when I left a rag stuck in the inlet of the old carb.  There was enough gas in the float bowl that the vacuum pulled it in and started the motor briefly.  Like I said, the damn thing wants to run!

So I took the air cleaner inlet tube off and put my hand over the carb.  Sure enough, it started and ran, and when I put the air cleaner back on, it ran well.   It was raining out, but I wanted to see if it would go - and go she did!  I think it just needed to prime the pump, so to speak, to suck some gas into the engine.

Since then, we've polished it up and took it for a ride.  Two adults on the scooter is a bit of an overload for it, but it took us to the gas station, where I put a gallon of premium gas in it (which filled it).  The gas gauge worked.  It has oil in it, but it is pretty old.  So I guess I had better change that - all 1/2 quart of it.   The owner's manual service record was filled out by the previous owner - the oil was last changed at 4500 miles (eleven years ago!) and there are over 5000 miles on it now.  Honda recommends oil changes every 1000 miles.

It might seem like 5000 miles isn't a lot on a nearly 20-year-old scooter.  But mileage on motorcycles is generally far lower than on cars - they are fair weather friends.  And these small scooters are really only good for local errands of a few miles or so.  It tops out at about 35 mph!   So it is not atypical that in 18 years, this scooter was driven less than 1000 miles a year.

I used Searchtempest to search craigslist nationwide to see what others are asking for these.  A lot of dreamers, and few realists.  One fellow in Seattle wants $800 for his, with the muffler broken off (apparently a common problem with these scooters - you have to weld the inlet pipe back in place).  He tried to "fix" it by tightening the muffler mounting bolts (!?!) and sheared them off.   Others are asking prices up to $1500 which seems like a lot of money for a 20-year-old scooter.  I am thinking that $800 asking is probably a good starting point - the unit does have some scratches on it.   There are a lot for sale with only a few hundred miles on them.  I suspect people buy these and ride them a few times, get scared, and put them away - too ashamed to sell them, but too scared to drive them.

Would I buy it from the present owner?   If I needed a scooter, sure, I guess.  Of course after 17 years, it is probably on the original belt, brakes and a host of other parts.  The rear tire was apparently replaced, but that's about it.   Speaking of which, both are probably dry-rotted or could become so, very quickly.  So the $150 or so I spent on parts is just a starting point to get it running.  Over time, it will require more maintenance.

Two-wheeled transportation is not very safe transportation.  I've done my bit with motorcycles, and quickly realized that every motorist out there seems to want to kill you.  Riding a bicycle on our narrow roads is dangerous enough - one reason I stay on the bike path.  Driving a golf cart on the road is dangerous enough, riding a two-wheeler, even less so, particularly one that can barely keep up with traffic (at 80 cc this is more moped than Harley).

That being said, a lot of people have these on the island, and many folks in the campground use them to get around.   We'll play with it over the holidays and put it up for sale after the first of the year.  I suspect some camper may snatch it up.

But it was fun to play with - for a while!  In a way, it is like dog-sitting.  All the fun of owning a dog, but only for two weeks at a time.

It was nice to realize I could still fix things.