Look for a gem -- but not a GEM -- to replace aging Saturn

Dear Car Talk:

I need advice on what kind of car to get. My 1992 Saturn is near its end. I rarely drive, since I walk, bike, e-bike or bus for most trips under 10 miles.

I would like a car for those trips of 10 miles or more, or at night or in the rain. That means I’ll need the car once or twice a month.

As an environmentalist, I am strongly inclined to get an electric car. But I think that that may be a bad idea, since I read that batteries need to be used in order to retain their service life. Would you recommend an electric car for someone who only drives 20 to 50 miles twice a month?

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A GEM would be perfect for 90% of my trips. But every once in a while, there will be a trip outside its range, or I would need to use a bridge or a tunnel that it is not allowed on. -- Michelle

RAY: Wow, you are a committed environmentalist, Michelle.

It’s not all the biking and e-biking that convinced me. It’s that you’d actually consider a GEM, which is essentially a golf cart. That’s commitment! I’d take that off your list. That’s about the only thing you can buy that would be a downgrade from your ’92 Saturn.

A real car will be much safer and more comfortable. Oh, and drier in the rain. I don’t think I’d hesitate to buy an actual electric car (EV) if I were you, Michelle. I’m not aware of any issues with EV battery life diminishing from lack of use. Like most vehicles, they get worn out through use. So, generally speaking, the less you use it, the longer it should last.

And if your maximum trip is really 50 miles, you’re a candidate for the least expensive EVs; the ones that have limited range. For instance, Mini makes a Cooper that only goes about 100 miles on a charge. That’s a nonstarter for most people. But for you, that’s more than enough. And it’s not only fun to drive (and cute!), but it’s reasonably priced. It starts at about $30,000, before the $7,500 federal rebate and any state rebates you’re entitled to.

Or you can look at a Kia Niro, Chevy Bolt, a Nissan Leaf or VW ID4 -- all very nice, compact EVs that have more range than you’ll typically need. And don’t forget the best part of owning an electric vehicle. You can always plug it into your neighbor’s outdoor outlet.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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