The factors that determine the cost of owning and operating a motorcycle are largely the same as those for a car: make and model, year, your location, annual mileage, your driving record and the amount of insurance coverage that you purchase. There are also key differences, such as maintenance costs and the insurance costs associated with the amount of damage motorcycles experience and cause in accidents. Let's take a look at the financial pros and cons of owning a motorcycle or moped over an automobile.

Up-Front Costs
If you were to purchase one of the bikes on Popular Mechanics' list of "10 Best Buys in 2013 Motorcycles," here's what you'd pay:

1. 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 300, $4,799

2. 2013 BMW S1000RR HP4, $19,990

3. 2013 Victory Judge, $13,999

4. 2013 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two, $10,699

5. 2012 Honda NC700X, $6,999

6. 2013 Ducati Monster 696 Anniversary 2012 M696, $8,795

7. 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere, $13,900

8. 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer, $9,990

9. 2013 Suzuki SVF 650, $7,999

10. 2013 Zero S, $15,995

If you were to purchase one of the cars ranked as having the best value according to Consumer Reports in April 2012, here's the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for the least expensive 2013 model, which is not necessarily the price of the model listed as "best value:"

1. Honda Fit, $15,425

2. Toyota Prius Four, $23,215

3. Volkswagen Golf TDI (manual), $24,235

4. Scion xD, $15,745

5. Toyota Corolla, $16,230

6. Scion xB, $16,300

7. Toyota Matrix (base, 1.8L), $19,275

8. Mini Cooper (base, manual), $19,400

9. Toyota RAV4 (base, 4-cyl), $22,650

10. Mazda3 4-Door i Touring, $19,500

There's no question that the purchase price of a best-value motorcycle is significantly lower than that of a best-value automobile. You'd save significantly on either by purchasing a used model.

Insurance Costs
Jeremy Schaedler, owner of Schaedler Insurance in northern California, says that for comparable policies it is often less expensive to insure a motorcycle for a liability-only policy, but factoring in comprehensive and collision changes the picture. Motorcycles typically sustain severe damage if they are involved in an accident, leading to high comprehensive and collision insurance costs that can be equal to or more expensive than insurance premiums for automobiles. Motorcycles generally cause very little damage in an accident, however, so liability-only coverage tends to be less expensive than insurance premiums for automobiles, says Schaedler.

Mike Arman, author of several motorcycle technical books and former owner of a motorcycle sales, service and accessory business, says even a low-speed accident where the rider isn't injured can costs hundreds or thousands in damage to scraped fairings, torn seats and bent handlebars. Also, "Motorcycles are much more likely to be stolen than most cars, and this is reflected in the insurance premiums," Arman says.

Maintenance and Operating Costs
Some motorcycles, such as the 2013 Zero S, are electric; this model's range is up to 137 miles, according to Popular Mechanics. In general, however, "There isn't a huge amount to be saved at the gas pump," Arman says, "Large motorcycles can get 40 to 60 mpg, but that is not vastly better than 35 to 40 mpg that a modern car may return - and the car is less expensive to buy, finance, insure and maintain."

A good motorcycle that will blow the doors off an expensive sports car or give you a reliable commute comes at a cost, Arman adds. Not only do these bikes often cost $15,000-$20,000, they require more maintenance than cars, parts can be significantly more expensive, and needing a $100-plus rear tire in less than 5,000 miles is common.

On the other hand, "most Japanese bikes - Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki - are so reliable, it's just oil changes and regular wear items like brakes and tires," says Gregory A. Hudgins, a CPA with Kandell, Farnworth & Pubins and owner of a Ducati 750 and a custom Harley. He says these items "cost far less than their auto counterparts."

What about Mopeds?
Arman points out there are significant differences between motorcycles and mopeds.

"Mopeds and scooters appeal to people who are looking to save money at any cost, and do not consider the full implications of their choice," he says. "They focus on 200 mpg and low first cost, and ignore maintenance, durability, safety and the almost zero resale value. Mopeds do not make a huge amount of economic sense when all the factors are considered."

Arman says that while they use minimal gasoline and in most states do not need to be insured or even licensed, mopeds are very basic and marginally inadequate transportation, one step up from bicycles. They're best for running around the neighborhood, not driving in traffic or commuting. They generally won't go faster than 25–30 mph.

Mopeds seem less dangerous than motorcycles because of their low performance, which means their riders often don't take basic safety precautions like wearing a helmet, but you can still easily be injured or killed in a moped accident. Their owners also tend to avoid doing the required regular maintenance. "As a result, mopeds deteriorate rapidly and are often unserviceable, unsafe and discarded after a few years," he says.

The Bottom Line
"A moped or scooter is an economic decision, and after all the factors are considered, not a very good one. A motorcycle, however, is a recreational device, and economics are not the primary consideration in recreation," says Arman. A car, he adds, is "more comfortable in inclement weather, significantly safer in an accident, carries more people and things, and can be locked up so that it and what is inside of it are more or less secure."

Related Articles
  1. Budgeting

    Blue Apron Review: Is It Worth It?

    Read about one of the top meal-kit delivery services in the United States, and learn more about what it offers and how much it costs.
  2. Home & Auto

    Don't Be the Victim of Auto Loan Rip-Offs

    Subprime auto loans – and 60-day delinquencies – are up. These 4 signs of predatory auto loans can tip you off before you're caught in one.
  3. Stock Analysis

    JCPenney's Path To Profitability (JCP)

    Learn about what J.C. Penney's management team has been doing to profitably grow its business as the company recovers from years of revenue declines.
  4. Home & Auto

    The Latest Airbag Recalls: What to Do

    The latest warnings are from Honda/Acura and Dodge. How to look up your car – and what to do if you find it on the recall list.
  5. Retirement

    5 Reasons Millennials Lead in Saving for Retirement

    Say what you want to about millennials but the one thing they are doing better than any other generation is saving for retirement. Here's why.
  6. Economics

    What is a Complement?

    A good or service that’s used in conjunction with another good or service is a complement.
  7. Investing

    3 Small Steps to Maximize Your Investing Goals

    Instead of starting the New Year with ambitious resolutions, why not taking smaller manageable steps that can have a real impact.
  8. Investing

    7 Creative Ways to Save for an Early Retirement

    Take note of these out of the box steps you can take towards securing yourself an earlier, more comfortable retirement.
  9. Retirement

    Ipsy Review: Is It Worth It?

    Discover the history of ipsy, how much packages cost, options available for membership, major competition and what the future looks like for the company.
  10. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Johnson & Johnson Stock (JNJ)

    Learn the largest risks to investing in Johnson & Johnson through fundamental analysis and other potential risks. Also discover how JNJ compares to its peers.
  1. How does a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) affect my salary?

    Some companies build salary adjustments into their compensation structures to offset the effects of inflation on their employees. ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Where can you buy NetSpend reload packs?

    You can only purchase NetSpend reload packs at Giant Eagle, Albertsons, Roundy's and Pathmark supermarkets. NetSpend cards ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can your car insurance company check your driving record?

    While your auto insurance company cannot pull your full motor vehicle report, or MVR, it does pull a record summary that ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What does marginal utility tell us about consumer choice?

    In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are some common ways product differentiation is achieved?

    There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does the trust maker transfer funds into a revocable trust?

    Once a revocable trust is created, a trust maker transfers funds or property into the trust by including them in a list with ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center