Electric vs. Gas Golf Carts

By Michael Hinckley

golf ball on edge of hole

Motorized golf carts first starting appearing on courses in the 1940s, allowing people with disabilities to play the game. Since then, carts have become a mainstay--and even a requirement--at golf courses in the United States.

Electric Golf Cart Information

Electric carts are one option available when purchasing a golf cart. In times when the environment is of concern, some golfers and other cart users may be looking for cleaner operation and energy savings. As with gas-powered carts, electric carts also have some disadvantages. How frequently you plan to use the cart should factor into your decision.

Operation

Electric golf carts are powered by a bank of standard, rechargeable lead-acid batteries. Typical power amounts are 36 or 48 volts, although lower and higher voltages are also available. They are designed so that the battery should run all day if properly charged the night before, meaning that golfers should be easily able to complete a round without concern of power failure.

Recharging

Electric cart batteries are relatively simple to recharge, requiring only to be plugged into a typical electrical outlet. For best results, most carts should be allowed to recharge overnight to allow for a full charge. Carts with other recharging methods are also available, such as ones that recharge as they are driven, whenever the brakes are applied. These carts are particularly beneficial as public golf course rentals that undergo frequent use.

Maintenance

The most important maintenance function lies with the battery, which can cost $500 or more to replace. The proper level of water needs to be maintained and should be checked once a month on average. The battery should be kept as fully charged as possible to help ensure a longer life, as long as five to six years in many cases.

Advantages

As opposed to gas-operated golf carts, electric carts can be much cheaper to operate since they require recharging instead of refueling. They are more environmentally friendly since they do not emit carbons into the atmosphere, which also means they can be operated indoors if necessary.

Electric golf carts run on 8-volt batteries and average 3-4 horsepower. According to custom manufacturer Berline, golf carts are well-suited for slow, residential travel or cruising the 18 holes. However, "they are not the (bridge) between your quad-runner and your Escalade."

Disadvantages

A disadvantage of electric golf carts is that they can be more expensive to purchase, although this can be offset by fuel savings. They may also be a bit more difficult to operate in rougher terrain than gas vehicles. Additionally, if the owner or golf course operator does not remember to recharge a cart the previous evening, it may be out of commission the next day.

Electric vs. Gas Golf Carts

Deciding which type of golf cart, gas- or electric-powered, is right for an individual or golf course involves evaluating factors such as terrain, speed of play, range, price and maintenance.

Range

Because of advances in recharging and regeneration of electricity in electric carts, most newer models can easily run for 18 holes, or even 36 holes, without recharging. Gasoline-powered carts can do the same without refueling, so for use on the golf course, both gas and electric do well in terms of range of operation.

If you are using the cart for something other than a round of golf, however, such as working on a large property where the cart will carry a person and tools for long distances, opt for a gas-powered cart and bring an extra can of gas.

Noise

Gasoline-powered carts use an internal combustion engine, which generates noise, roughly equivalent to a lawnmower or ATV. Electric-powered carts, on the other hand, are silent or close to it, emitting a "whirring" sound when moving. If your course has paths relatively close to homes, the silence of the electric carts would be an advantage.

Popularity

More electric carts are in use, particularly in states like California, which has restrictions on the emissions of gas-powered vehicles. Advances in technology have only solidified the broader trend toward electric carts, and they are the most popular variety bought today.

Daily Costs

Operating costs of gas-powered and electric-powered golf carts are roughly the same. Gas price fluctuations, oil changes and tune-ups affect costs for gas-powered carts, while electric-powered carts require daily recharges and the replacement of the battery banks every four years.

If looked at a per-year or per-season basis, their costs wind up roughly equivalent.

Response to Inactivity

Gas-powered carts are easier and quicker to refuel and are more reliable starters after months of inactivity (such as winter storage), assuming they have been properly maintained. Electric-powered carts require up to four hours to recharge their batteries after a season in storage and may require three or four recharge-depletion cycles to reach full capacity again.

About the Author

Michael Hinckley received a Bachelor of Arts degree in US history from the University of Cincinnati, a Master of Arts degree in Middle East history from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hinckley is conversant in Arabic, and is a part-time lecturer at two Midwestern universities.