Go karts are expensive to buy and maintain. This is especially true considering their small size and relative simplicity in terms of their mechanics. This could lead to many people choosing to restore an old go-kart instead, but there are important things to consider when doing this.
The 6 steps to restoring an old go-kart are:
- Inspect the chassis
- Check all moving parts
- Inspect the engine
- Change the floor
- Check the brakes
- Replace the lines
Restoring an old kart doesn’t have to be difficult. There aren’t many intricate moving parts, and most of the mechanics are fairly basic. The only thing that might be difficult is the engine. However, you can fix most parts yourself, and we’ll talk more about how to do this below.
Before Buying An Old Go-kart
Before you buy an old go-kart there are some things you need to keep in mind. If you already have one, restoring it will cost you some money. You will need to invest in tools and new parts to replace the old, worn-out ones.
If you’re buying an old kart for a restoration project, you need to keep the same thing in mind. You will most likely need to replace some parts, and this means spending more money. This is why it is crucial that you try to keep your buying price as low as possible.
You also need to take a close look at the condition of the kart. If you take on an extremely worn or damaged kart, you may end up in a situation where you will spend more money restoring it than if you were to just buy a brand-new kart. Checking out the condition of the kart before you buy it allows you to avoid this potentiality.
Make Sure The Engine Runs
The key element to check first is that the engine still runs. Even if it’s not as fast as it once was, that’s okay. However, if an engine is completely dead it might not be worth it as the engine is usually the most expensive component to replace. However, you may be able to knock a huge chunk of money off the price.
The engine could be dead for several reasons though. Not all of these are terminal problems, so before you give up on it try and check for these. First, check the state of the battery. Of course, a battery that is in poor condition will not be able to get the kart started.
The engine could also be fitted with faulty spark plugs, which could cause it to misfire or die completely. The fuel lines may be deteriorating, which means the engine will not get enough fuel to keep running.
These are all small fixes you can make while restoring the kart, so if these are the only issues with the engine, you should still consider buying the kart. However, you are still taking a risk with buying an old engine, especially if it has not been running often.
A new Rotax engine costs around $2250. If the old engine is giving you too many headaches, it’s not worth buying it at all. You’ll be better off investing in a brand-new engine or even a secondhand one.
Check The Chassis
The other element that needs to be checked is the chassis. If the chassis is bent or cracked, there is no way to fix this, and the kart will be undrivable. If this is the case, it is not worth buying the kart at all, as a new chassis is also very expensive and time consuming to install.
6 Steps To Restore An Old Go-Kart
1. Inspect The Chassis
If the chassis is in a decent condition, and not showing any signs of severe damage, you might be able to rescue it. The chassis is arguably the most important part of the kart. It needs to be able to flex, since karts have a fixed rear axle.
If your chassis can’t flex, you’re going to seriously struggle with cornering. Cornering is where karts gain most of their speed, since their engines are relatively small. If you’re planning on competing with the kart, you need to make sure the chassis is in good shape.
Bending And Cracking
Chassis tend to begin to bend and crack over time. Slight bending is normal due to the amount of tension that goes through a kart’s chassis. It is only in extreme circumstances that you need to be worried about a bent chassis.
A chassis that has been in a crash will also show signs of damage. Severe crashes can cause bending and cracking in the chassis. At some point these will be exacerbated through use and begin to become a problem.
Check For Cracks
You’ll need to inspect the chassis closely for cracks as well. In order to do so, you need to give the chassis a proper clean and get rid of any oil and dirt that is left on it. If you see cracks in the chassis, you need to make sure that they don’t pose an imminent threat.
Any cracks longer than 1 and a half inches are too big, and this could risk total chassis failure. The last thing you want is your chassis giving way underneath you through a high-speed corner. If there are small cracks, you need to be aware of them and monitor them regularly.
Old chassis can also show signs of rust. Depending on the level of rust, this could eat into the chassis itself and pose a big threat, or it could simply be on the surface. You will need to clean off any rust you see on the chassis.
Luckily, there are ways to clean up rust on the frame, and there are several great YouTube tutorials that take you through a step-by-step process on how to do it. You can do it much quicker and easier since it’s not a full car chassis, and the frame of a kart is much more basic.
2. Check All Moving Parts
The next step you will need to take care of is all the moving parts. This includes the wheel bearings, sprockets, chain, steering column, pedals, and any nuts and bolts that hold things together on the kart.
The main issues you will find here are rust and wear. Since these are mainly metallic parts, they will be prone to rust over time. Cleaning them is important, and it should not be a difficult process.
Nuts And Bolts
Any worn or rusted nuts and bolts will need to be replaced. This is especially important with the wheels and the engine and exhaust mounts. These are integral to keeping the kart together and if they were to fail you could have huge problems.
When it comes to the chain and sprockets, it’s highly recommended to just invest in new ones. When these parts become old, they can cause you tons of headaches, and it’s not worth worrying about them because they aren’t too expensive to replace.
The Steering Column
The steering column may show signs of rust. Once again, this is a relatively cheap part and if it doesn’t look good it’s best to just replace it. If the kart was in an accident, it may also have a bent steering column which will affect your overall driving experience.
The pedals are basic moving parts, and they shouldn’t show too much wear. However, always check the brake cable. These can rust and snap when they become too old, and it’s never a nice experience driving a kart with no brakes!
3. Inspect The Engine
If the engine is in working condition, it may be worth keeping. Engines will lose performance and power over time, so don’t expect it to be ready to compete in your local championship. You can send it to a specialist to be overhauled if you want to restore some of its performance.
You will need to replace the spark plugs. These need to be replaced often on a kart since they work hard. They will have a more difficult time if they are old as well. They aren’t expensive, and it should be part of your regular maintenance routine as well.
Check The Clutch
The clutch could show signs of damage. The clutch on a go kart is built for high performance, but due to the extreme stress and temperatures that goes through them, they could easily break. You need to check the clutch shoes for damage and replace them if needed.
The carburetor is important on a kart engine too. If you don’t maintain it properly the engine will struggle for performance. The carburetor needs to be cleaned on a weekly basis if you’re driving the kart a lot. When you’re restoring it, it’s a good idea to give it a thorough clean and run some fuel to through it see if there are any problems.
Flush The Radiator
You will also need to flush the radiator and inspect it to see if it’s still in working condition. Replenish the water and coolant fluids. The airbox and air filter will also need to be replaced. You will most likely find that you need to replace the sponge inside the air filter, and this is something that drivers often overlook.
Finally, the exhaust is a part that most drivers forget to maintain, and you will probably find that with an old kart as well. You will need to open it up and replace the matting inside of it. If the old matting is burnt out, the engine will sound much louder than it should. This is because of engine leaking, which will hugely affect the performance of the engine.
The exhaust may also be rusted through or even burnt through. This will need to be fixed as it can also cause leakage. You can do this yourself if you have some experience in welding, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. Make sure you regularly coat the exhaust in heat resistant paint as well.
4. Change The Floor
The floor of a kart can take a lot of strain. Karts are extremely low to the ground, and in some cases they can be less than an inch off the ground. This means the floor takes the brunt of the hit when you ride curbs and race on a bumpy circuit.
The first things you will notice are scrape marks on the bottom of the floor. This is normal to an extent. If the scrapes become deep, they can do severe damage to the floor which could lead to the floor breaking apart.
Too Much Rust
The floor is also susceptible to rust. If the rust becomes too much you may find some holes in the floor. This can also weaken the entire floor and cause you problems. If you start seeing rust, it’s time to replace the floor.
At the same time, you need to check the underside of the seat. The fiberglass seat is just as low as the floor, which means it also scrapes along the tarmac a lot. The fiberglass is not as durable, and you will see some damage to the bottom of it.
This is not always a problem. It becomes a problem when you begin to see cracks in the seat. The seat holds the heaviest part on the kart, which is the driver. It also needs to flex with the chassis in order to provide the best cornering performance. If the seat is cracked, this can’t happen.
5. Check The Brakes
Brakes are a crucial part of any vehicle, and especially a kart. You will be driving it flat out and you will need to use the brakes a lot. There’s no emergency brake, so you need be sure that your brakes are in working order at all times.
The first things you need to check are the brake pads and the brake disc. The brakes pads should be able to clamp the disc tight when you push down the brake pedal. If you take the brake pads off, you should still see some of the friction material.
Check The Pads
When this wears off it will begin to damage the brake disc. Therefore, the earlier you replace them the better. There should be a couple of millimeters left on the brake pads, but you need to make sure that you monitor it.
Bleeding your brakes is also important. Since the kart will most likely have a lot of mileage on it, you need to get all the old brake fluid out, and put new fluid in. You will notice if the brakes need bleeding because the brake pedal will go straight to the floor with no resistance at all. The brake pedal should be hard to press down, and the rear wheels shouldn’t move at all when it’s pressed.
6. Replace The Lines
Karts are built with simplicity in mind. This means that they have some basic pipes, hoses and lines that run all throughout the kart. You need to check all of these and make sure they are in good condition.
The first one to check is the fuel line. These are normally made from plastic, so over time they can become brittle and begin to crack and leak. You should be able to bend the line easily. So, if it is hard and seems brittle, you need to replace it.
Better To Be Safe Than Sorry
Engine hoses found on the radiator have the same problem, although these are more durable. It’s best to replace them, because if the radiator is not connected properly, it can cause the engine to overheat and fail completely.
Other lines you need to check are the spark plug lines, oil cooler hoses and fuel pump hoses. Rotax recommends changing these every 5 years, and they also offer the rubber replacement kit which will provide you with all the parts you need.
Restoring an old kart can be a difficult job despite the relative simplicity of the vehicle. You need to be prepared to invest more money to replace parts that are worn out. However, most potential issues are quite easy to fix yourself, and won’t cost too much money. Plus, once you get it on track, it can be an extremely satisfying feeling to drive a kart you restored yourself!