A lot of people are worried about the maintenance aspect of karts when they start. It sounds complicated, and of course, not everyone is a mechanic or engineer. Most people don’t even know how an engine works or how to open a carburettor.
5 crucial aspects of race kart maintenance are:
- Spark plug
- Power valve
- Quick checks
It’s okay if you have no experience as a mechanic, I started karting when I was 14, and within a year I was basically able to service my kart by myself. All it takes is a little bit of guidance and practice, and you’ll be able to maintain your kart in your sleep.
The Importance Of Kart Maintenance
Go karts are high maintenance. Very high maintenance! Basically, if you’re not driving it, you’re cleaning it. For every 20 minutes you drive, there’s 20 minutes or more of behind the scenes cleaning and maintenance going on.
This is the unfortunate reality of owning a kart. For some it can be a daunting task, as you are responsible for keeping that kart clean and running perfectly. Of course, you can join a team or hire a mechanic who could do it for you.
But for most of us, we don’t have the extra finances to hire someone, or maybe you are the parent mechanic for your child’s kart. However, there is something that’s really fun and satisfying when you are able to clean your kart all by yourself.
Today were giving you a quick guide on the highest-maintenance parts of your kart. These parts are quick to service and should be done every single day before or after you use your kart.
The 5 Crucial Aspects Of Race Kart Maintenance
We are going to start with the clutch. This is something that needs to be cleaned after every couple of hours of use. However, most people recommend servicing this after every day of use. The clutch is a crucial element for your engine, and proper maintenance can save you a huge headache.
It might sound like a tough job at first, but once you have done it the first time, it only becomes easier.
Firstly, you want to remove your rear wheel and bumper on the engine side of your kart. Removing the bumper isn’t absolutely necessary, but it will make your job a lot easier. Once that is done, you want to be sure to check the chain. I’m going to include chain maintenance in this because it is easy to include in your clutch maintenance.
You will notice a lot of grease and dirt getting stuck around the chain, as well as on the frame under the engine, and on the engine itself. This is because all of your oil, chain lubricant (lubricating should be also be done before every session) and dirt from the track is shot up and caught in this area. You will want to clean this area up.
The next step is to remove the clutch casing. Locking the flywheel for this part is recommended, and you can buy a flywheel lock tool at most karting stores for around $20. This tool simply slides in next to the clutch and then holds in place while you work. Again, not an essential item, but it makes your job easier.
The next step is to take the nut and washer off of the clutch. You can’t take the clutch off yet though, because the chain will stop the clutch from being removed from the engine. So, what you have to do is to loosen the screws on the rear hub on the axle, which will allow the whole sprocket assembly to slide over and loosen the chain which is holding the clutch down.
You can now remove the clutch casing in order to clean it. Only use brake cleaner to clean the casing. This is because you will have metal against metal and using something else like WD40 will leave residual oil inside the clutch. You want to clean out any dirt or grease stuck inside it.
While your chain is loose, you can have that cleaned as well in the process. Many people will leave their chain to soak in an oil or in petrol/gasoline in order to take off the dirt and grease, however others will just spray it down with a solvent. Either of these solutions are fine.
You can also use this time to check the wear levels on your sprocket. The sprocket teeth will begin to wear out with use, and will eventually need to be replaced. You will notice the more worn out they become, the duller their teeth are.
In order to keep you clutch running smoothly, you will want to use grease on the clutch bushing to keep it lubricated. Any kind of grease can be used, and normally your local karting circuit will have one that they can recommend. You can use a very small amount of grease since it will be done often.
After you’ve done this, you can reverse the entire process to put everything back together. When tightening the rear axle back up, make sure your chain is aligned. You can get a laser alignment tool which is very useful, but these days even a phone app measure if the surface is level.
The carburettor needs to be cleaned often. This involves regularly removing it from your kart’s engine, taking it apart, and carefully cleaning the inside. With practice, this will become really easy and it will become a habit to clean the carburettor every time you get to the track.
Start by unscrewing the clamp that holds the carburettor onto the engine. Carefully disconnect the throttle cable with the spring which is at the top of the carburettor. You can now remove the carburettor from the engine unit. So, the first step to taking the apart the carburettor is to remove the 4 screws at the bottom. Sometimes, your carburettor might only have 3, but the same process applies.
The next step is to remove the jets from the carburettor. The jets are the shiny gold bolts you see when you open it up. After removing these you can use a solvent spray to clean out the ‘seats’ which hold the jets. This will remove any dirt or old fuel that is stuck inside the carburettor. If you can, it is also advised to apply compressed air to these openings and passages to clear them.
Also spray down and use compressed air on the jets themselves to get them clean. Make sure you put all of your jets back in the same places that they were before. Put the floats back into place – they will balance next to the jets on each side.
The final step is closing the carburettor back up and tightening the screws before putting it back onto the engine and tightening the clamp again. The carburettor can become blocked with dirt or oil in the fuel, so it is important to clean it regularly.
3. Spark Plug
The spark plug is a very sensitive element in a kart. Some spark plugs won’t even work with your standard kart engines like Rotax or Vortex. In some cases, if you put it in a bike engine however, it will work perfectly.
It is important to use the right spark plugs, and also to keep them properly maintained. The recommended spark plug to use is iridium plugs made by NGK. These will give your kart the best performance.
Your spark plug should be checked and cleaned at least every 5 hours according to official manuals, however it is easy to do and takes less than 5 minutes, so you may as well get it done before every session.
You will want to remove the spark plug and clean it using a metal brush. You might find some oil or fuel residue on the spark plug. Ideally, you want the plug to be dry and clean, and this is easy to do, but often overlooked.
Something that is almost never checked is the spark plug cover. It might seem irrelevant to the performance of the spark plug itself but that’s not the case. In some cases, there can be a slight metallic debris left over inside the cover. This can cause current leakage, which will reduce the performance of your engine.
4. Power Valve
The power valve is a crucial element to your senior max kart’s engine performance. Although the power valve doesn’t require maintenance as often as most other parts, it is still important to keep this element of your engine clean and well maintained.
Some trouble that your power valve can cause to your engine performance is a lack of bottom end power, which means you will be struggling for power coming out of corners and accelerating. On the other hand, it could also affect your top end speed, and you will struggle to keep up with your opponents on the straights.
So firstly, you will need to disassemble the power valve. Start by removing the screws that hold the power valve housing onto the engine. Once you remove the power valve housing, you will see a large spring, which can also be removed. Next you can unscrew the bolts on either side of the power valve.
Now you can pull the power valve unit off the engine. You will see the ‘blade’ which is the part that goes into the engine itself attached to the piston (black part with plastic material). On the top part of the piston is the bellows (green rubber part) which should have a small circular spring around it.
You can remove the spring and undo the piston using a 10mm spanner. This will unscrew the blade from the piston. Next, you can remove the bellows from the piston by simply pulling on the bellows. Now you have your power valve disassembled.
Some people like to file down the sides of the blade slightly just to allow for smoother operation, but you don’t have to do it if you don’t feel comfortable. You’ll want to use some oil to lubricate the blade on both sides, as well as the screw that goes into the housing.
Put the blade into the engine insert, and it should move smoothly in and out of the engine. Next, you can put the housing on, over the blade’s screw, and align it with the engine. You can loosely screw the housing back onto the engine to keep it in place. After this, you need to reinstall the bellows onto the housing. You can make this easier by dropping a very small amount of oil on the top part.
Then, you need to put the piston back onto the bellows. This simply attaches back onto the blade screw, and you should tighten it using the 10mm spanner. Make sure not to tighten it too much because it can break really easily.
Make sure you put the plastic rim of the bellows back over the piston. Using flat screwdrivers makes this task much easier. If this is not done, your power valve will leak and not perform properly. Now the difficult part is putting the circular spring back on (remember, the first one we took off).
A trick you can use for this is to take two cable ties and tie them around the spring in order to create a grip for yourself to leverage. Now you can reattach the spring without destroying your fingers. Once the spring is back on, you just cut the cable ties off again.
Now, undo the screws on the sides of the housing which you loosely did earlier. This is because you need to make sure that the housing is perfectly aligned with the engine. If it is not aligned properly, the blade will not operate smoothly as it won’t have the full range of motion available and will cause friction.
All you need to do is check that the power valve’s bolt threads line up perfectly with the engines. If they are matched and you can see straight through, you can tighten the bolts back up. Finally, you can reattach the power valve cover and tighten the cover screws, and you’re all done.
This might sound like a long and difficult process, but once you know what to do and how to do it, you can get this done in about 10 minutes or even less. This is done less often, but it is still important to keep your power valve working at optimum performance.
5. Quick Checks
So far, we have only covered engine maintenance. Although it is arguably the most important maintenance, there are some other small details around your kart that you will wan to be checking on a weekly basis.
Firstly, your bumpers. These are your most likely points of contact in the middle of a race, and they can easily become damaged. To start off, you will need to check if they have any damage, in which case of course they will need to be replaced. On top of that, you need to check the screws that keep them in place on the chassis. These can sometimes loosen, and the last place you want them falling off is on the track.
Next up is the floor. It is rare, but I have seen the floor of a kart come off while driving. You need to make sure that you check the bolts that keep the floor attached to the chassis, especially the bolts on the front of the kart. These can take some damage if you go off the track, or go over a bump, or even if you take too much kerb.
Engine Cables, Hosing & Overflow Tanks
After this, you need to check that all of your engine cables and hosing are attached and still in good condition. These can wear out over time or in extreme heat situations. While doing so, you can also check the overflow tanks, make sure they are empty and none of them are damaged.
You also need to check your exhaust often, as it does require some maintenance. Make sure the exhaust is fitted to the engine manifold properly, and that the rubber shock absorbers at the bottom are still in good condition.
The axle is so important as well. I never payed attention to the axle until it cost me a race win. I always used kerbs very aggressively, and one day while leading a race, my axle snapped in half. Make sure you check it regularly. Check from above the axle and rotate it. Look for any irregularities in the axle, as this will show where it might be bent. The axle needs to be straight the whole way through.
Rear Wheel Hubs
Next, check your rear wheel hubs. If you have a lot of side contact during a race such as wheels bumping against each other, this can cause your wheel hubs to slide over ever so slightly, and it can upset the balance of your entire kart. Make sure they are tightened properly.
Keep track of how often you are cleaning your air filter. This one is also easy to do. It’s the big black box at the front of the engine. Simply undo the clamp and unscrew all the bolts. Check the condition of the filter and clean out any dirt, dust or grass inside the box.
Always make sure your battery is charged up after every session. Rotax recommends always keeping the battery above half charge, otherwise it does not have enough power to power the kart. The battery also has a higher risk of malfunctioning completely when it’s running low.
Moving back to the front of the kart, you need to check your steering column, some call it a steering rod. Bent steering columns are very common in karting, and you might even go through a few of them in a season. It will offset the alignment of your steering, so be sure to replace them if they are bent.
These were some quick tips on regular kart maintenance. This may seem like a lot at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can get all of this done within half an hour to an hour. You don’t need to be a mechanic, and you don’t need to know how an engine works.
All you need is some guidance and some practice, and you’ll be servicing your own kart before every session. Cleaning your kart becomes really satisfying to do, and it becomes fun to spend time around your kart and keeping it well maintained and looked after.
It will also help you to understand how all of these parts work, which will of course benefit you in troubleshooting when something goes wrong. Knowing how to take apart a carburettor and reassemble it is useful for a race weekend with unpredictable weather for example.
I hope that this article has helped you with the maintenance of your kart, and given you some confidence to work on it yourself rather than spending extra money on a mechanic or a team. Just remember, everyone started somewhere, and anyone can learn how to do it.