A lot of people are worried about the maintenance aspect of karts when they get started. It can sound complicated, and not everyone is a mechanic or engineer. However, there are some crucial aspects of racing kart maintenance that every driver should be aware of.
The 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! Below, we provide all the guidance you need to maintain these key parts and keep your kart performing at its best.
The Importance Of Kart Maintenance
Go karts are high maintenance machines – very high maintenance! 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 most of us don’t have the extra finances to hire someone alongside all the existing costs of owning and running a racing kart.
But there is something that’s really fun and satisfying when you are able to maintain your kart all by yourself. Below, we’ll give 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 should 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 it gets much easier the more you do it.
Checking Your Chain
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. Next, you want to be sure to check the chain. I’m going to include chain maintenance in this because it is easy to do while you’re maintaining your clutch.
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 (you should also lubricate it before every session) and dirt from the track shoots up and gets caught in this area. You will want to clean this area up.
Lock The Flywheel
The next step is to remove the clutch casing. We recommend locking the flywheel for this part, 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 it in place while you work. Again, not an essential item, but it makes your job easier.
Loosen The Chain
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, you have 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.
Cleaning The Clutch
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 also want to clean out any dirt or grease stuck inside it.
While your chain is loose, you can clean that as well in the process. Many people will leave their chain to soak in oil or petrol/gasoline in order to take off the dirt and grease, while others will just spray it down with a solvent. Either of these solutions are fine.
Check Sprocket Wear
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 they will eventually need to be replaced. You will notice that the more worn out they become, the duller their teeth are.
In order to keep you clutch running smoothly, you need 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 recommend. You can use a very small amount of grease since it will be done often.
Putting It All Back Together
After you’ve done this, you just 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 can measure if the surface is level.
You also need to clean your carburetor regularly. This involves 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 carburetor every time you get to the track.
Removing Your Carburetor
Start by unscrewing the clamp that holds the carburetor onto the engine. Carefully disconnect the throttle cable with the spring at the top of the carburetor. You can now remove the carburetor from the engine unit.
The first step to taking the apart the carburetor is to remove the 4 screws at the bottom. Your carburetor might only have 3, but the same process applies.
Remove & Cleaning The Jets
The next step is to remove the jets from the carburetor. 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 that hold the jets. This will remove any dirt or old fuel that is stuck inside the carburetor. If you can, we also recommend applying compressed air into these openings and passages to clear them out.
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, and they will balance next to the jets on each side.
The final step is closing the carburetor back up and tightening the screws, before putting it back onto the engine and tightening the clamp again. The carburetor 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. It is important to use the right spark plugs, and also to keep them properly maintained. Widely recommended spark plugs to use are the iridium plugs made by NGK. These will give your kart the best performance.
Do It Before Every Session
Your spark plug should be checked and cleaned at least every 5 hours according to official manuals, but it is easy to do and takes less than 5 minutes, so you may as well do it before every session.
Rich Or Lean?
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 clean and dry, as this suggests you’re running an ideal fuel mixture.
If your spark plug has black, oily soot on it, your engine is running too rich
If it has white residue on it, your engine may be running too lean
Something that is almost never checked is the spark plug cover. In some cases, there can be a little metallic debris left over inside the cover. This can cause current leakage, which will reduce the performance of your engine. So, remove any of this debris if you see it.
4. Power Valve
Although the power valve doesn’t require as much maintenance as most other parts of your kart, it is still important to keep this element of your engine clean and well maintained.
A faulty power valve can lead to 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 speed, and you will struggle to keep up with your opponents on the straights.
Disassembling The Power Valve
To properly maintain it, 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, 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 (it’s the black part with plastic material). At the top part of the piston, you’ll see 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 10 mm 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 fully disassembled your power valve.
Filing & Lubricating The Blade
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.
Putting It All Back Together
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 10 mm 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 you don’t do this, your power valve will leak and not perform properly. Now the difficult part is putting the circular spring back on (this was 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 use for leverage. Now you can reattach the spring without destroying your fingers! Once the spring is back on, you can just cut the cable ties off again.
Aligning It With The Engine
Next, 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 engine’s. 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’ve done it a few times, it only takes about 10 minutes. 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 part of your maintenance routine, there are some other small details around your kart that you will want to be checking on a weekly basis.
Your bumpers 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 on the track. 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.
Your axles are important to check as well. I never payed attention to my axles until it cost me a race win. I always used kerbs very aggressively, and one day while leading a race, my rear 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. It’s a fairly easy part of your kart maintenance routine. 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, for example, recommends always keeping the battery above half charge. The battery also has a higher risk of malfunctioning when it’s running low.
Finally, 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 single season. This will offset the alignment of your steering, so be sure to replace yours if it’s bent.
This may seem like a lot at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can get all of this kart maintenance 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 in no time!