As with most things in life, you can always find a great deal if you know what you’re looking for. Through the course of this article, I’ll lay out the essential things I learned about what you need to look for in used karts to avoid getting a busted rig that’ll only cause you heartache.
So, what should you consider when buying a used go-kart? When you buy a used go-kart, you should consider the following:
- The Frame
- The Undercarriage
- The Engine
- The Previous Driver
There’s a lot of stuff to look at when you go to check out a potential new purchase in the shape of a used kart, with only some issues that have to result in red flags. To fully understand that, and exactly what each of the above ‘categories’ entails in terms of inspection, don’t go anywhere!
1. The Frame: Take A Close Look
Because go-karts don’t have a suspension system, the frame is easily one of the most crucial parts in a rig because it deals with all of the torque, every turn of a track and every bump or jostle.
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Always check out the frame first and foremost when you go to view a used kart for this reason; if the base isn’t sound, it isn’t really worth your time. There’s only so much fixing that can go into the foundation of a kart itself, after all.
Start your inspection by looking for large dents that could betray previous accidents. These will commonly be found on the front and rear, but sometimes the sides of a kart can be struck when it spins out or another driver slams into it. If the dents cover a large area yet look pretty shallow, this is actually okay and easy to buff out when you come to repairing and sprucing the kart up.
When you find big, crater-like dents that have caved a deep portion of the tubing, that’s a bad sign, and is difficult to fix. Check the frame for cracks, too, because big ones can point to bad structural integrity!
Shallow cracks and scratches are part of the package, so don’t worry about those. Really look for deep, long cracks because even if you patch them up, they’ll keep coming back to haunt you.
Next, keep an eye on the kart to check that all four tires touch the ground at the same time after being placed down on a flat surface. Try rocking the kart to see if there’s any serious mismatch that could point to a warped frame. Always bring along a tape measure to view a used kart, and use that to measure the rear axle on each side of the frame to make sure it’s still in the center.
If you find that it’s out by a couple of millimeters, that’s no big deal at all; even brand-new karts can have that sort of mismatch. But if it’s into centimeters difference, that can point to trouble down the road.
2. The Undercarriage: Never Forget It!
When you go to buy a used car, you probably never think to check underneath it, right? Well, the same thing goes for go-karts, funnily enough. It probably wouldn’t even cross your mind and yet it’s one of the most important places to inspect! After all, go-karts are low to the ground and bad damage to the underside is more common than you’d expect.
Not all go-kart racers are good about checking the frame guards underneath to make sure they haven’t run down. Because of that, you need to be extra vigilant about checking! Without these guards in place, the frame will start scraping the ground and can result in outright flattening it.
A flattened frame means that it’s structurally unsound and weak, which means it’ll only be a ticking timebomb if you buy it! If you check underneath and see some scrapes, scratches and other minor damages, that won’t be a problem at all.
If you see new or at the very least intact frame guards, that’s a sign of a good go-kart owner and you can rely on the kart’s structural integrity. But, if you see some exposed framework tubes that have been worn down, that’s when you need to politely make your exit.
3. The Engine: Seems Obvious, Right?
When you’re buying a full kart, tires, engine and all, it goes without saying that you need to check out the engine that it’s advertised to come with. No matter whether you want the kart simply to enjoy some leisurely laps, or whether you have plans of making it big as a kart racer, you want a safe, well-kept engine!
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The biggest questions to ask yourself when it comes to used go-kart engines are these:
- Is smoke coming out when you let it run for a while?
- Does the oil leak?
- Has the chain been properly lubricated, or is it speckled with rust?
- What do the spark plugs look like? Are there any signs of dry rot?
Now, engines are notoriously messy to deal with, so don’t be worried if it looks a bit dirty in places. In fact, I’d be more worried if you approach a used kart and the engine is practically sparkling clean!
When you first get to the kart viewing, ask for it to be started up and keep an eye on the engine while you inspect everything I mentioned previously. A little bit of smoke and dark fumes is to be expected, especially if it’s been a while since it was started up. However, if it’s still smoking and producing dark fumes after a couple of minutes, that points to some internal issues with the engine.
While watching for smoke, you can also check and see if there’s any leakages of oil or fuel. Leaks can happen, but ideally, you don’t want to be buying a kart with this problem. Let the engine cool down and then ask for a look inside, where you can check out the chain, spark plugs and the overall look of it.
A rusted chain is a pretty big warning sign that the kart hasn’t been looked after too well, so take caution if you see spots of rust.
Spark plugs should be replaced every year, period, so if you see some messed up plugs that look like they haven’t been moved for years, turn the other way.
Dry rot, it goes without saying, isn’t good in the slightest. It can be cleaned with a lot of time and effort, so if you don’t mind investing on that front, it isn’t a deal-breaker. If the rot is inside delicate parts, however, it just isn’t worth the engine rebuild.
4. Tires/Wheels: Where Rubber Meets The Road
You might think that tires aren’t very important because hey, you can easily replace those! However, it’s always worth checking them for a number of reasons. And, well, it’s nice to not have to immediately buy new tires when getting a used kart; same as buying a used car.
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First of all, check out the tires on the kart to see what the tread looks like and what state the sidewalls are in. If the tires still have some life in them and the sidewalls haven’t been grazed to death by collisions, it’s a good sign that the kart was well-looked after.
After this initial check, look at how the tires spin. You can either get the kart raised up on a trolley or ask for the owner to lift it up for you so you can check this. Do the tires spin well, or are you hearing squeaks and squeals as it rotates?
The latter will point to bad or poorly lubricated bearings, and this can actually throw off a whole wheel’s alignment, causing tires to wear faster and will overall damage the kart over time.
To wrap up this test, try locking the front wheels by braking them with your feet, and lean over to try the steering wheel. Steer slowly yet firmly and if you feel a bit of ‘give’ in the steering joints, you’ve found a kart with a lot of miles left in it!
5. The Previous Driver: Ask Questions!
Getting information straight from the horse’s mouth is the best way to have it, and if the kart owner is the one you’re talking to, this whole step is stupidly easy! If not, you’ll have to do a lot more investigative work to find out about the previous owner because, funnily enough, stuff like that really matters.
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When you go to buy a used car, you always pay attention to previous owners, right? So why would a go-kart be any different?
To begin with, compare your weight and height with the previous owner who drove the kart to see if you’ll be able to drive it. If you’re significantly smaller or larger than the previous owner, the kart just might not work for you even if you make adjustments like getting a new seat.
Karts may be simple bits of kit, but they’re geared pretty specifically to height and weight classifications.
While asking questions and exchanging chatter, check out the visible parts of the kart for any rust. A kart owner who cares wouldn’t let any significant rust build up; even if they haven’t driven it for some time.
If the previous driver/ owner is available to talk to, don’t hold back! Ask them everything from how the kart handles to why they’ve decided to sell it. The answers can be quite telling and you’ll learn a lot about the rig in the process.
Make sure to ask questions about the kart’s previous maintenance, too, so you can make sure that it was well-looked-after. Did the previous owner wrap the tires when races or practices were done? Clean the frame? Keep an eye on chain tension? Oil change frequently?
Every question you ask will illuminate more of a picture of what your life will be like if you buy this kart, so don’t be afraid to really dive deep!
Truly, there’s no experience like buying a kart. And there’s something extra satisfying when you buy one for a true steal in price, especially after spending time to fix it up or otherwise get it looking good!
There are some real gems out there if you know what to look for, so don’t let the buying process intimidate you or stand between you and a great kart. I hope that this guide of personal experiences I’ve built up over the years helps, and that you soon find a rig with a lot of life left in it!