Buying a kart (2nd Edition)

This comes up a lot on the forums so I thought I would update the articles I wrote on this in February and March last year! So what do you need to consider?

It is worth pointing out firstly that, if you are new to karting, you aren’t going to take all of this in straight away – it’s hard to write a guide that doesn’t bamboozle newcomers but is complete at the same time! Read it, learn from the forums (Karting1.co.uk is a very friendly place for noobs to ask questions), talk to some kart owners at the track, start to build up an idea for what you want – things might be a little clearer when you return!

1. What class of karts are raced at your local track or what are your mates driving?

Even if you have no plans to race now, you should bear this in mind. Why find that you need to replace everything in 9 months once you are bitten by the bug and want to start racing? Visit the local tracks on a practice day and chat to the other owners – you’ll find they have much more time to chat on a practice day compared to a race day. Ask everything and anything but bear in mind that everyone will have a different opinion – what works for one driver will not necessarily work for you! Contact the local kart club to get some expert advice and ask if they run open days where potential new owners can test drive a kart – why turn down the chance of a free go? Of course, if you already have mates who are owners then this may well answer this question for you.

2. Set your budget

Before you can go about finding the right kart, you need to set your budget. A Formula TKM kart from 2009 will start at around £600, a RotaxMax-engined kart nearer £1000 (if you are considering Rotax, you need to know that the engines must be sealed by a licensed engine builder if you are considering MSA racing). You can obviously spend more and look at much newer karts. You will also see older, cheaper karts around, many of which will be described as TKM 100cc karts. The key is whether the kart has a Tal-Ko BT82 engine – if not, you are looking at a much older engine for which part availability may be limited, as may your race options.

When I use the term ‘TKM’ from here on, I mean Formula TKM…

3. I’ve picked a class but how do I buy the ‘right’ kart?

Your options will be to buy a complete kart which just needs you to add fuel or a rolling chassis (everything except the engine) where you must source the engine parts yourself. The benefit of the former is that you can arrange to meet the seller at the track and test everything for yourself. With the latter, you can more easily perform a visual inspection (of the chassis without the engine mounted) but you won’t get to feel how it handles and, when buying the engine, you will really want to see it running to be sure it at least fires up ok.You may also need to source the carb/exhaust/starting system separately.

4. I’m going TKM, what engine type should I get?

You have three TKM engine options: Direct Drive, Clutched, TaG (Touch and Go). Direct Drive is the cheapest and simplest but the downside is that it needs a push start – either doing it yourself (and then jumping in) or having someone to do the pushing. If you can overcome this (it’s easy once you know how, apparently!), then you’ll find troubleshooting a whole lot simpler. Bear in mind though that, if you spin out on track, the engine will cut out and you will need to push start yourself once again. A clutched engine uses a centrifugal clutch and requires an external starter. If you spin, the engine should not cut out. Both Direct Drive and Clutched engines will have either cast or CNC-machined cylinder liner ports. Cast ports were used on the older engines. CNC-machined ports feature on engines after serial number 6500 (and all TaG engines) although you cannot use the engine number alone as a guide as the previous owners may have swapped the parts around. CNC-machined engines are generally considered to be better and command a price premium.

A TaG has a touch-button start system using an on-board battery. The wiring loom for TaGs has seen numerous upgrades, each more reliable than the previous version – you will want to know the age of a TaG engine and also whether the loom has been replaced at all. Because of the loom and battery, there are some tuning modifications to the TaG engines to offset the excess weight.

Engine prices for Direct Drive engines will fall into one of three categories: non-CNC £250-£350, CNC £500-£600, an ex-Super 1 (the national race series) engine (with some proof to back up any lofty claims) £750-£1000. Bear in mind that a new Direct Drive engine costs £1200, a Clutched engine £1300 and a TaG £1650.

5. What make of chassis should I get?

This is all a matter of personal preference. If you are buying from a manufacturer or trader, you can test drive the options and see what feels best. You may find it really boils down to availability of spares – is there an on-site shop at your preferred track and, if so, which manufacturers parts do they stock? Will you be buying replacement parts direct from the manufacturer or looking to buy used from eBay? There are plenty of options but you’ll find that OTK (a brand that encompasses the TonyKart, Kosmic, Alonso and Exprit brands of kart) parts are by far the most commonly available in the used markets.

6. Where should I buy?

You have a few options here. You can buy new or nearly new karts direct from the manufacturer. Obviously, this is the most expensive option but you should be confident of getting a decent piece of kit. You can buy from a trader – they are generally very helpful in making sure you get something that suits you, you’ll have some comeback if you encounter problems in the short term and, if they are based at the track where you drive, you’ll have a source of assistance in those times of need (and there will be plenty). You can buy from an individual – either through contacts i.e. the local club, via one of the big two UK kart forums (www.karting1.co.uk and www.karting.co.uk – the latter tends to have a more active ‘for sale’ area) or via eBay. Avoid eBay if possible – that’s the place where the karts that haven’t sold anywhere else end up. It’s a great place for spares but not necessarily for karts and engines. You may also see retirement packages up for sale from time to time; these can offer very good value for money and the spares can prove to worth their weight in gold in the long run.

7. How do I avoid buying a dud?

If you are new and do not have expert friends, it’s very hard to be certain. Buy from a trader would be the easy advice. You need to ask the right questions but, even then, you will ideally need to visually inspect the kart and then test drive it.

8. What questions should I ask?

  • What make, model and year is kart?
  • Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives)
  • Is the engine Direct Drive, Clutched or TaG?*
  • What is the serial number of the engine?*
  • When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
  • Does it have a cast or CNC-machined barrel?*
  • How many hours since the last rebuild? (a TKM engine needs a rebuild after 8-10 hours and cost between £300-£400!)
  • On what bore is the engine? (TKM engines have a range of bore sizes, the maximum bore size for a Junior TKM engine is 51.40mm, for a Senior TKM engine it is 54.75mm. The point here is that, if the engine is on it’s final bore, it may be needing a new barrel at the next rebuild and that’s not cheap)*
  • Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
  • Does the chassis have any cracks/re-welds/rust/flattening? (yes to any of the above will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
  • What size rear axle does it have? (30mm tend to be found only in older karts, 50mm is the standard nowadays, converting from one to the other will cost extra)
  • What sized seat is included? (if it isn’t your size, you’ll be needing to buy one before you get out on track)
  • In what condition are the tyres?
  • What is the condition of the bodywork?
  • Exactly what spares are included?

* TKM specific questions – I am sure there will be other questions specific to other classes, it’s just that I cannot help you with them!

9. What are the essentials?

You will need:

  • An external starter (if going TKM Direct Drive or Clutched)
  • A kart trolley – to push your kart from the pits to the track
  • A data logging system (Mychron or Alfano) – the Mychron 4 is generally recognised to be the best of the affordable bunch
  • Some fuel cans, preferably different colours (one for mixed fuel, one for unmixed)
  • Fuel filters

10. What spares do I ‘need’?

You will want spare:

  • Tyres
  • Hubs
  • Sprockets
  • Chains
  • Carbs

You might want to consider spare:

  • Axle
  • Bodywork
  • Stub axles
  • Track rods
  • Bearings

11. What about perishables?

  • Chain lube
  • Carb cleaner
  • Brake cleaner
  • WD40/GT85
  • Engine oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Fuel hose
  • Mechanics gloves
  • Cable ties
  • Hose clips
  • Nuts/Bolts

12. And tools?

  • Spark plug spanner
  • T-Bar socket (for wheel nuts)
  • T-Handle Hex/Allen Key set
  • Ratchet spanner set
  • Snippers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Metal ruler

Feel free to post questions or suggest improvements 🙂

Practice 6: ARKS test

Thursday night was a bit of a rush, it being the first dry evening since the kart got soaked on Monday – I had dried the kart as best I could (given the constraints of working on a kart sat on a camping trailer inside a single garage) but there was still a fair amount of moisture around the engine mount so I chose to remove it and make sure everything was clean and dry. Not the best time for a first solo removal of the engine and exhaust perhaps but it needed doing. I also had to reset the front width after widening it at Llandow and I got as much ready for the day as possible: changed the sprocket, mixed some new fuel and slightly overinflated the tyres so that I could tweak them in the morning.

We got to Clay Pigeon Raceway about 20 mins before the track opened, signed in and were told to have a few runs and the ARKS examiner would come and get us when the time was right. I had been a bit worried on the drive down about the possibility of a repeat of the starting difficulty we had last time so I was relieved when it started first time. I ran my normal wheel, hub and chassis bolt checks and, unusually, we were out for the first session 🙂 We had a stuttering start though – Junior came in eight laps reporting the back end felt loose. I wondered if this was a tyre pressure issue so I dropped them down a notch. Second time out he complained it felt even worse! With his hesitancy from Llandow in mind, I assured him that nothing was loose so there was no safety issue and sent him back out to give the tyres a good warm up and see if the handling improved. I widened the back end by 5mm on each side when he came back and, from then on, he was happy with the handling and was soon pushing it. It was only during the fourth session that I realised the ARKS instructor was marshalling so that he could watch Junior, who by this time had beaten his previously best lap time from our February session. The instructor was more than happy with his speed and it was at that point I stupidly commented on it being nice to have the kart running without issue. No more than two minutes later, the kart is parked up on the exit of Billies and Junior is inspecting the back end. I made for the trolley park.

This was an interesting one: not only had the chain had come off but the sprocket was hanging on by a single bolt and one part of the sprocket protector was sitting on the axle, next to the chain. I had lost two of the three bolts from the sprocket carrier although one was bent and wedged in the back of composite chainguard. There were no nuts, including those that separated the sprocket from the sprocket protector (on which the fixing holes were now very worn to the point of being largely useless). I had lost parts on track yet again… 🙁 This was and still is something that I am desperate to see the end of – this particular problem was a new occurence and I can only assume that the nuts on the outside of the plastic sprocket protector had come loose. Just like the exhaust screws, it seems that once one goes it’s only a matter of time and the sprocket nuts were not nylocs, nor was I checking them between sessions. I removed all the relevant parts – there was composite chainguard ‘dust’ all over the engine, chain and chassis. The chainguard itself was cut up and the sprocket had worn on side of the teeth. I disposed of the sprocket, patched up the back of the chainguard with tank tape, bought six new sprocket carrier bolts (we – and every other kart I have ever looked at – had only three bolts in place before now) and cleaned everything up. We missed two sessions but at least it gave us some time to have some lunch.

As we were ready to head out again, Junior was called for his ARKS driving results and theory test – the only comment was that he needed to use the kerbs in the Esses and he got all his questions right in the test, meaning he passed his test 🙂

We made the most of the remaining four sessions, running until we were kicked off at 5pm. Junior had some fun racing with a couple of his friends he knew from Teamsport Bristol – one a Senior Max, the other in a Mini Max which made for a surprisingly entertaining spectacle and he was chuffed to post a new fastest lap of 36.92s, especially as his tyres were probably making a farewell appearance (they were used when we got the kart and he’s since done over 400 laps on them!). All in all, a good day – ARKS test passed, 157 laps ‘bum-in-seat’ time and a new fastest lap, only tainted by the sprocket bolt problem although I am now running six bolts (three of the holes on the sprocket and sprocket protectors are now badly worn) and checking them after each session (they do need tightening up every time, even with nylocs – I wonder if it is the plastic sprocket protector that doesn’t really allow for a firm tightening of the nuts).

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £85 ARKS test fee (including track practice), £1.50 for 6 sprocket carrier bolts

Total spent so far: £2,680

Practice 4: Holy S#!t (our first accident)

I had a feeling last night – one of those feelings; that I woke up with again this morning. There was never any chance of me calling the practice day off – if you are going to have those feelings then you need to find another hobby! I just shrugged it off as a stupid thought and got ready. Whereas my first couple of practice day mornings were stressful, outside-of-the-comfort-zone affairs (both from the point of view of towing and running the kart on my own), I am quite excited to be going karting nowadays even if I’m not the one doing all the fun stuff. Giving myself an hour was pushing it though and we arrived later than I had hoped, at around 9:45.  Clay was Clay – cloudy and windy with rain never looking too far away. Things were going ok – bolts checked, tyres pressures set, chain lubed [I realise now that I omitted to check the jet settings!] until, when I thought I’d take up some of the slack on the throttle cable, I noticed that the throttle valve wasn’t closing fully and wasn’t closing very quickly at all. It didn’t look like anything I had done in loosening the cable clamps and I couldn’t figure it out. I had to resort to the going to see Mike at the shop; I don’t really like looking like a noob but I have found the service to be excellent – you might pay a little extra for the convenience of having it there trackside but I’ve nothing but praise for Mike and his team. It turned out my cable had rusted inside the sheath (lesson #1 for the day – after a wet session, the cable needs to be cleaned/dried). I parted with £1.50 and had the part fitted 🙂 It turns out I had spare cables (I tend to learn what spares I got with the package as I find out I need them) and changing the cable wasn’t any great issue  but I didn’t know that at the time!

We missed the first 20-minute session but were set for the next one. I was unable to start the engine on the trolley as it looks like I have killed my remote starter battery but again the engine started perfectly in the pit lane and off went Junior. He seems to have developed a routine where the first lap is very slow – I think experience has taught him to take it easy and see if anything falls off! A couple of the corners were a tiny bit damp but his lap times were tumbling when it happened… one of the adult rotax drivers had been on Junior’s tail for a lap or so when, going into The Hairpin, it looked like Junior left the door open, the other driver seemed to go, then stop, then realised he was being let through. Unfortunately Junior decided he had waited long enough and turned in, they banged sides but instead of bouncing off the track together, the rotax flipped up over Junior’s rear wheel and both kart and driver continued up over Junior’s back/shoulder and helmet and down over the front of the kart. It looked bad and Junior was sat pretty still in his kart and the other driver and I legged it over. Neck ok? Check. Back ok? Check. Head ok? Check. At this point the only injury seemed to be his hand, which he couldn’t feel but he could wiggle his fingers somewhat. We walked him off to the reception to get some ‘treatment’ whilst a couple of drivers retrieved his kart (thanks, Gents!). I knew he was ok as he first asked whether the 37.6s lap he’d just done was his best lap at Clay (sorry, mate – that was 37.5s) and then told me the how the kart was broke. The ‘treatment’ as it turned out was some cold spray!!!

Our kart seemed to come off worse – bent bumper, damaged spark plug cable, broken spark plug cap and badly bent steering wheel. Junior’s suit had marks up the back, his neck support was split and his helmet had some fortuitously light marking – presumably from either the tyre or floor tray of the rotax. At this point it wasn’t clear whether we’d be heading back out so I gave Junior something to ease the pain (his iPhone) whilst I bought a replacement spark plug cap and started repairs. The steering wheel was a challenge – it resembles something like it’s original shape after some bending and a few smacks with a hammer but I think it’s probably beyond full repair. The rear bumper bolt was bent at 30 degrees and stuck fast. An hour or so later and Junior still wasn’t able to clench his hand so it was game over after only 12 laps! The staff at Clay were sympathetic enough to offer us a full credit note which was good of them. So, as the sun looked set for the afternoon, we left for home.

The bumper bolt took me another hour to remove at home! On the plus side, I got to clean more of the back end that had been less accessible with the bumper on. The bumper itself looks in need of a vice (which I don’t have) so I put on the spare. Yet again, I came to appreciate the completeness of my spares set as I had little hope of finding a bumper bolt – there were 3 or 4 in there 🙂

A steering wheel replacement looks costly – I’ll have to look into the options here. Most of the marks came off Junior’s helmet with a damp cloth and there is no sign of damage, which was a relief. We don’t seem to be having much luck at the moment!

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7.50 petrol for 5l super unleaded for the kart, £5 parts (throttle cable, spark plug cap)

Total spent so far: £2,372

Buying a kart (part 1)

There is *so* much to consider when buying a kart. You need to set a budget and pick a class (see ‘How Much Does Karting Cost?‘). Having spent two months watching karts sale on the karting forums and on eBay, I developed a reasonable picture of how much things would sell for and the kinds of questions that must be asked when enquiring about karts for sale.

Which class – rotax or TKM?
My budget (£1500 in total – £650-£700 for a complete kart, moving upto £1000 depending upon how comprehensive the spares package was and £500 for a trailer/towbar) essentially ruled out rotax so I only looked at Junior TKMs.

A complete kart with spares package or a rolling chassis on which to build the kart?
I settled on a retirement package – they seem to come up frequently enough that finding one within reasonable travelling distance should be possible and they offer great value for money when compared to buying the necessary bits individually (rolling chassis, complete engine (airbox > exhaust), slicks/wets, Mychron, trolley, starter, a spare carb and a few chains/sprockets – it soon adds up even if you decide you don’t need all of the above) although I was wary of over-valuing any spares package (as sellers tend to do) given I might not end up ever using some of the bits (or even identify them!). If you know what you are doing and are happy to wait for the right prices then the rolling chassis route may be more feasible for you than it was me!

Which engine type – direct drive, clutched or TAG?
I favoured direct drive as they are cheaper (a bit less than clutched and a lot less than TAG) and require less maintenance. Some say they are quicker but cost was the primary consideration. The only downside is bump starting – I rented a direct drive kart from a member at the local track to satisfy myself that this would not be a problem so never really considered the alternatives.

Where to buy?
I’d recommend the local kart club first of all – they may know of members selling up or changing classes and I found them *extremely* helpful (thanks, Derek!) and full of very good advice on what you might want to be looking out for. I definitely would not have decided to go for it were it not for the help of the kart club and members whom I met in the karting forums. Failing that then the best sources are the Karting.co.uk Market Place and the Karting1.co.uk For Sale forum (the former seems to get more items listed) and, of course, there is eBay. I watched a lot of karts go on eBay; the impression I get with is that you really need to know what you are looking for here as, whilst there may be the odd bargain to be found, there is probably an awful lot of stuff that nobody else wanted (although it’s a great source for spares and some of the little things that you will find you need later on). Your best bet is to find something that the seller is happy to bring to your local track, where you can try it out, see what you are buying and hopefully have one or two friendly members pore over it before you hand over your money.

Questions to ask when buying a kart/chassis:
Where/when was the kart last used/raced? (you can lookup the previous results on the club’s result page and check for DNFs if you are as paranoid as me!) but also be a little wary of a championship winning chassis – they won’t necessarily have had the easiest of lives
What is the serial number of the engine?
When the engine was last rebuilt and by who? (you can verify this with the rebuilder)
How many hours since the last rebuild?
Is the chassis straight/when was it last checked?
Does the chassis have any cracks/rewelds/rust/flattening? (any chassis issue will heavily impact the value of a chassis)
What sized seat is included?
In what condition are the tyres?
What is the condition of the bodywork?
Exactly what spares are included?

If I was going to spend my full £1000 budget, I wanted to ensure that my spares package included a decent set of slicks and wets both on rims (the MSA approved wet tyres changed for 2013 so, whilst you can practice on anything, you need this year’s wets to race in any MSA events after April 1st), a Mychron 4, a trolley (*essential*) and a remote starter.

The Three Big Questions #3: How much does karting cost?

So your son is going to love it and you’ve decided you are up to the challenge so now it’s all down to the money – how much will this all cost? Unsurprisingly, it really depends upon how seriously you are going to take it and how much you are willing to spend (it will use up whatever budget you have and then some!). The up front costs are more visible, it’s the ongoing costs that mount up. To start with you need to decide on a class – Junior TKM is generally accepted to be cheaper than the Junior and Mini Rotax classes (there is plenty of discussion to be found on which class is preferred and Spellfame’s overview of the various karting classes is very informative) although it may boil down to what is popular at your local track. You must then set your budget for your kart – will you opt for a complete starter package or are you going to buy a rolling chassis and build up the kart from there? Then there are the things that you will need to have when you arrive at the track for the first time – tools, racewear, fuel and we haven’t gotten to the maintenance side of things yet!

I was aiming very much at the entry level; I have friends who bought karts for their sons at the same time but whose budget was up to three times the size of mine! Here is the list of items that figured in my karting costs spreadsheet along with the costs I factored in, obviously you may not need all of this…

Initial costs:
Kart – complete Junior TKM kart and a decent spares package* (£1,000)
Towing – towbar fitted, camping-style trailer (£500)
Racewear – racesuit (£100), rainsuit (£20), rib protector (optional – £60), neck brace (optional – £30), CMR 2007 certified helmet for MSA racing (£150-£400)
Track membership – Clay Pigeon offer members £5 off every practice session (£35)
ARKS pack – only necessary if MSA racing (£50)
ARKS license test – only necessary if MSA racing (£90)

Karting costs:
Practice day – £40 per day
Race day – £47 per day
Transponder hire (if racing and don’t own one) – £10 hire per day

Consumables:
Race slick tyres** (3-4 race days per set) – £130 per set
Race wet tyres** (1-2 sets per year) – £130 per set
Chains – £20 each
Sprockets – £15 each
Fuel (~5 litres per day @ 135p/ltr + oil) – £8 per day
Petrol to get to track (2 gallons per trip) – £12

Maintenance:
Engine rebuild (every 8-12 hours) – £250-£340 depending upon who
Carburettor clean (every 3 sessions) – £15

* Make sure you get a trolley, preferably spare tyres/rims, sprockets, chains, a seat that fits and any spare body/chassis bits you can!
** Whilst your son is getting up to speed, he won’t be wearing the tyres out as quickly