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 🙂

I must not buy anything else for the kart!

I had an offer of a bent 2010 EVR chassis this week and, since I was in the midlands, made a detour to pick it up. Of course, whilst I was there I *just had to* get the final few things that I had wanted to get for the new season: a set of new wet rims for my inters, some side pod bars ahead of getting new pods and decals for Junior’s birthday, a Viper exhaust bracket to strengthen our flimsy exhaust and another engine mount so that I didn’t have to switch my mount between the engines. I’m quite please with my purchases; the rims and bracket are new and I saved a fair bit on the side pod bars 🙂 I really do need to stop spending now though – at least the good news is that, other than the few things that Junior wants for his birthday, I cannot think of a single thing I need now. Running costs only from here on…honest!

Whilst the bend wasn’t too bad, the chassis does need a weld as it has a small crack on the brake-side bearing hanger and, although not flattened, it is a bit tatty underneath. I’ll definitely keep it in case something happens to our EVXX chassis but I don’t think I’ll be spending any money on getting it jigged just yet. This also now means that I am very close to owning two complete karts – that does start making you wonder 😉

I’ve decided to change my accounting style a little – not much benefit in a running total of costs since the year dot so I’ll detail this year’s spend and the previous year’s total.

Total spent this year: £374 – OTK engine mount £30,  wet rims £50, OTK exhaust bracket £20, side pod bars £30

Year 1 spend: £4,594

Every little helps

I’ll point out at the outset that I haven’t started buying my sprockets from Tesco! This has been an expensive month and the realisation that we needed much more wet practice (I still cannot believe this hadn’t dawned on me sooner) meant the expenses for October weren’t finished.

Most importantly I needed waterproof clothing – the Weise motorcycle jacket ordered from a vendor on eBay arrived one day after ordering and fits very nicely thank-you. Hopefully the trousers will arrive soon also. Secondly, I have ordered a used OTK engine mount to replace my mount which does not appear correctly align with the engine – not much flexibility there in terms of retailers (eBay again) but, when it came to the perishables (restocking on replacement bolts and getting another set of mechanics gloves), I started looking for opportunities to save some money. I spent an hour or so scouring everyone’s favourite auction site looking for some of the things that aren’t specific to motorsport and therefore can be bought without paying the ‘motorsport tax’ (ok, so it’s not a tax – more of a premium). Prices vary but I saved a few quid – 30% on mechanics gloves, 20% on high tensile bolts. Shame they were low cost items but it all helps, right?

Purchases: £20 Weise Waterford motorcycle jacket, £20 IXON motorcycle trousers,  £39 OTK engine mount drilled for TKM, £4 Maxiflex Ultimate gloves, £5 20x high tensile M6 45mm bolts (for sprocket carrier), £3 20x M10 high tensile screw bolts 40mm, £3 20x M10 high tensile screw bolts 45mm (for chassis/bearing carriers)

Total spent so far: £3,825

Practice 11: best laps and breakages

The second of back-to-back Saturdays. Once again I found myself awake in the early hours, brain totally engaged thinking about the day. Having found the benefits of an early arrival (i.e. plenty of time to get ready for the first session without rushing) to my liking last week, we arrived an hour before the track opened. Unlike last week however, I hadn’t really been able to do as much of the preparation at home the night before owing to the poor weather (the garage has insufficient space to actually work in it and the lighting is awful) so the tyres (a fairly decent ‘new’ used set bought from the forums some time ago) hadn’t been inflated, I hadn’t gotten the new carb gaskets fitted, nor check everything over properly after I had stripped the back end down to dry it last week. The preparation hour was a bit of a rush; I put the new 3l fuel tank on, corrected the kind of mistakes you make when working in the dark (i.e. a front wheel with three wheel nuts but only two bolts used!) and got everything set. We were on the grid when the cadets came off at 10:10.

Our first problem of the day: the kart wouldn’t fire. I gave it a couple of aborted push start attempts but there wasn’t even the hint of it starting. I took it back to the pits and checked the ignition box wire connectors were ok and then checked the spark plug and found that we were not getting a spark. I whipped out the new plug that I had bought in the week for just this purpose and things looked more promising. Hastily, I tossed the old plug in the bin and we went for another attempt at getting on track. Once again the kart is showing no signs of starting so back to the pits again – it seemed the sparking was intermittent. I had used my only spare HT lead at a recent practice at Dunks. Good job that Clay has a shop… only the shop didn’t have one! Fortunately, I was able to borrow one (from my good friend also known as KartingDad’s Karting Dad!), swap the lead over and get the kart starting reliably on the stand and running fine (shame about the plug I threw in the bin full of wasps but never mind).

Junior was on the grid for the start of the second session but only managed three laps before coming in to complain about his brakes. I could see that one pad was rubbing the disc engine-side and there was quite a gap brake-side but assumed, as he had been running ok, that it I could just adjust it at the end of the session. He did another 15 laps but with a slow best time of 39.3s and still complaining about the brake. Back in the pits, I was surprised to see the brake-side pad was rubbing the disc and the gap was now engine-side. If you are thinking “grub screws”, you would be correct: the grub screws had abandoned ship! Pleasingly, I figured that one out straight away too. Disappointingly, this was a mechanic error – I wasn’t overly tightening the grub screws knowing grub screw damage can severely weaken an axle. I have to admit that I hadn’t checked the grub screws at the start of the day so it could well have been that I hadn’t tightened them enough (even for my liking) after refitting the axle. Everything else was still aligned and looking good so it was just the grub screws required – you’d think these would be in stock wouldn’t you? As far as shop stock went, today wasn’t my lucky day so they gave me the only one they had. Having lost a couple at home recently, I only had one spare and my Karting Dad had one also. Cue wandering around the pits trying to buy spares! I managed to get some but it wrote off the remainder of the morning with only 18 laps under our belt and a best (and faulty brake affected) time of 39.1s.

The third session was more like it: 23 laps with a best of 36.6 and lots of time still evident in Junior’s lines. The fourth was better again: running with the camera on-board for first time of the day, Junior managed a 36.5s before the camera mount snapped :S See if you can spot the moment in my YouTube video. I am not convinced this punt on the camera is working – the camera itself is fine but the case and mounts haven’t looked up to the massive vibration that karting poses. For this session we were also running with the MyTach GPS watch. I’ve still not really read up on this but the watch gives you top speed readings and we were looking to test sprocket sizes. Running a 78 sprocket (what we had always run at Clay although I know the quicker guys run a fair bit smaller), we did a fastest lap of 36.57 with a top speed of 64.6mph (ironically analysis at home showed this was not on the fastest lap, which included a top speed of 60.8mph). With our problems seemingly behind us, we switched to a 76 sprocket and ran the GPS again. This time Junior put in a 36.42, the top speed on that lap was 63.8mph and his maximum speed during the session was 64.7mph. Not much in it, I am sure you will agree – I put this down to inconsistency, particularly out of the Top Bend but there was some interesting data in there: he was 3mph quicker down the straight into The Hairpin on the smaller sprocket.

The track then seemed to cool a little and I think my not increasing the tyre pressures a fraction may have cost us a few tenths as we drifted in the 36.6/36.7s laps before we encountered our biggest problem of the day: Junior had been holding up a couple of RotaxMax’s for a few laps and ran wide at The Horseshoe, matey decided to stick his nose up on the outside and, as Junior moved wider to get a line for the bend, they hit – flicking our back end up and causing Junior to run onto the grass. He rejoined the track and ran for another 8 laps. I was very surprised when he came in and I took the chainguard off – the chain looked blackened and dry (it had been freshly lubed) and was missing a few chunks, then I noticed the teeth on the rear sprocket (a brand, spanking new one that day) were wrecked which lead me to a front sprocket with some nice sharp spurs! At this point I needed KartingDad’s Karting Dad (again) as I had no idea how to remove a front sprocket and have learnt I need to buy some new tools :S With hindsight, either of two changes I made during the day may have contributed to this: I removed the sprocket protectors after deciding to use 6 sprocket bolts instead of three (it looked like the front sprocket alignment was a little uneven as the rear sprocket was rotated so I add the extra bolts in case this was the cause and the protectors have three warped holes that no longer easily facilitate the extra bolts) and the chain was running a little looser than I normally have it (on advice!). We went back to the 78 sprocket (now my smallest), a 110  chain (also now my smallest) and fitted a spare front sprocket (thanks again, spares :)).

The track was quieter now and Junior spent the last couple of sessions racing his friends. His lines through the afternoon had really come on – a screech and a lift entering Billies always looks good, taking The Esses with a decent amount of kerb was becoming more of the norm and, although his exit from The Hairpin was still a little tight and he had acquired a new, slower line through The Horseshoe, he was carrying [a little] more speed into and out of the Top Bend. New PB!!! 36.11 🙂 Racing was obviously paying off. For the final session of the day, he spent a few laps following the South West Junior TKM champion 😉 until said champion decided he had enough and wanted to put Junior in his place. Junior didn’t mind though, he was chuffed to bits with another new PB – 36.06s.

So we got off to the worst possible start, endured a pretty expensive day, breakage wise but ended up clocking 166 laps and Junior making further progress.He is definitely quick enough to race. I have no lofty goals/dreams about exactly how competitive he will be, it would be nice to be close enough to the pack to race someone but I doubt that will be the case initially. Whether I am ready to race is another question. I am still making mistakes but I think that is just human nature – I’ll make more than most mechanics, I just need to make sure I learn from them! The troubleshooting is a worry as, if things go wrong, there is no second engine to pull out the trailer, nor is there likely to be for some time. We’re just going to have to see how we get on 🙂

Cost of day: £12 petrol, £7 fuel for the kart, £35 practice fee, £5 grub screws

Cost of replacement stuff: £10 ‘new’ chainguard from eBay, £100 new spark plug cap/spark plug/HT lead/6 grub screws/10-tooth front sprocket/Talon size 76 rear sprocket/Panther (I know I could have spent less but I am keen to see if it is stronger and longer lasting) 108 link chain (from Kart Parts UK/Spellfame)

Total spent so far: £3,396

I plan to limit outgoings to race weekends and associated running costs/repairs only for the remainder of the year so kick me if you see me post about new bits and pieces!

Used axles are sold for a reason!

I recently bought an OTK axle from an auction site having gone through the due diligence of confirming it was straight and checking to see if it was excessively marked by grub screws (there was no close-up photo in the auction listing). When the axle arrived I found the grub screw marks were plentiful and fairly deep, not only that but once fitted it was clear that the axle was slightly bent. The lesson for today is that people sell axles because they have seen their best days so make sure you visually inspect a used axle. This one went back from whence it came!

I am still unsure about whether budget-bound folk like me should look opt for used OTK or a new Alto axle. I’ll mull that one over for a bit…

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

The karting time sink

For the first time in ages, I had no plans for the weekend – no karting, no football, no work, just me, the family and some gardening. Then I was offered the chance to take the kart to one of the other Dad’s garage to check out the engine mount issue and get some kart maintenance tips. At this stage of my kart mechanic ‘career’ it was too good an offer to pass up on so the kart-free weekend went out of the window and on Sunday afternoon I took the kart off for some TLC.

We started off looking at the engine mount – the threads on the mount are very worn and there were standard nuts on the engine clamp bolts instead of nylocs. The conclusion we came to was that the engine vibration was causing the nut on the front clamp to loosen and the lack of thread on the mount was enabling the bolt to drop out. I can’t overstate how much I really hope that this problem is now a thing of the past!!!

Whilst the engine was off, I saw how much better petrol is for cleaning engines than my household degreaser – I’m still not a big fan of using petrol as a cleaning agent but I can now see it’s usefulness. I also found that my exhaust flex was in a pretty poor state, with several cracks so we replaced that with a new piece of flex – 65mm appears to be the consensus for Clay Pigeon.

With a nice, clean engine and an engine mount that hopefully won’t be shifting mid-session any more, we moved onto the mechanics lessons. Lesson #1 – rear axle removal. Attempting to spin the axle (with the spark plug removed, of course) showed that things weren’t exactly rolling smoothly (it rolls even less smoothly with the spark plug fitted!). I’d shied away from removing the axle until now and the it took some removing with the crud that had built up around the brake disc carrier and bearings. It was pretty clear that this was something that I should really be incorporating into my post-race cleaning procedure – not only does the axle spin much more freely now, it also gives you the opportunity to clean the chassis much more thoroughly. Another issue was the wear on the hub bolts – they were showing a fair amount of wear so I need to get into the habit of chucking bolts that have reached the point of no return.

We looked at the front and rear setups – measuring the rear width, to which I hadn’t really paid much attention previously and I came to understand the importance of axle keys, one of which seems to have been lost during the last outing. It was also nice to confirm that my axle was straight – the same could not be said for my spare, unfortunately. Moving onto the front end, we checked the toe and adjusted the Ackermann (moving down to the lower set of holes on the steering column).

Four hours later and with my wife calling to find out when I was coming home for dinner, we were just about done. I still need to learn how to clean out and adjust the brake system and also adjust the throttle cable (this should be pretty straightforward but I am reluctant to just play around) but it was invaluable to be able to do/watch (there was a fair amount of watching) this with expert guidance – cheers, Mark 🙂

I have also come to appreciate the value of the ‘bits and pieces’ box that was included with the kart package – if you are buying a retirement package and get the chance to include something like this, do it!

IMG_0032IMG_0037 IMG_0036 IMG_0034 IMG_0035 IMG_0038 IMG_0039

Practice 2: one to forget

Our second practice session took place on Saturday. It was in doubt throughout the week; primarily because the weather forecast looked downright miserable. In the end, we decided to go for it and hope it didn’t rain the whole day. This was our first truly solo session – no friendly experts on hand, nor other noob Dads for moral support. We left late (again) but this time there were no stops for trailer adjustments; I had my cargo net in place to keep the cover on the kart and a couple of removable bits of ply wood to support the full width of the rear tyres with no overhang. So far, so good but then it started to go a little ‘pear shaped‘.

First, whilst the cargo net had kept the kart cover on the kart, it hadn’t stopped the front of the cover from coming loose and flapping around. Consequently, the kart cover had split and frayed in at least four places (does anyone make covers suitable to cover karts on top of trailers?). Then, during the pre-flight checks, I fired up the engine with the remote starter and Junior gave it a bit of throttle which duly stuck open – cue very loud, revving engine and lots of looks as Dad frantically tried stopping the engine. The brakes didn’t do it initially although what seemed like minutes was probably only 5 seconds. I don’t really know why this was – removing the airbox, I could see that the carb butterfly was open more than it should have been but only a little. The throttle was opening and closing ok although I subsequently realised that the throttle cable swivel assembly was upside down, so whether or not this played a part I am uncertain. Anyway, one carb change and successful remote start later we were ready to go. Pleasingly (and one of the few good things to have happened over the day) was the kart bump starting very easily once again – no waved yellows needed! Disappointingly, the kart decided it was going to head straight into the pits at the end of the out lap as the rear hub and wheel came off at the top bend and veered into the pit entrance. This was a little embarrassing given we’d had a wheel come off during our first practice day because I had negated to check the nuts between sessions. I put the wheel back on the axle and pushed the kart back on the trolley as discretely as possible. Junior pulled the wheel off as we were passing a couple of Dads in the car park but I scolded him and quickly put it back – I don’t think anyone one noticed 😉 Luckily the kart was undamaged and I added hub checks to my list of post-session checks… I cannot and will not let this happen again!

Then the real problems started – the kart stopped on track during our next outing with what had sounded like the chain coming off. It had but we’d also lost an engine mount clamp. I had been suspicious of the engine mounts during our first practice day as the chain was looser after every run and sometimes the engine would be flush against the engine restraining bolt when I had left a gap of a few millimetres prior to a run. I had a replacement bracket and bolt amongst the spares and fitted the engine once again, making sure the bracket was tight. Junior made it back to the pits complaining something felt wrong and when I looked, the chain had came off again. Getting a little bit annoyed, I started to wonder whether the front sprocket was worn but, as this was one spare part that didn’t come with the kart (and if I’m honest, I am not sure how the front sprocket is fitted), I changed the rear sprocket (it was getting colder/wetter again so I was planning this anyway) and fitted a longer chain before sending the kart out again. By this point, Junior had lost all trust in the kart; driving very hesitantly and a few laps in, he stops on the exit of Billies Blind once again. I find that the engine is once again mounted on a single clamp which this time has worked loose, leaving the engine rather precariously fitted to the chassis. I’ve now had it too!!! I pushed the kart straight to the shop to get an expert opinion from Mike, the shop owner. Mike took the engine off and checked everything over – bolt and engine threads, chain, sprocket – the latter is worn but still ok, as is the chain which has a tight spot but wouldn’t have caused the problem. We decided to fit some OTK engine mount clamps, which look much bigger/stronger and put everything back together. Mike had some contrasting views on the chain (tighter than I’d been running before) and the engine restraining bolt (flush against he engine – I understood this would put stress on the chassis but I was happy to try anything at this point and I’ll research this again later) and we went off for another go. Finally!!! We had arrived at 10:00, participated in only six of the twelve 20 minute sessions but at 15:40 we managed a full session with no dramas. It was nice to see Junior attacking things a little without actually looking fully committed (understandably so I guess).

And with that, it was time to go – there was a birthday party waiting at home! Unfortunately there was still time for one more hiccup – the trailer jockey wheel worked loose on the way home, dropped down and got wedged beneath the trailer. I could have swore *a lot* but I am very good in front of the kids; the last time I swore in front of one of them was when Nicholas Bendtner spurned a late chance to put Arsenal through against Barcelona at which point I jumped up and shouted in disgust “That was sh*t, Bendtner” in the direction of the TV although, to be fair, it was complete and utter sh*t! All he had to do was bring the ball under control and stick it past the ‘keeper, instead he demonstrated what is known on the terraces as ‘the touch of a rapist’. But I digress… 😉 the trailer wasn’t budging, my son had friends waiting for us at home and I had to call the AA. Then the hail came down, so we sat it out in the car whilst the kart was buried in ice. When the storm passed I managed to lift the trailer, free the wheel and cancel the AA call out although it was scant consolation by that point!

I never did think it was going to be easy…

Cost of day: £12 petrol to get there, £15 petrol for the kart (only 3l out of 10l used!!!), £35 practice fee, £30 engine mount clamps and bolts

Total spent so far: £2278

Buying a kart (part 2)

I’ve done nothing but spend my spare time on karting stuff since Christmas – the whole towing/kart finding/learning/bartering process has been more stress than I typically have to endure but… here she is!!!

kart

It’s a 2009 Tonykart EVR which, as you can see, is sitting on top of my fairly low-tech trailer lid!!! Having it in the garage takes a huge weight off of my shoulders! I’d been monitoring two karts for some time: this one, which was offered to me before Christmas through one of the Karting forums, and a 2011 Wright which had been relisted on eBay in numerous packages with varying levels of completeness. Unfortunately both sets of negotiations came to a head at the same time: I agreed to buy the Wright, got cold feet and luckily this one was still available (always go with your gut feeling!).

I had negotiated a price/package with my seller over the prior weeks that included the rolling chassis, complete engine (from airbox to exhaust), used slicks on rims, used wets on rims and a trolley for £700. In addition I was buying the following extras to the tune of £300: Mychron 4, remote starter, new slicks, kart cover and a comprehensive spares package. I don’t feel at all comfortable haggling with people so did it all via email rather than in person so that I could negotiate harder than I otherwise would. If I were the seller, I’d have told me where to stick my initial offer but there is no point in starting high – it will just cost you more!

The day began with my second towing journey – no problems there although I did have to learn how to use ratchet straps (tip: much easier to figure out when you are actually wrapping it around the trailer than testing them on the lounge floor). Met the seller at Clay and spent the day learning what I could about being a mechanic whilst my son set about trying to find the 10 seconds that he had been off of the pace when we had rented a kart a few weeks earlier. Bump starting was a much harder task with this kart compared with the rented kart and I soon had to make way for the seller and his to do the starting (and even then they were running around the first bend trying to get him going). We also had to spend some time adjusting the things, including installing a smaller seat, to accomodate the difference in size between the new and former owner which necessitated a first ever purchase from the shop at Clay (pedal extensions – £25). The timing of the purchase wasn’t great – my contacts were unable to make it on the day to give me an expert opinion on the chassis, which was a concern as the kart had been involved in an accident in it’s last outing in October. I had been assured that the kart was straight and that there were no cracks, rust or flat spots – everything looked ok to my untrained eye and, unless was prepared to spend the £50 to get it checked on a jig, I was going to have go on trust/take a punt.

So after a day’s testing, in which my son was still 8 seconds off the pace (but had a great time which was far more important in only his second day in a ‘proper’ kart), I parted with the readies and also bought a couple of extras that weren’t part of the original deal (spare carb – £30, transponder – £40, Tillett R4 rib protector – £25). Then, as if by magic, one of my contacts came along and started inspecting the kart and asking a lot of questions – and then he pointed out a small crack just off a weld on the front end. Gutted!!! What could I do? I’d paid for the kart and, although I trying to back never crossed my mind, I knew that a crack or weld *significantly* impacts the value of a chassis. I pointed it out and the seller offered my another carb – basically 10% off the chassis. That didn’t make up for the crack but I didn’t feel I had much choice but to take whatever charity was offered. So I loaded all the bits in the trailer and the boot and the back of the Clio and the footwell around my son’s feet. Then we set about fixing the kart to the trailer before heading for home, £1120 poorer but with a pretty decent entry level kart (with crack) and two feet firmly entrenched into the world of karting. The journey was a little nervous – checking my mirrors every 15 yards to see if the kart moved and we got all of 25 yards down the road before pulling over to remove the kart cover which was clearly going to disappear very soon! Other than that the journey was a smooth one.

Total spent so far: £1610 (£110 over budget!!!)

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.