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:
You might want to consider spare:
- Stub axles
- Track rods
11. What about perishables?
- Chain lube
- Carb cleaner
- Brake cleaner
- Engine oil
- Brake fluid
- Fuel hose
- Mechanics gloves
- Cable ties
- Hose clips
12. And tools?
- Spark plug spanner
- T-Bar socket (for wheel nuts)
- T-Handle Hex/Allen Key set
- Ratchet spanner set
- Rubber mallet
- Metal ruler
Feel free to post questions or suggest improvements 🙂