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 Market Place and the 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.

My first obstacle

The second purchase of my (our!) karting career – a 5’x3′ Franc trailer with jockey wheel (uber-important when you will be dragging a kart around on top of it), cover and spare wheel. I’d been looking at trailers on eBay, Gumtree, Preloved and Trade-It but found this one was still for sale on the Karting1 forum having initially discounted it. A steal at £225 🙂


Towing was a really big obstacle for me – everything about towing (towing capacity, trailer gross weight, weight distribution, noseweight, hitchlocks) was alien to me until now. The trailer was further away than I was really hoping to travel and it would be fair to say I was in fear of towing a trailer up the M4. My fears were unfounded and, although it bounced around a bit and I was overtaken by lorries (including six artics!) for the first time *ever* as I tiptoed down the A34, it all well very smoothly and I held my own on the motorway 😉

With the limitation of towing behind a Clio, I was very keen to get a fairly lightweight trailer that would fit inside my (hitherto full of junk) garage and obviously the smaller ones are cheaper. A kart measures roughly 6′ x 4.5′ so I was keen to go for a 5’x3′ trailer and not a cheaper 4’x2.5′. My inspiration came from this Flickr image. I have my 12″ thick 6’x4′ ply sheet and some timber to make a frame; the plan is to sit the kart on top and ratchet strap it down.

Some alternative ideas that were discounted (the left image looks the part but has no cover for the trailer contents, the right uses a 7’x4′ trailer – a little large for car and garage):

9028tn_Dax 218 kart

Total spent so far: £490 (towbar, trailer, ply sheet, timber) – £10 under budget!!!

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

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

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