The leaves have long-since changed and most have fallen off. There's a chill in the air and the odd snowflake, too. The summer motorsports season is at an end, and it's time to think about putting everything into stasis for the winter. With a kart, this requires a bit of work: freezing temperatures and race hardware don't tend to get along. But, even if you have a spacious, heated garage there's still some prep-work and general maintenance you should know how to do. In this final installment of An Introduction to Karting we'll walk you through tearing down and cleaning the kart, answer some questions received from readers, and mix in a little more race footage from the final event of the year.
Yes, we managed to squeeze in one final event before the end of the season thanks to some amazing weather that had the thermometer saying 70 despite the calendar saying November. At our previous event, we realized we were far too close to the wheel, so we moved the seat back nearly two full inches before this one. Positioned less like a Shriner and more like a racer, we managed a qualifying time of :35.5, another .7 quicker than before and good enough for a seventh-place position out of a field of 11. We'd call that mid-pack. In the race itself, we started reasonably well and maintained mid 35- and 36-second laps, but found ourselves behind a TAG that was quicker on the straight but slower in the corners. When a lapping kart came through, we attempted to make a move going into the hairpin, but quickly realized we hadn't been noticed and that the gap we were aiming for was about to be filled. A stomp on the brakes prevented a collision but spun us around and stalled the motor. It took nearly 15 seconds to get it fired again. We came in eighth, which we consider to be quite respectable for a second-timer.
Races run, it's time to tear-down. The kart purchased as part of this series will be living out the winter months in an aged garage in which the only climate controlling is provided by the wind whistling through cracks in its cinder blocks. There won't be much to protect it from the frigid Upstate NY cold, and since the entire kart won't fit in the house, the engine is going to need protection.
Few tracks allow the use of antifreeze mixtures in coolant, as a ruptured or even just a leaky radiator can create a slippery pool that's bad for the environment and worse for safety. So, easily freezable distilled water is what's in place, and as we all know frozen water expands, mashing seals, rupturing pipes, and, if you're really unlucky, cracking engine blocks.
Some simply replace the water with a 50:50 mixture of antifreeze and leave things alone for the winter, but most recommend storing the engine somewhere it won't be subjected to wild temperature swings. Having just dropped about $3,500 on the thing, we felt inclined to pull it and put it somewhere warm(er): the basement. The process of removing the engine and prepping it for storage is not particularly complex, but it isn't quick and you can waste time if you do things in the wrong order. (As we did, resulting in us running out of daylight as you can see in the gallery below.) So, we'll walk you through it, and even if you're not pulling your engine much of this is basic, regular maintenance, so it's good to know how to do it.
But, before we start, we want to be perfectly clear that this is the procedure we followed to get our engine out, but it may not be right for you. Just like not starting any major exercise routines without consulting a doctor first, you should check with your engine builder, seller, or friend who once successfully rebuilt a carburetor to be sure you don't get yourself in trouble. Also, it's worth pointing out that this engine is still only two months out of the box up and had less than three hours on it. Many folks at the end of the season will send their motor in for a full rebuild or at least a top-end servicing. Since ours was just barely broken in, we felt safe just cleaning and protecting.
Now, with that out of the way, let's get rolling.
Carburetor removal and cleaning
- Loosen the hose clamps on the carb (there are two).
- Remove the air box, attached to the front of the engine with four bolts. (Engines older than 2009 will have a different looking box than the one pictured here.)
- Split it in two and remove the filter inside. Vacuum it off and clean the inside of the box.
- Put the filter back together and place it in a plastic grocery bag or the like. Some folks recommend oiling the foam medium to improve its filtering ability, others think this is overkill. We opted not to, but again, see what your builder/friends recommended.
- Unscrew the plastic cap on top of the carb. Be careful, because there's a long spring inside that is very eager to meet you.
- Take a 10mm wrench and remove the copper bolt inside that holds the throttle cable to the slide. Again, watch that spring.
- Remove the slide, the needle will come out with it. Clean both thoroughly with carb cleaner.
- Remove the fuel line from the carb.
- At this point, the carb should be loose and can be pulled from the hose leading to the engine. Be careful here: if you didn't drain it after your last day at the track (which you always should) the bowl at the bottom will be full of fuel. We had only finished racing the day before and hadn't drained ours yet, so we kept it upright while removing it.
- Remove the cap that covers the main jet on the bottom, draining the bowl. Either hold the carb over something to catch the fuel or have a lot of rags handy.
- Remove the jet with a flathead screwdriver and make note of how the copper piece that comes with it sits. NOTE: When you're changing the jet at a track, you can just loosen the two clamps and rotate the carb 90 degrees so that the top is away from the seat. From here you should be able to get to the bolt on the bottom of the bowl and replace the jet without taking everything apart.
- Clean the jet and the entire carb thoroughly with cleaner. Ours still looked like new so it didn't take long, but you may need further disassembly from here. If so, there's a more thorough tear-down procedure here.
- Drain the fuel from the fuel lines.
- Remove the fuel tank and drain it. If you have any two-stroke vehicles around you're in luck, but don't leave it lying until spring: modern fuel with ethanol does not sit well and you won't want it fouling up your pristine engine. You also don't want it making a mess of your fuel bottle, so try to get rid of it sooner than later – in an environmentally sound way, of course.
- Clean up the floor pan (grit under the tank can eventually ruin it) then re-install.
- Remove the throttle cable from that copper bolt and gently pull it through the plastic cap.
- Thread the bolt back into the slide, gently re-insert the slide into the carb, put the spring back, and screw the cap on carefully.
- Cover the outside of the carb liberally with WD-40 and place it in a large freezer storage bag for the winter.
Engine removal and cleaning
- Start by gently unscrewing the power valve knob. It's big and red, you can't miss it, but be careful, as there's another spring in here ready to leap out.
- Take a black Sharpie and trace the position of the spring clip that holds the black plastic cover in place. A number of people warned us that they're more difficult to get back on than they look. That spring clip fits on a number of different ways but only one will keep it in place for long. The line from a Sharpie will help.
- The valve itself is held on by two bolts. Remove those and the unit should slot out from the engine.
- The sliding valve itself unscrews from the rubber portion at the back.
- Gently peel off the paper gasket and clean the mating surface of the engine and the valve.
- Clean everything thoroughly, especially the slide, then put it all back together again and re-mount it to the engine. NOTE: There's a tiny hole on one side of the paper gasket that must line up with a hole on the power valve assembly. Make sure you don't put it on upside-down.
- Now it's time to disconnect the exhaust from the engine. It's held on by two non-cooperative springs. Pull them off on the exhaust side (not the engine side) using a pair of pliers and an ample supply of profanity.
- Pull the exhaust back from the engine and liberally coat it with WD-40. NOTE: If your exhaust has seen more hours than ours, the packing inside of it, which helps to dampen noise and ensure smooth flow, may need replacing. If so, the three pop-rivets at the terminal end of the exhaust will need to be drilled out, the stinger (the portion that slots into the exhaust) removed, and new packing material wrapped around it.
- Remove the various wiring plugs from the engine. There is small one on the front, two larger ones on the rear, and a ground wire held on by a bolt.
- Remove the RPM pickup from the spark plug wire (it'll likely be wound around it).
- Remove the water temperature probe from your data acquisition system. It's recommended to leave this in the engine and disconnect it from your dash rather than the other way around to avoid extra wear on the engine's head.
- Remove the fuel pump bracket, which makes it easier to disconnect the remaining fuel lines from the engine, then go ahead and loosely bolt it back in place after cleaning. NOTE: Make sure this is fully drained if you'll be taking the engine inside your house. You don't want any 93 octane leaking on the floor.
- From below, remove the two bolts holding the engine to the chassis.
- Slide everything back an inch or so and remove the chain from the engine. You can leave it hanging on the rear sprocket for now.
- Loosen the clamp at the bottom of the radiator, pull off the hose, and drain the water. Again, this is just water so it's okay to let it go on the ground – but we probably wouldn't drink it.
- Find yourself a nice, flat place, preferably with some cardboard down. A stable workbench is great. The floor works too.
- Pick up the motor carefully and gently lift it away from the chassis. Tilt it from side to side to get the last dredges of water out. Set it carefully down.
- Clean every surface you can reach using a mild degreaser wherever you can. Only resort to the heavier-duty stuff when you have to.
- Remove the clutch cover. It's held on by a single bolt, which spins with the driveshaft. You'll need to stabilize the gear behind it and, while there are specialty tools that will hold the cylinder in place, if you're careful a screwdriver works in a pinch. Again, the design here is different than previous model years, so yours may look a little different.
- Pull the clutch cover off and clean the inside with brake or carb cleaner. You should realistically do this very regularly.
- Wipe the rest of the clutch off and apply a little grease on the spindle bearing that slots on the driveshaft. NOTE: Some competitors have been caught applying grease along the interior of the clutch itself to give a slipper-like effect. This is a definite no-no by the rules, so be careful not to slather too much on there.
- Replace the clutch cover.
- WD-40 the exterior of the engine very liberally, getting into every crevice you can. Some folks even recommend squirting some in the spark plug hole.
- Cover the intake and exhaust holes. There are specialty rubber plugs that you can find for this purpose at motorcross stores or you can just use rags. Either way you won't want anything getting in there. We used plastic bags as well to provide an extra deterrent to critters.
- Place the engine somewhere warm, preferably on something other than concrete and ideally in some sort of tub so that if any water or other fluids leak out they won't get all over the floor. Tuck it in, give it a little kiss, and tell it you'll see it again in the spring.
- Once frozen, race tires tend to never quite behave the same, so if you have some rubber you might like to use next year remove it from the kart.
- Put the wheels and tires into large plastic bags. Some recommend wrapping tires individually in plastic wrap to maintain life, others say nothing you can do will keep them from aging. We just know that they can let off some pretty noxious fumes and, since they were coming inside the house, we sealed 'em up tight.
- Clean the heck out of your chassis, removing as much grit and grime as possible.
- Put the battery on a charger with a maintenance cycle. You don't necessarily have to leave it on there all winter long but you'll want to at least top it off a few times over the winter.
- If you haven't flushed the brake fluid all season now is a good time to do so. Old fluid eats seals.
- Inspect, clean and, if necessary, lube the axle bearings.
- Place the chain in a storage bag, and give it a liberal dose of lube before sealing it up.
- Give your kart a final once-over looking for damaged or tired-looking components. Make a list of anything you need and go order it before you forget. Go for the cheap shipping this time and tell your husband, wife, or significant other how much money you saved by planning ahead.
Karts are big, wide things, but they're also flat and, once the engine is removed, rather light, too. This means they're easy to sling up on the wall and a few heavy-duty hooks or straps will give you an attractive conversation-starter -- or at least something that isn't taking up very much space. They can also be easily suspended from garage ceilings or, with a few skis and some handiwork, turned into what we imagine would be a sled of epic proportions.
We tried to cover everything we could, but along the way we got a number of questions through comments and e-mail. Here are your answers.
How did you transport your kart?
We used an inexpensive folding 4' x 8' trailer with 12-inch wheels, customized somewhat for the purpose. We added a plywood deck and then attached a number of tie-downs in strategic points so that, with short straps, we could quickly cinch things down. The kart is wider than the trailer, though, so to get the bodywork over the fenders two planks were needed. We drilled four holes in the deck on each side and attached four bolts in each planks so that they slot in and lift right off. With the kart elevated the folding stand slides in underneath.
How much did you spend on tires?
The track charged $225 for a new set of MOJO D2 tires. That's a bit more than you can find them for online, but the ones online don't tend to install themselves. They're showing plenty of life left after two full race days.
How much did you spend in total?
All-in we spent just a tick over $7,000 including the racing school, entrance fees, kart, trailer, engine, fuel, tires, tools, spares, safety equipment, and anything else we bought along the way. A lot of cash for sure, but we hope future seasons of casual racing should cost between $500 and $1,000 – depending largely on how successful we are at not breaking anything and at resisting the urge for fresh rubber.
Are there any tracks near me?
Probably. This is the most comprehensive list we've yet been able to find, but if you're not having any luck finding something the folks at the eKarting News or Bob's 4 Cycle Karting forums will surely help you out.
What helmet camera did you use?
The footage was generally captured with a ContourHD 1080p camera.
Who is "we"? How many of you went karting, anyway?
It's "we" in a royal, formal sense here, as this is almost exclusively a single-seater sport. But, so too are race motorcycles and you'll rarely hear riders like Ben Spies say "me" or "I." The author whose name is printed above did the writing, driving, and the hauling. He also wrote all the checks.
You guys should keep up with this next season.
If you'd like more of this series next year, let us know in the comments below.
Though it was a tiring, occasionally frustrating, and often expensive ordeal, the past few months have been a great journey into motorsports. We had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people, and learned that the community is incredibly welcoming and helpful. The phrase we most often heard at the track is "Need a hand with that?" To everyone who helped along the way we send out a huge thanks and we hope to see you again when the snow melts – or maybe before then if we can find an old set of skis...
Tim Stevens writes for Autoblog sister site Engadget.com where, among other things, he covers all things tech-related in the automotive world. He recently took up the hobby of karting and will help you do the same through this series, An Introduction to Karting.