Buying a used golf cart can be a very confusing task. There are many variations and types of cars available these days, from the most basic to the most modified. Buyers have many options, but caution must be exercised to ensure that you do not inherit someone’s albatross. Knowing what to look for could save you big expenses later. The first decision to make is whether you want a gas or battery car. Each one has its strong and weak points. Gasoline-powered cars can be more powerful, making them well-suited for utilities or hauling loads. However, they consume precious fossil fuel and can be noisy with an undesirable exhaust odor. Battery-powered carts are quiet and odorless, but have a limited range between charge cycles. When the batteries run out, you’re done until they can be recharged, which can take 8 hours or more. After you decide which one best suits your needs and you’ve found the candidate, determine if it’s really what you’re looking for. Know what you’re buying before you write that check.

  • Tire Wear – Do a general assessment of the tires and their condition. Are they all the same brand and have similar and even wear? Uneven wear can be indicative of serious alignment issues, a bent frame, or worn steering components. Mixed brand tires are an indication that the car may have seen excessive use or be a rebuild from junk parts. This may not necessarily be the case, but please keep this in mind as you continue to review the candidate cart.
  • Steering: Never buy a cart without taking some time to drive it. Take it over rough terrain as well as a solid concrete driveway. Careless steering should be an immediate concern for you. Worn “rack and pinion” steering boxes are expensive to replace. If the rack and pinion are worn, you can also reasonably expect the steering “rod ends” and spindle bushings to need attention as well. None of these components is necessarily cheap to replace. Steering wheel pulling to the left or right can be caused by uneven tire pressure or uneven tire sizes. If the car pulls, first check the tire pressure to see if the problem is corrected. If it doesn’t help, the spindle (on the same side you pull to) may have a bad wheel bearing causing drag. You can lift that corner of the cart and see if the wheel spins freely.
  • Battery age: Most golf cart battery manufacturers stamp the date of manufacture on top of one of the battery posts. You can easily see an “08” or “09” etc., even with the battery cable connected. Keep in mind that batteries that are older than three years will need to be replaced sooner rather than later. Expect to pay $600 or more for a new set of batteries, no matter the configuration or voltages. Never assume that the batteries are the same age as the cart’s model year. Also, batteries of mixed years in the same car could be a clue that the car has seen serious use in a fleet environment.
  • Brakes – Make sure the brakes are firm and bring the cart to a quick stop without squealing or squealing. Brake shoe replacement is usually not a big deal unless service has been neglected to the point where the brake drum is punctured or damaged. Excessive rust and corrosion around the brake backing plates behind the rear wheels can be an indication of possible careless maintenance.
  • Frame integrity – Steel frames are very susceptible to rust and corrosion, especially under the battery compartment. I’ve seen cars that otherwise look great actually break in half due to battery acid seeping through and eating into the frame. Some manufacturers, such as Club Car, now use all-welded aluminum frames that won’t rust, but are still susceptible to corrosion in the form of aluminum oxide (rather than iron oxide). Corroded aluminum has a thick layer of diffuse white powder, which is equivalent to rust. Stay away from any cart you suspect has a frame problem. The cart could end up being totally useless to you later.
  • Smooth Ride – A well-maintained car should roll smoothly and quietly. A wobbly or jerky motion when driving on a solid, smooth surface indicates a problem. A crooked wheel, or even worse, a crooked axle will cause the cart to go up and down with a frequency proportional to the speed. An “out of round” tire can also cause a similar symptom, but this is generally not the case. Worn front end components will dramatically exaggerate the symptoms.
  • Wiring – Wiring should be neatly routed and chaffed with factory terminations and clamps. Beware of modified wiring if it doesn’t look professionally done. Makeshift wiring can cause you major headaches if you’re not familiar with electrical systems. A shorted wire on an electric car can be devastating. The tremendously high current capacity of batteries can turn a shoddy wiring system into a giant cigarette lighter. Look for splices and sealed connections that don’t seem to match, then check out.
  • Strange drive train noises – Turn off radios and the like when you take your test ride. Listen for any strange noises that may be present. Cracking, excessive whining or clicking sounds can help you identify problems with the car. The sounds a vehicle makes can tell you a lot if you take the time to listen.
  • Gasoline engines – be sure to look at the engine. Even though you may not be a motor mechanic, you can still assess a few things easily. Gross saturation of the engine with oil and grease likely indicates a leaking crankcase or gearbox, or worse, a cracked crankcase or gearbox. Check for large amounts of soot residue in the exhaust pipe, indicating an oil burner (worn piston rings). Be sure to let the engine warm up before taking a test drive. An engine will only reveal if it smokes a lot, after it is hot enough. Take your time and check it out. Exhaust clicking or backfiring can be caused by improperly adjusted carburetors, but more commonly by burned intake or exhaust valves in the engine. Rebuilding an engine can cost you dearly if you need one in the future. Be sure to give it proper care.

A well-maintained car can literally offer decades of dependable service. Taking the time to select the right cart to fit your needs now will pay off later. After purchasing your cart, visit some of the vendors that offer great aftermarket products to personalize your vehicle. If you want to speed up your cart a bit, check out Digital Overdrive Systems on the web for more great tips.

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