Put Spring In Your Gas Golf Cart

There are two fundamentally different kinds of gas engines that have been used in gas golf carts over the years:  A 2-cycle (also called a 2-stroke, which requires a certain amount of special 2-cycle oil to be mixed with the gas, either in the tank or injected into the fuel by means of a pump) and a 4-cycle engine (sometimes referred to as a 4-stroke and it requires oil in the engine crankcase, just like the oil in your automobile), and although both engines have many similarities, I will present them separately.

The gas golf carts that are powered by these two different engines are also very similar.  The steering, the front & rear suspensions, the brake systems, the centrifugal clutches, belts & drive trains and the battery, starting & charging systems all need the same preventive care.  I will address all that stuff after writing about the engines.  After many years of experience this is the method of checking over gas golf carts I suggest.  The general outline below is fairly straightforward.  More advanced troubleshooting and repair procedures may require a Service Manual for the particular car you have.

STEP 1- Visual Inspection & Cleaning the Engine Compartment

INTRODUCTION:  I will start with a basic understanding of the operation of 2-cycle and 4-cycle gas engines, then write about specific engine checks, gas golf cart related components such as carburetors  ignition & clutches and finally about the various components common to all golf cars, such as steering, suspension & brakes.  A 2-cycle engine can run in both directions, forward & backward, and it needs a specific amount of oil mixed in with the gas to run properly.  The oil & gas mix is first drawn through a one-way ‘reed valve’ into the bottom end of the engine (below the piston) where the oil lubricates the piston & cylinder walls and the crankshaft & connecting rod bearings.  Then the mix suddenly is transferred to the top end of the engine (above the piston) where it is highly compressed and, at a precise moment, ignited by the spark plug.  All this happens in one full revolution of the crankshaft and the crank is spinning 60 full revolutions A SECOND at full speed.  This creates an enormous amount of power.  Both the bottom end (crank seals, base gasket, reed valve & case seam) & the top end (rings & cylinder and head gasket) compression must be in very good condition for the engine to produce peak power.  If water, bad gas or not enough oil runs through the engine, it can ruin the entire engine.A 4-cycle engine can run in one direction only and it needs two complete crankshaft revolutions to do the same thing a 2-cycle does in one…create power.  Connected to the crank is a camshaft that opens & closes the intake & exhaust valves at very precise moments.  The camshaft and valves replace the reed valve used in 2-cycle engines.  The oil resides in the bottom of the engine case just like your automobile, not in the gas.  The oil lubricates the internal moving parts by means of an oil pump or by mechanically splashing the oil and this oil must be changed from time to time.  If water gets in the fuel it runs through the carburetor & cylinder but it won’t ruin the entire engine.  If you let the oil get too low, that WILL ruin the engine.  A 4-cycle engine has a lot of parts all that must operate in a very specific sequence to enable the engine to actually run.  A detailed explanation of the operation is beyond the scope of what is presented here.

Both 2 & 4-cycle engines create their own very fast alternating vacuum & pressure environment inside the engine by the action of the piston & rings going up and down in the cylinder so fast.  Remember the crankshaft is spinning 60 times every second.  The engine oil is what protects all these fast moving parts and that is why the oil is so important.  When the cylinder, piston & rings, bearings, crank seals & gaskets begin to wear they lose the ability to contain the tremendous forces needed to maintain the proper internal engine environment.  This means the engine begins to lose power.  The fuel pump is one of the first things to be affected because it operates off the vacuum & pressure created in the bottom end of the engine.  The transfer of fuel from the tank, through the carburetor, then into & out of the cylinder (combustion chamber, as it is called) is greatly affected by worn or bad parts.  That is why it is so hard to answer, “Why doesn’t my gas golf cart run well?”  Sometimes just one part goes bad and fixing that part solves the problem.  Other times the entire engine has worn to the point where patchwork will not be satisfactory.  Let’s start right now at getting some SPRING into that engine and gas golf cart.

a.   Before any cleaning or service begins on a gas engine, take a very close look at the engine, engine components and engine compartment.  Look for wet spots that indicate an oil or gas leak from the engine, the gas tank, fuel pump & fuel lines, the 2-cycle oil reservoir, pump & supply lines and also around the differential input shaft.  If you can see an oily buildup of dirt or wet oil, try to find out where it came from.  You certainly want to keep an eye on it.  Engine oil leaks are the toughest to pinpoint because they can come from many different places.  Where the actual oil leak comes from can tell a lot about what trouble might be lurking in the engine.  A leak at the crankshaft between the drive clutch and the engine case, or at the bottom of the fan blower housing (opposite the drive clutch) may indicate a crankshaft seal leak.  Gas golf cart engines have a two-piece crankcase that sometimes will spring a leak along the seam that joins the case halves.  Look for a very clean spot on the crankcase where any dirt has been cleaned away by leaking fuel.  4-cycle engines can also develop oil leaks at the oil drain plug, the oil filter, the valve cover gasket, the oil fill tube and probably a few other places I can’t think of right now.  2-cycle engines have fewer moving parts so they are a little simpler.  The crank seals & case seam will leak but a far more common leak is at the base gasket.  The base gasket seals the cylinder (or jug) to the crankcase and once this gasket is compromised, the engine’s bottom-end compression starts to weaken.  This leads to weak fuel pump pressure and eventually the engine becomes hard (if not impossible) to start.  This can happen even with excellent top-end compression.  Look around the gas tank, fuel filter & supply hoses, fuel pump & carburetor for possible gas leaks (NO SMOKING, PLEASE!).  Rub your fingers under the carburetor float bowl to be sure the bowl gasket is sealing properly.  On 4-cycle engines check to be sure the oil dipstick is in place, the oil fill cap in place and that the valve cover gasket is not leaking.  On 2-cycle engines be sure the oil reservoir (if it has one) has sufficient oil and that the oil supply lines & pump are not leaking.  Take a close look at the oil reservoir cap.  If it is cracked or you must use kitchen plastic wrap to seal it, be sure to order a new one right away.  You do not want water in the oil or allow it to get into the engine case.  Before washing the engine and frame you might even check the around the differential (rear end) axle tubes and at the backs of the rear wheels where the brake cables attach.  Wheel seal leaks permit oil from the rear end to leak into the brake drums where it will contaminate the brake shoes and this greatly reduces braking efficiency.  Oil leaking from the differential behind the driven clutch (large round pulley that the wide drive belt wraps around) can cause oil to get on the drive belt and compromise pulling power.  I’ll write more on clutches & belts later on.

Slight amounts of oil and dirt on & around the engine are not cause for great concern. If there is a wet looking spot and everything else around the spot is dry, you may have reason for worry. If an area on the engine has a lot of oil around it and others areas do not, make a mental note and continue to watch that area in the future after the engine has dried off. If fresh oil or wetness persists then an oil or gas leak may be indicated.  We offer all the necessary parts to repair these problems, and the parts for the tune up procedures that follow. Notice below that the rear portion of the engine is dry and clean, while the forward portion shows signs of oil and dirt sticking to that oil.

b.  Ok, we have looked over the engine and made mental notes of any problem spots.  The best place to start the engine check over and tune up is to thoroughly clean the entire engine compartment.  Start by applying an acid neutralizing/cleaning agent to the battery top, sides, hold down brackets and rack. Let it sit and work for a few moments while you spray a can of ‘Gunk’ brand engine degreaser, purchased beforehand at your local auto parts store on & around the engine.  Follow the directions on the can.  Generally, you spray it on the engine components & frame, let it sit a few minutes and then spray it off using a high pressure nozzle on a garden hose, preferably with warm or hot water, and then let it drip dry.  Pay particular attention to the battery terminals and rack.  Direct the spray around the four sides of the battery and don’t forget the interior body panels.  Fairway grass and dirt picked up on the golf course is very corrosive.  A high pressure washer will also work but be sure not to introduce water into the engine or into the 2-cycle oil reservoir.

NOTE If the engine is relatively clean and just a light coating of dust and dirt is the main culprit, then just neutralizing any battery acid present  and a thorough wash down with the hose may be all that is required.  You are not trying to conquer every spot, just keep the compartment relatively clean.  It is very difficult to properly service an engine that is caked with dirt and dust. It gets everywhere you don’t want it to be.  Grit does not help a gas golf cart engine’s internal components…ever!

CAUTION:  DO NOT perform this job 15 minutes before tee time.  Sometimes getting water on the starter and drive belts will cause them to slip.  Allow at least one hour or more for the car to sit and dry.

c.  Now is a good time to check the air filter, the fuel filter and the oil filter.  The purpose of an air filter is to stop airborne dust and grit from entering the engine and contaminating the cylinder walls, piston rings and engine oil.  I have seen air filters that will support a potato crop.  Not good!  A dirty air filter can reduce engine efficiency by as much as 10% and lead to premature engine failure.  Be sure the air filter housing is firmly attached and that the lid fits tightly to completely seal against dirty air bypassing the filter.  Also check any air supply hoses that lead from the filter to the carburetor.  These air intake hoses can deteriorate and allow unfiltered air into the engine.  Fuel filters perform the same function except they filter the gasoline.  Dirty fuel will carry chunks of debris that can clog the very small passages in the carburetor and cause the car to run poorly, if at all.  I have seen dirty fuel filters actually prevent a car from running because they are so clogged.  Always buy your fuel from a high volume gas station and don’t go on the days they fill the tanks.  This is extra important for those with 2 cycle engines.  Bad gas (especially if it contains water) runs through the entire engine, top end and bottom end, and can permanently damage or even lock up the main crankshaft and lower connecting rod bearings.  The piston can also seize against the cylinder wall, even if the normal lubrication is present.  Does this sound expensive?  These filters are inexpensive items that make a big difference to engine life.  They will not prevent water-contaminated fuel from entering the engine but they still go a long way in protecting your investment. Replace them regularly.  I can’t say enough about engine oil.  Keep it clean and especially keep it topped up.  2-cycle engines need a quality 2-cycle oil.  See below for more info about this special oil.  Any brand name regular 30 weight motor oil (or 10W30 in colder climes) is fine in a golf car 4-cycle engine.  The same oil you use in the auto.  If you personally change the oil please recycle it.  Local auto repair garages or your municipality will guide you to the proper disposal facility.  Remember that the oil filter is considered toxic waste too and should be disposed of in a similar manner.

OIL NOTE, 4-Cycle:  Be careful not to overfill the oil in a 4-cycle engine gas golf cart.  Excess oil will find its way into the air filter housing, soaking the filter and, eventually, getting into the combustion chamber causing smoky and uneven running of the engine, even fouling out spark plugs.  Oil is the absolute lifeblood of any gasoline engine.  If it is low or dirty or too old (thick & black when you look at it on the dipstick) make arrangements to have it changed soon.  I cannot stress this too much.  Even if the damage is not severe enough to kill the engine, rest assured that no good comes from this condition.  Change oil at least once a year, more often if you use the car a lot, especially in dusty areas.  Check the oil level every time you put fresh gas in the tank.  When you change the oil in your 1992 & up Club Car (1992 to present) plan on changing the spin-off oil filter too.  The engine takes 38 oz. of oil with a filter change (32 oz. without).  The earlier 341cc engine (1984 thru 1991) did not use an oil filter and it took 40 oz. of oil.  E-Z-GO employs a reusable oil filter that can be cleaned, inspected and reused if in good condition.  Be sure the sealing O-ring is not lost.  The E-Z-GO 4-cycle 9 & 11 hp engines both take 1 1/2 quarts of oil to refill.  Yamaha does not use any kind of oil filter at all.  Just drain the oil and refill with 1 quart of oil.

OIL NOTE, 2-Cycle:  Owners of gas golf carts with 2-cycle engines must not neglect the oil either.  Adequate oil supply is imperative at all times.  Just a few moments without and irreversible damage is done, even though the engine still works.  I have heard many 2-cycle engines run with the main crankshaft bearings roaring as the engine cranks & runs.  When finally removed from the engine these bearings cannot be turned by hand because they are so rusted from water contamination.  Imagine the engine power wasted just to get the bearings to turn.  Take this time, and every time you refill the gas tank, to double check the 2-cycle oil reservoir.  The engines don’t use much and it may take a year or more to run low…so it’s easy to forget.  Is the cap cracked?  Are there signs of an oil leak from the tube running to the oil pump or from the pump to the carburetor?  Never, never, never allow any water into the oil reservoir…it sinks to the bottom and goes directly into the engine and wreaks havoc.  Water in the gas will do the same thing.  If you mix the oil and gas in the tank, be very careful to measure the oil portions with a measuring cup.  Be precise…too little oil hurts the engine.  Too much will cause the spark plug to foul, the exhaust to be smoky (& smelly) and the muffler to clog with unburned oil.  Use a good marine type, TC-W3 rated, 2-cycle oil, mixable to at least a 128:1 ratio of gas to oil.  This means one (1) ounce of oil to one (1) gallon (128 oz) of gas. Unleaded regular gas (the cheap stuff) is A-OK.

NOTENot all 2-cycle gas engines use a 128:1 gas/oil mix. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.  E-Z-GO uses 1 oz. per 1 gallon.  Harley uses 1 1/2 oz. per gallon of gas.  Yamaha always used an oil injection system with the reservoir mounted on the driver side rear wheel well.  The injection system uses very little oil but if you mix the oil in the gas tank, use 1 oz. per gallon.

d.  Now is also a great time to check the condition of your spark plugs.  They can tell you a lot about the condition of the engine, the carburetion and the ignition system.  Without an adequate spark to fire the compressed fuel in the combustion chamber, your car will have difficulty starting, running, and pulling.  A new spark plug can make an unbelievable difference in how the engine performs.  Remove the plug(s) for inspection.  Clean the electrode and check the spark gap based on the manufacturer’s recommendations (in most cases it is .028″).  There should be no significant buildup deposited on the electrode end.  The ceramic insulator in the center should have a light brown or coffee color.  A black sooty appearance indicates too much fuel and not enough air.  White indicates a lean condition (too much air, not enough fuel).  Fouled spark plugs are often indicated by a wet, black appearance (see below).  This could be caused by a dirty air filter element or other restrictions in the air intake system. Incorrectly adjusted valves, spark plug wires which are in poor condition or poor quality fuel could also contribute to the problem.  Replace fouled plugs.   Be sure to tighten new plugs to 18 ft/lbs. (24Nm) torque.

STEP 2 –Maintaining & Servicing the Battery, Starter Generator & Ignition System

WARNING 1: For your personal safety always remove all metal rings from fingers, watchbands or bracelets from wrists or any loose hanging necklaces.  If the jewelry becomes a short circuit between a battery and ground, it will ruin your day…not to mention the cherished jewel!

WARNING 2: Eye safety is a vital concern as well.  Wear adequate eye protection!  Splashing fuel and battery acid will burn if it gets in or onto tender body parts.  Also be sure to tie back long hair as it can get caught in the spinning components of the engine.  DO NOT SMOKE!  A spark from a cigarette or an inadvertent battery short, such as a dropped tool (or ring), can cause even a 12-volt battery to explode, spew battery acid and possibly catch fire (I know this from ‘lucky’ personal experience, thank you).  Extreme caution is indicated.  At best an exploding battery will put the hurt to your ears and a twitter to your heart for a few minutes.

Introduction:  The battery, starter/generator (st/gen) and ignition system make up the electrical system for the gas golf cart.  They are all interrelated and are almost as important as the engine to reach expected performance.  A great engine is nothing if a weak ignition system cannot supply a strong spark to fire the air/fuel mix in the combustion chamber or if a weak battery or bad st/gen can’t turn the engine over to start or the st/gen refuses to recharge the battery that powers the whole affair.  I will make a few introductory comments here and then get down to the basics.  First of all, gas golf carts will not run without a good battery…you cannot ‘jump’ the battery from another golf car as you can in an automobile.  The system needs a constant 12-volt current to operate.  You can use a second battery that stays temporarily connected as you run the car back home, but once it is removed the engine will stop running.  The battery must be connected with the positive (+) post to the solenoid and the negative (–) post to ground (frame) and to the engine case proper.  The ignition system will not produce a spark if the battery polarity is backwards.  I have grouped all these components into one section because they are so interconnected.  I will try to describe:  When you step on the gas pedal an accelerator switch provides power to the solenoid and to the ignition system.

a.  First, be sure the cell caps are snuggly in place.  Most modern 12-volt batteries are ‘Maintenance Free’.  Ha!  If your charging system is overcharging the battery, it will boil out the electrolyte just like the old batteries would.  Usually the cell covers can be removed and the water checked (you will need a flat screwdriver to pry off the caps).  Be careful if you remove the caps not to introduce dirt and other contaminants into the cells.  If water is needed, use distilled water if possible.  A Battery Filler Bottle will help you get just the right amount of water in each cell and you can use this durable, inexpensive, filler bottle for your electric golf car, boat, auto and truck batteries too!

Local tap water may or may not be suitable to use.  It depends on the quality and trace minerals present in the water.  It is always best to use distilled water, which you can find at any drug or grocery store.  If you do find the electrolyte level of the battery to be low it could be due to the starter/generator overcharging the battery.  This significantly shortens the life of any lead acid battery and boils the battery dry–not good!  It is a simple test to check the voltage output of the generator but it does require a multi-tester or ‘VOM’.  Ladies, anything with meters & probes makes a great gift for the old man.  The positive (red) probe goes on the positive battery post (+) and the negative (black) probe goes on the negative battery post (–).  With the gas golf cart engine running the meter should read 14 to 14.5 volts DC.  Anything below 14 volts is marginal and may not keep the battery charged up.  Anything above 14.5 volts is too much and may boil the battery dry.

b.  Carefully wriggle the positive and negative battery cable ends side-to-side and gently up & down.  There should be no looseness or movement.  If there is then the cable end needs to be tightened some more.  The up & down motion should not cause the cable terminal end, which is secured to the battery post, to flex…it should be rigid to the post.  The cable itself will flex but the metal terminal end should not.  If it does easily flex, or worse, it’s downright floppy, you may have a battery cable end about to fail.  Fix it before it fixes you, where you least expect it!  Also carefully inspect the ground cable that connects the battery negative to the frame of the car.  DO NOT overlook the battery ground of a gas golf cart.  A bad or faulty ground will drive you nuts!  It will cause one to look everywhere, except at the ground, for an electrical problem because it seems as though the problem HAS to be elsewhere else.  DO THE SIMPLE STUFF FIRST!!!  Start with the basics and then move to the more complex.  If the ground cable at the frame looks rusty or corroded; REMOVE IT & CLEAN IT.

cBattery cables that have the old-style lead ‘banjo’ terminals (common on Yamaha gas) that encircle the battery post and have a bolt to clamp it tight to the post are not too uncommon.  There are two inherent problems with this style of battery connector.  One is the bolt; when over tightened the lead tabs will crack or break and prevent proper tightening of the terminal.  Two is the mating surfaces; they tend to get a very hard crusty oxidation that is difficult to remove.  Follow this tip: Remove and examine the inside of the lead terminal of each battery connector.  The lead should be shiny and bright on both the outside of the battery post and on the inside of the lead ‘banjo’ terminal at the end of the cable.  If there is any dullness, then the lead is beginning to oxidize and you’ll need to clean it, preferably with a sharp knife, or other sharp edge, until it’s shiny clean.  Clean just enough to remove the oxidation, do not take too much of the lead away.  There are commercial battery terminal cleaner tools and if properly used they can do a good job.  The sharp edged tools are usually more effective than the wire brush kind because the tough crusty oxidation that builds up can be very difficult to remove, especially after a long storage.  The wire type terminal cleaners are OK if you do this procedure several times a year but they are largely ineffective on the crusty oxidation to which I am referring.  The Positive (+) terminal of a battery seems to be most susceptible to oxidation and corrosion.  Many times people will think their battery is about to die when it will hardly turn the engine over.  They are surprised to learn that the battery is fine but the terminals were so oxidized or corroded that the current could not flow.  There are a lot of amperes trying to flow to the starter and they need a good, clean, tight circuit.  After the battery terminals are all cleaned up be sure to protect against future corrosion by applying an anti corrosion gel.

d.  The type of oxidation mentioned in the above section seems fundamentally different than corrosion.  Although both are caused by the acid atmosphere in and around the batteries, corrosion is much more sinister.  The crust and/or cable looseness can cause the car to stop.  Corrosion eats the car alive.  Aluminum and steel frames alike!  Aluminum frames handle seaside salt air better than steel but both are the vegetable de jour to battery acid.  Here again the positive terminals generally take the brunt of the corrosion but the negative posts will corrode as well.  If they are badly corroded, you will need to do some serious cleaning.  Here you may need to remove the cable ends from the battery, soak them in a neutralizer, wire brush the metal ends and then carefully inspect them.  If the ends are OK, firmly wire brush or scrape the battery post clean, if needed, the reinstall the cable on the battery and tighten the nuts securely to the battery post (is the terminal bolt & nut clean too?  Don’t contaminate a clean cable end with corroded hardware).Corrosion can appear as thick yellow goop (sometimes gooey, sometimes hard), white powdery fluff (especially on aluminum) or as a bluish goo.  Sometimes these different kinds are on the same terminal or post or battery rack.  This is never a good thing, as corrosion seems to beget more corrosion.  Real trouble comes when it starts to get onto the frame of the gas golf cart.  Wave goodbye to the battery rack…and part of the car frame in severe cases.  And it is so easy to prevent!  Just hose off that battery and rack several times a year.  No big deal!  If the battery rack corrosion is bad enough, you will need to remove the battery and clean the rack and battery hold down bracket.  After a thorough cleaning, allow it dry and treat the metal rack with a protectant. This will give you a head start on preventing future corrosion.  Bare metal will rust and corrode much faster than properly treated metal.  A paint-based treatment is not recommended because when the paint dries the acid atmosphere will cause it to flake away, soon exposing the metal rack to new corrosion.

NOTE:  Don’t overlook the importance of the brackets that hold the battery firmly in place.  The manufacturer would not include these items if they were not needed.  They prevent the battery from rattling around or tipping over while the car moves over rough terrain.  They help protect the fragile lead plates that allow the liquid electrolyte to freely course through the sponge-like pores that allows the battery to convert chemicals into electricity.

e.  The starter/generator must be firmly attached to the engine frame.  It should not move, rattle or be in anyway loose.  The cables & terminal studs & frame insulators should all be clean & tight with no signs of melting, heat buildup, rust or discoloration.  Wriggle the cable ends to be sure they are tight.  The starter/generator belt wraps around the small pulley on the st/gen and around the large pulley, called the drive clutch, on the engine.  The st/gen belt should be clean (no oil on it) tight and no fraying or cracks evident.  If this belt gets loose it will cause starting, and sometimes charging, problems, especially when wet.  The st/gen is probably the most reliable part on the car but if the internal brushes get too short it will not charge or start the car.  The brushes are located directly under the black rectangular rubber covers on the st/gen (early st/gens have a metal band secured by a screw).  Use a light to inspect them.  If the top of the brush is level with or recessed down into the guide that keeps them in place, then the brushes are too short and must be replaced…pronto!  The brushes usually wear away at different rates, so the one you are inspecting might be the shortest of the four in the st/gen.  It only takes one to stop it from working properly.  If the brush sticks up out of the guide 1/8″ or so, they are most likely OK.

In addition to starting the car, the st/gen also recharges the battery.  All of the charging current comes out of the small, ‘DF’ (8mm or 5/16″ wrench) terminal on the st/gen, then runs along a thin, usually green, wire to the voltage regulator.  The regulator takes this current and turns it in to something the battery can accept, namely 14.5 volts.  Both the starting & charging current run through the solenoid so it too must be good working order.

In gas golf carts with 2-cycle engines the st/gen operates in both directions.  This is because the engine runs in one direction for forward and runs ‘backwards’ for reverse, thus eliminating the need of a reversing transmission.  4-cycle engines can operate in one direction only so they must be coupled to a transmission.  A mechanical hand-operated shifter with a cable(s) is employed to actually shift the transmission from forward to reverse.  Most golf cars have two shifter cables, one for forward & one for reverse.  These cables can freeze in very cold weather or bind due to rust or the cable housing getting caught on a stump or rock.  Or a cable can just plain break.  Any of these conditions will cause difficult, if not impossible shifting.  Inspect the cables carefully to be sure the cable is not fraying at the F&R switch or back at the transmission.  Check under the gas golf cart for a drooping cable or signs of kinking.  Club Car, and more recently E-Z-GO, use a single shifter cable more like a motor boat steering cable.

An electrical Forward/Reverse (F&R) switch is used in 2-cycle cars to change the polarity of the electricity running through the st/gen.  This causes the st/gen to crank the engine in the opposite direction.  The F&R switch internal contacts frequently burn and pit when prematurely shifted while the engine is still operating.  Suddenly everything changes direction; electricity, the engine and the st/gen violently stop going in one direction and start going in the other.  This action creates a lot of electrical arcing in the F&R switch and at the brushes in the st/gen.  Over time the F&R contacts burn to the point they can no longer make an adequate electrical path to start the engine in one direction or the other.  When this happens it is time to disassemble the F&R switch for closer inspection and replace parts as needed.  Inspect the bundle of battery cables from the F&R switch over to the st/gen.  Sometimes the battery cables will rub over a metal engine part causing the cable insulation to wear away.  This can create a short that leads to an intermittent starting problem that is very difficult to troubleshoot.

f.  The ignition system creates the spark that fires the engine.  Older golf cars used a mechanical point set, condenser and ignition coil to produce the spark.  Since the early  to mid ’80s, electronic ignition systems use a pulsar, an igniter and an ignition coil.  The pulsar replaces the old points & condenser   It is a small coil of wire located behind the flywheel and when a magnet in the flywheel passes close by it creates a voltage signal.  This small signal goes to the igniter, which boosts it and sends it along to the ignition coil.  The ignition coil boosts it to a very high voltage that it sends along to the spark plug in the engine.  When the ignition goes bad it cannot produce a strong enough spark to fire the gas.  The spark plug(s) gives the most trouble, followed by the igniter, then the coil.  The bad news is there is not a good reliable test for the igniter vs the coil.  The spark at the plug should be thick & blue.  You can see this by removing the plug lead, inserting another plug in the end (leave one in the engine so it doesn’t spray gas) and holding the plug (with an insulated pliers–it may shock you) a very short distance from a frame ground.  Look carefully at the spark.  If it is thick & blue and you can draw the plug away from the ground about 1/4″, it is good.  If the spark is weak, short (plug cannot be drawn away from ground without losing the spark) and orange or yellowish in color, then it is a sign of possible ignition problems.  Another common failure of the ignition manifests itself by working fine until the various components get hot.  Then the car shuts down and will not restart.  After patiently waiting 5 or 10 minutes, the engine fires to life again.  This is typically the igniter or the coil.  Unfortunately there is not a reliable troubleshooting procedure to determine which part is at fault.  The best way to check is to put in known good replacement parts one at a time.  Usually it is the more expensive igniter but not always.

We are frequently asked about engine timing.  Timing the engine provides for the ignition spark to be fired at an exact moment into the combustion chamber.  Except in the old points & condenser days this is not something to be tinkered with on modern gas golf cart engines.  The pulsar mounting is fixed in under the flywheel and not very easy to access.  Moving the pulsar one way or the other to affect the spark timing is possible but not practical.  The EPA emission requirements for these modern engines are very strict and spark timing & carburetion are some of the ways engine makers meet these demanding standards.

g.  The carburetor is responsible for thoroughly & precisely mixing a little bit of gasoline (1 part) with a large quantity of air (17 parts) so the spark plug can fire the mix.  This is not as simple as it may sound.  Very small passageways inside the carb can become partially or totally blocked with dirt or debris carried in with the gas.  This occurs mainly at the needle & seat valve or in the main jet.  Other worn parts such as the throttle or choke shaft or gaskets can allow extra air in and upset the precise metering of the fuel to air ratio.  Most golf car carburetors use some type of cable arrangement to operate the choke, the throttle and the governor.  These cables must be in good working order.  No frayed strands, no kinks and they must slide freely through their respective cable housings without binding.  The cables must be adjusted correctly too.  If the throttle cable does not close the carb completely, and, at the proper moment also cut off the accelerator switch, backfiring will result.  If the choke cable is a little too tight, or binds, then the engine runs with too much gas.  This is called a ‘rich’ mixture and it is not good.

After the fuel mix gets through the carburetor it must be allowed into the combustion chamber at a very precise moment in order to achieve maximum burning and power output.  In 2-cycle engines a reed valve is used and in most cases it is very reliable.  In 4-cycle engines a much more complicated system involves a camshaft, push rods, rocker arms and intake & exhaust valves.  The valves must open and close a certain amount and at exact moments during each revolution of the crankshaft.  The valves can and should be adjusted from time to time.  Consult your service manual for the specifications of the engine you have.  Valves that are way out of adjustment can have a profound effect on the performance of the engine.

h.  The drive clutch, the driven clutch and the drive belt are the last items on the car that are specific to gas golf cars.  The drive clutch attaches to the crankshaft on the engine.  The driven clutch attaches to the input shaft of the differential (2-cycle) or transmission (4-cycle).  The wide drive belt connects the two clutches.  At rest, the belt rides down in the center of the drive unit and out at the perimeter edge of the driven clutch.  As the engine spins flyweights in the drive clutch force the pulley halves together causing the wide drive belt to ride up higher on the clutch faces.  This action makes the driven unit separate as the belt forces its way down the driven clutch faces.  All of this works as an automatic transmission of sorts.  If both clutches & belt are in good condition they smoothly slide in & out in reaction to the speed of the engine.  If either clutch face or the belt (or all three) are worn or the flyweights are broken or the plastic ramp buttons in the driven unit are worn or broken, all kinds of power loss can occur.  A perfectly fine engine will not transfer power to the rear wheels if the clutching system is bad.  The efficiency of the clutches also can be compromised by bad motor mounts or, in Yamaha gas cars, by a broken engine tensioner cable located at the front driver side corner of the engine frame.  This is the dynamic:  The engine frame is mounted to the car chassis by means of several rubber motor mounts.  When the clutches are engaged the engine & engine frame are pulled toward the differential.  The rubber motor mounts, and the Yamaha engine tensioner, prevent this action from being too severe.  If the engine & frame move too much, some of the ‘gear ratio’ effect of the clutches is lost resulting in reduced start-up & pulling power.

STEP 3 – Finalizing the Spring Prep

a.  Check the tire pressure and inflate to 20–25 psi.  If you have had any problems with a slow leaking tire, don’t waste your time with the foam ‘fix-a-flat’ stuff that comes in aerosol cans.  Usually it does not work permanently and can damage aluminum wheels.  I recommend taking the tire to a professional and having it plugged (it’s only about $5) or, if the tread is still pretty good, have a tube installed.  While you are down there filling the tires, look at the tread and sidewalls.  The tire tread wear should be even across the entire width of the tire.  If the center of the tread is worn too much the tire may be over inflated.  If the outer edges are worn away then a chronic air leak is indicated, maybe due to weather-cracked sidewalls or a pesky nail or golf tee.  (Sidewall cracks are very common and the cracks may or may not be the cause of the air leak.  Apply soapy water with a brush over the sides & tread of the tire and look for bubbles caused by escaping air.)  If one front tire is worn a lot more than the other, or the tread has signs of feathering or scrubbing in one direction, then a front-end inspection & alignment may be needed.  It is somewhat normal for a tire to lose 5 to 10 pounds of air pressure over a long storage.  Low tire pressure makes the battery pack have to work a lot harder to power the car around especially in grass or loose dirt & gravel.

b.  In order to keep your steering system working smoothly and to prevent any metal-to-metal deterioration, it is recommended that your front end be greased at least once a year.  For those that use the car year round or use the car above and beyond ‘normal’ usage’, you may need to do this more often.  A simple grease gun with a flexible delivery hose is recommended for this step.  With the key ‘OFF’ and the F&R shifter in Neutral, jack up the front end.

CAUTION:  Always use jack stands or blocks of some kind when you are under the car.  Never trust a jack to hold fast and you can never be too safe.  The minute you let your guard down in situations under the car, bad things can happen.

On each tie rod end, steering gear box and king pins, there is usually a grease ‘nipple’.  Wipe it clean with a rag and then press the end of the grease gun onto the nipple (also called a zerk fitting).  Be sure the end seats correctly.  Squeeze the trigger two or three times into each fitting.  Do not fill to the point where grease is running out everywhere.  If this happens clean the excess right away.  Grease is a magnet for dirt and if there is grease all over the tie rod ends, dirt will follow.  Most older gas golf carts have grease fittings with only a few exceptions.  Don’t waste your time looking for grease fittings on most Yamaha cars, or on some of the most modern cars…there isn’t a single one.  They have a closed system which never needs grease (it actually works pretty well). Grease nipple below on a Club Car tie rod end.  This fitting is in need of a good cleaning and grease.

c.  The beginning of the season is also a good time to be sure your brakes, brake cables and hill brake catch mechanism are all working.  It doesn’t do a lot of good to have a great running golf car that you can’t stop and keep stopped.  A hill brake lock mechanism that unexpectedly pops off is a mortal danger to anyone downhill from you.  Thoroughly inspect and test your brakes regularly.  Begin (with the key off and on flat ground) by pressing the brake pedal.  Feel to be sure the pedal doesn’t feel mushy or weak.  If the pedal tension does feel weak, you may have a frayed, kinked or broken brake cable, need to disassemble & clean the brake shoe adjuster mechanisms, or perform an adjustment to the turnbuckle or compensator spring assembly where the cables attach to the pedal underneath the floorboard.  Carefully check the cables for battery corrosion, rust, kinks or signs of fraying or unraveling.   If the pedal tension feels OK  but you still have to press extra hard on the pedal for adequate stopping, you may need to replace the shoes or inspect the brake drums.   Any of these components or combinations thereof may need replacing or adjusting to achieve the proper brake feel.  With the vast array of shoes and cables out there, I have seen all kinds of jury-rigged combinations.  The correct shoes, installed & adjusted the proper way, with the correct brake cables & drums helps insure proper braking and personal safety.

The hill brake catch mechanism is hard to inspect on any car.  There are two parts; the notch (usually found on the hill brake pedal) and the catch plate (usually attached to the frame of the car).  Either or both can wear and unexpectedly pop off creating a dangerous rollaway situation.  The best way to check this is to get down with a flashlight and carefully look at both components for wear.  The other way is to lock the hill brake down as you normally would, then reach down with your hand and try to dislodge the catch mechanism by shaking & pulling at it.  It should hold very firmly.  If it seems to pop off too easily then there may be need of closer inspection. The hill brake catch mechanism below is from an EZGO TXT golf cart.

d.  Check the differential gear oil.  This is often overlooked for years and lack of oil will cause the diff gears to start clashing, which leads to an audible gear whine noise as you accelerate, cruise or coast.  Lots of older gas golf carts have both a drain & a fill hole but on more modern cars the drain hole has gone away.  All of the modern Dana brand differentials take regular 30 weight motor oil but other brands may take a heavier 90 weight gear oil.  It is always best to consult your service or owner’s manual.  If the oil is determined to be low; add to the bottom of the fill hole.  Be sure you are adding oil to the actual fill hole and that you are not overfilling because this can lead to other problems such as blown wheel seals and oily brakes.  I always look carefully for signs of oil leaks around the differential cover plate and at the end of the axle tubes where the wheels attach.  If things look oily or caked with damp looking dirt chances are you have a leak somewhere.

e.  Check your reverse buzzer!  OK, OK, everybody hates these loud obnoxious intrusions while concentrating on backing up.  I find many cars that have a wire pulled or cut off.  Others that just don’t work.  I also find cars accidentally left in the reverse position, standing quietly, ominously, waiting to unexpectedly go into reverse when the gas pedal is pushed.  Don’t do this!  That buzzer is for everyone’s safety.  With the modern ‘regen’ cars the buzzer functions as the ‘roll away protection’ warning signal as well.  In today’s market, where the majority of golf cars are used for personal transportation and where parking areas are crowded with other golf cars and people standing around, a disabled or broken reverse buzzer is inviting disaster.  And perhaps a lawsuit!  If the buzzer is too loud, locate where it is located on the car and partially cover the buzzer hole with a piece of duct tape.  This will cut down on the high pitch while still making enough noise to warn the driver, and those standing around, that the car is in reverse.  If you walk past an unattended car accidentlaly left in reverse, do your neighbor a kind deed and shift it to Neutral.  The legs you save may be your own!

f.  The last thing to really take a close look at is how tight the battery cable connections are throughout the gas golf cart.  I mentioned loose battery cables at the battery posts proper but anywhere the heavy cables are attached–the st/gen, the F&R switch, the solenoid and the battery must all have clean tight connections.  Looseness=Heat.  Heat=Failure…sooner or later.  Again, if you can wriggle the cable end under the nut that secures it, it is loose!  If the entire contact moves on the board to which it is attached, then the contact is loose on the board.  If the cable end or the stud & nuts look oxidized, rusted or discolored compared to other nearby connections, it indicates a heat buildup and impending failure.  Deal with these problems while you have the vehicle where it can be repaired.  Otherwise you will be dragging that bad boy home.

Good luck with all this and thanks for reading.  Call us at 800-328-1953 or 828-963-6775 (fax: 828-963-8321) if we can help you through any of these issues.  We carry lots of parts and service manuals.  Be sure to submit your email address (and any interested friends) so you all can receive our FREE twice-monthly newsletter featuring news, information, history and special discounts on parts & accessories.  You will find an email submission window on the top right of our homepage.

2 thoughts on “Put Spring In Your Gas Golf Cart

  1. I need some help. I have a 97 gas club car. The engine is running fine. The fly wheels are coming together but are not transmitting the power to the belt. Where do I start to fix this issue….

    • I would first examine the belt for wear. A slightly worn belt can present a big issue with power loss. When the sheaves of the drive clutch on the engine come together, does the belt “ride” further out on them? If so, does it then tighten the belt and separate the sheaves on the driven clutch on the rear end? You could have a broken clutch is spring in one or the other clutches resulting in no pressure to hold the belt.

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