How to Get Your Golf Cart Ready to Roll for Spring

Jennie L. Phipps

“Hands down, there’s not even a close second, the number one reason for service calls will be an issue that could have been avoided if proper [golf cart] maintenance had not been ignored,” says Michael K. Rosenbarker, author of So, You Bought a Golf Cart? An Owner’s Guide for Learning about Golf Carts.

“What costs the customer a crisis repair could have been avoided with a significantly lesser service bill had some regular, scheduled maintenance been performed,” writes Rosenbarker, who used to own a golf cart dealership in Florida.

Whether you’re heading out to the golf course or for a joy ride around the community, follow these essential steps to make sure your golf cart is in top-notch shape for spring and summer driving.

Start with the battery.

If you have a battery-powered golf cart, and even if you have a gas-powered and just use the battery to get started, keeping your golf cart’s battery in good working order is key.

Do you remember the famous line in Caddyshack, admonishing the caddies, “If you want to be replaced by golf carts, just keep it up”?

To paraphrase, if you want to avoid telling your repair person, “It just quit on me!” then get into the battery maintenance groove. The Caddyshack Golf Carts sales and maintenance outlet in Palm Desert, California, offers these sage pieces of advice for maintaining the batteries, “the heart and blood of your cart,” as Caddyshack says.

  • Overwatering and underwatering are two of the biggest mistakes you can make. Doing either one can ruin your battery. Replacements can easily cost you more than $1,000, so handle with care.
  • Don’t put water in batteries that need to be recharged. Wait until the batteries are fully charged to check the water levels. The only time you should water your discharged batteries is if the plates are exposed. If this is the case, put just enough water in to cover the plates and then let the batteries fully recharge before checking them again, Caddyshack advises.
  • Use distilled water — not tap water. Softened tap water can include chloride, nickel, nitrates, copper, and other chemicals that are bad for your battery.
  • Don’t overfill. You’ll get corrosive acid all over your battery and the battery’s power may be reduced.
  • Keep the water levels steady. Florida or Arizona snowbirds who leave their golf carts in a hot garage all summer risk drying them out. The technical term is sulfation and it’s irreversible. If you can’t check the water level at least once a month, get somebody else to do it.

Next, check out the rest of the cart.

After you’ve gotten the battery into prime shape, here are six other areas to which you should pay attention to keep your golf cart ready to roll.

  1. Fill the tires. If the tires aren’t properly filled, you’ll get less range from your gas or electric golf cart. If you drive your cart mostly on streets, purchase street-legal tires with tread. Turf tires wear out more quickly and don’t stop well on wet roads. Owning an electric pump to make it easy to fill the tires is also a smart move, according to Golf Quest International, a golf lifestyle website.
  2. Check the steering. If it feels loose, tighten it yourself or get a pro to look at it.
  3. Step on the brakes. It costs a lot to replace bad brakes that have been seriously damaged by overuse. Before you step on the brakes and they squeal, and long before the pedal goes immediately to the floor, it pays to have a professional check your brake cables, hydraulic brake fluid, and brake shoes. Doing these checks yourself requires some specialized knowledge.
  4. Listen for the buzzer. If your back-up buzzer doesn’t work, you could be in trouble. This signal lets people know that you are backing up. If it isn’t working, get it fixed immediately. Silence can be a serious safety issue on a crowded course.
  5. Invest in professional service. It is a good idea to have your golf cart professionally serviced once a year. This checkup should include cleaning the batteries, checking for oil leaks, and examining the power cables.
  6. Clean and wax. Start by protecting or removing anything like a GPS that can be damaged by water. Wash your cart like you wash your car, add a layer of wax, and then polish, working from top to bottom.

What about a gas-powered cart?

If you own a gas-powered cart, much of the advice above applies to you, too, but there are some differences. For one, if the cart won’t start, try adding a little gas to the tank. DoItYourself.com offers that as its top piece of advice to gas-powered cart owners. Also, remember to change the oil regularly and clean or replace spark plugs and air filters. Replace the drive belt if it is cracking. Keeping these components in good shape will help ensure that you won’t be stranded on the 10th hole.

What if your cart needs more than routine maintenance?

If you take good care of your golf cart, it will last for years, but even the most pampered vehicle occasionally needs more serious care. Here are some signs that your cart is failing.

Normally, you’ll get 20 to 25 miles from a charge. Over time, as batteries age, they provide less power. If yours isn’t getting you around the links and back to where you park and charge it, then maybe it is time for a replacement.

And here’s another sign you have serious battery trouble: You step on the pedal and not much happens. When a battery is past its prime, the cart won’t accelerate like it once did. The fix is easy, but expensive — a new battery pack.

Here, according to Golf Cart Resource, is a simple way to confirm your suspicion that your golf cart battery needs help: Test it using a voltage meter. Normally, a golf cart battery will show a few volts higher on the charger than its rated voltage. Even if it seems to be in good shape, test it again once the batteries are fully discharged. Test each individual battery. Even if only one battery is bad, it will probably make the most financial sense to replace them all because it will be cheaper to buy the pack as opposed to buying one at a time.

Finally, here’s another common battery issue that could slow you down: You have to turn the key several times before it starts. This could be a problem with the battery, but it also could be that the ignition key switch is worn out or the wiring to the ignition is frayed. It’s not a tough fix, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, hire an expert.

Don’t forget insurance.

Did you make changes to your coverage during the off-season? It is best to avoid canceling insurance, because accidents and damage can occur even when the cart is stored. But if you made the decision to reduce or cancel, before you get back on the road, talk to your insurance company. Remember to ask about discounts and extra coverage that will best meet your needs and maybe save you money.

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