How To Change Your Go Kart Chain

One common maintenance item you will undoubtedly come across owning a go kart, is the need to replace, shorten, or lengthen you go kart chain. The steps are easy, but require a few tools and some directional details.

Chain Removal Steps

  1. Remove any plastics or coverings to gain access to the chain, and push the go kart until the master link is easily accessible in the middle of the two sprockets.
  2. With some pliers, pull the retaining clip away from the open end to release and pull it off the link.
  3. Take the side plate off and remove the master link. 
  4. Remove chain from sprockets. 

If you have a replacement chain ready, install in reverse order, but make sure to put the retaining clip on the same direction. You want the relief opening to be pointing backwards when the chain rotates.

How To Fix A Chain That Slips Off

This problem is very frustrating, and it makes you feel like your go kart is completely broken. But to be honest, it’s one of the most common problems to have. The tension on your chain walks a pretty fine line between too tight and too loose. The bolts that hold the engine onto the go kart are your adjustment for chain tension. Those bolts can come loose over time from stress or just vibration.

Other items that are less likely, but can still pop a chain off:

  • Worn, stretched, or unlubricated chain
  • Worn or loose sprockets
  • Misaligned sprockets
  • Loose axle shaft or drive wheels
  • Crooked frame

If your chain looks fine, reinstall it and proceed to adjusting your engine placement. Tension details below.

How Tight Does My Chain Need To Be?

The answer is, “just right”. Which isn’t very helpful. What I like to do is loosen your engine bolts until your engine slides easily. Tension the chain as tight as it will go and then back off until there’s a slight bend in the chain. Tighten one of your bolts so the engine doesn’t move. Then pick up the chain and attempt to pull it off your smallest sprocket. You shouldn’t be able to get it off the sprocket, or anywhere close, it should just barely move on there.

Once you feel it is on there right, tighen all the engine bolts all the way. A good suggestion here is to add lock washers, lock nuts, locktite, or double nuts to make sure the engine bolts do not move and affect your chain tension.

When Do I Need A New Chain?

If your chain has recently slipped off, or doing a routine inspection, inspect the chain and make sure all the links look ok. Look for any that are bent, cracked, or discolored. If you see any of these signs you will need to replace the links that are bad, or better yet, the entire chain. While you’re in there, make sure to inspect both sprockets for any bent or broken teeth. Bend teeth back in place if necessary or consider a replacement sprocket based on severity. (One bent tooth is fine)

As you use your go kart the chain will stretch slightly. This is perfectly normal and to be expected, so you need to keep an eye on the tension to prevent premature wear. 

Chains do not need to be replaced that often if they are taken care of and tensioned properly so don’t expect to do this every year. More like every 5-10 years.

How To Measure For A New Chain

If you still have your old chain, take it in with you to a hardware store to buy a replacement. If your chain broke and went flying off into the wood to never be found, like mine did… you’ll have to get creative. I took a piece of string, wove it between the teeth going around each sprocket, and cut it where they intersected. Weaving between the teeth gave me just enough slack that my new chain was spot on. The length of the chain is the easy part. Next you need to figure out what size chain you will need. 

How To Tell What Size My Chain Is

The most common chain sizes for go karts are 35, 40, 41, 420, and 50. These numbers cooespond to the distance between each link roller. The more distance the higher the chain number. To measure you want to start with your sprockets. You can use calipers if you have them, but the easiest method is to use common wrenches. If a 3/8″ wrench open end matches from tooth to tooth, it’s a 35 chain. If a 1/2″ wrench fits tooth to tooth it’s a 40, 41, or 420 chain. 5/8″ wrench is for 50 chain.

Note: Measure both sprockets to confirm sizes. If you have two different sized sprockets, replace one so they are the same measurement. Your chain will continue coming off if the two sprockets are not matching sizes. 

If you measure to 1/2″ wrench, and need to decide between 40, 41, and 420, the most common is 420. They are all the same distance between the links, but the differences are width and side plate height. 420 chain is the smallest width and recommended most often because it is the least likely to slip off, and it works in small clearance situations. 40 chain is slightly wider and recommended for thicker sprockets, typically 0.284″. Most sprockets measure in around 0.227″ which 420 and 41 chain are recommended. The last difference is that 420 chain will stand slightly taller than 40 chain which makes it a little stronger.

When ordering, make sure to order a little longer than needed and plan to remove links versus making a smaller chain fit. If you have your chain too tight it’ll quickly wear down the teeth on the sprocket and you’ll be looking at a more expensive repair. 

Special Tools That Might Come In Handy

1. Chain Breaker – This tool is used to push out a pin to allow you to take out links. Think cheap here because you’ll likely only use it a few times. Harbor Freight has a cheap one I’ve used before. 

2. Chain Holder Tool – This tool will hold your chain together with tension while you install the side plate and retaining clip. While it can be done with your hands, this is no doubt easier. 

3. Chain Lube – While not really a tool per se, this is a must have for a new chain. You want to make sure to spray on your chain after installed to extend the life of your chain and sprocket. A well lubed chain will last much longer!

Common Chain Problems And Fixes

  • Go kart takes off while idling (Centrafugal Clutch Only) – Chain can be too tight, check for proper tension.
  • Go kart acceleration is jerky – Chain might be too loose, check for proper tension. 
  • Clanking noises when rolling go kart – Chain might be too loose or slipping on sprockets. Check sprocket and chain wear.



I love to drive my kids around in our go kart and I'm always looking for an opportunity to share what I've learned with others!

Recent Content