Motorized golf carts

When I used to golf with my stepdad, we had this golf cart that presumably had an internal combustion engine. It sounded like a motor…

But it would not idle. If I pushed the throttle, it would come to life, let off, and it goes silent.

What is this, and how does it work?

It almost feels like a compressed air fuel, but we were able to make it 18 holes, and this was 20 years ago.

When you put your foot on the gas pedal the starter is engaged and the motor starts and off you go.

Take you foot off the gas complete the butterfly on the engine carberator completely closes and the engine dies. There is no idle setting

This is how every gas-engine golf cart (that I’ve ever encountered) works.

Similar technology is also a feature in quite a few cars: Start-stop system - Wikipedia

YEs, my newish BMW will stop the engine when stopped (i.e. traffic lights). Push the accelerator or wiggle the wheel (to engage power steering) and the engine will come back to life.

I saw golf carts that did this in the early 70’s. Obviously, noisy two-strokes idling would be a serous distraction in golf. Pretty simple - pushing the pedal engages an electric starter and ignition, which disengages when the engine is running. not sure how it stops, but obviously two siple ways are (as mentioned) carburetor choke, or also disconnecting the ignition circuit - no spark.

It was competing with electric carts which were silent, but could run out of juice part-way through the second round if the golfers drove around too much. These had about 10 automobile batteries (state of the art back then) and needed constant maintenance to maintain fluid levels in the batteries. I remember the pro shop crew frequently taking a pair of carts out to a golf party, to replace the dead one and tow the dead one back to the pro shop.

Of course, the older ones were tricycles so less stable, and the risk was someone would drive along the side of a raised tee and roll the thing onto its side. Nowadays four-wheelers seem to be much more common - they are more stable, but the steering system (a tiller) was far simpler with the three-wheelers.

I’d guess that a high percentage of golfers are familiar with the use of a steering wheel.

While in Dallas visiting family a couple of weeks ago, I got to ride in my uncle’s wife’s new and totally optioned jeep, and it kind of reminded me of a golf cart. When she stopped at the end of the street, I heard it die. “Wow, it just stalled!”, I said. No, it’s made to do that every time you stop! I didn’t like it, but she showed me a button you can push that disables that function and lets the car run normally.

Some golf cart engines also can and do spin in both directions. One rotation direction for forward and the engine will turn the other direction for reverse. Going forward to reverse requires the engine to stop then restart in the other direction.

Yes. So much more common that I have not seen a three wheel golf cart in my entire 25 years of golfing. And I doubt a tiller was “far simpler” than a steering wheel.

It is much simpler from the standpoint of building a golf cart.

Plus, it allowed either passenger to steer since it was in the middle. Basically it steered like a tricycle, but instead of handlebars, a big tube steel loop in the middle of the cart.

Yeah, they were common in my caddying days - around 1970. As things got fancier and cheaper, 4 wheels and steering started to predominate. I’m pretty sure stability was a major factor. At the country club I caddied, someone put a cart on its side once a month or so. (Fortunately golfers are sober types or it would have been much worse… :smiley: ) Based on the effort required to maintain 10 auto batteries for each cart, I assume gasoline engines became the standard.

(Haven’t looked recently - what do modern carts use for batteries? Something much more advanced, I assume?

Six batteries. All the early carts were 36 volts. 6 x 6 volt batteries Then later they went to 42 then 48 volts. Now some are up to 72 volts. And the best use lithium-ion batteries for light weight.

The batteries are unique to golf carts, they are separate even from normal deep cycle batteries.


I’ll defer to mixdenny on this one, but I can say that my playing partner and I made it through 18 holes in a battery-powered cart a couple of years ago. We plugged it back in when we finished our round and returned to the clubhouse.

Interestingly, the connector plug was the same used on my lift truck, when I worked in a warehouse years ago. Since I could run that for an eight-hour shift without running out of juice, I’m not surprised that a much lighter golf cart, with likely fewer batteries, could handle a four-hour round of golf.

The main reason for the extended life on newer carts is the controllers. Early carts just used a resistor bank to set speeds. They drew the same current no matter how fast they were going. Instruction manuals mentioned it was most efficient to drive at top speed.

The resistors on my 1972 Melex cart are typical, 2" diameter coils of nichrome wire, the heaviest gauge being almost 1/8" wire. Mine are under a hinged flap behind the seat. The lid is asbestos insulated and it is like an oven in there. Some early carts had the resistors under the cart for better air flow and were known to set fire when parked in dry grass!

Solid state controllers beginning in the late 1970s changed all this. Range was extended about 50%.


Same user interface, yes, but a far different implementation under the hood for aiming two front wheels instead of just one.