November 19th, 2015

s10 sidecar

Knowing how it's supposed to work, is half the battle

We got a call from a relative whose son is using a 49cc Chinese scooter at college. It has issues. Will we work on it? We said "no", so he rented a U-Haul and showed up here when neither of us were home, and now it's in our garage.

The scooter is labeled "Ice Bear" and has around 900 miles. Problems:

1. It drives funny.
2. It won't start.

They have been kick starting it since new; the electric start worked at the dealer but hasn't worked since. And now it won't even kick start.

The first reason we found that it drives funny is because the nut that holds the rear wheel to the axle is missing. We were able to source an appropriate nut at the local hardware. Later, we discovered that the nut that holds the swing arm bolt in place was also missing. Once again, hardware store to rescue.

The reason the electric start doesn't work is because there is an interlock. It won't fire unless you have the brake on. With the brake on, the starter runs just fine. We discovered this by studying the wiring diagram; the starter circuit runs through a switch labeled "stop light".

But even with the starter cranking, it had no spark.

The owner's father suggested that he could buy a new carburetor. But if there's no spark, that's not a carb issue.

According to google, the common cause of no spark in these generic Chinese scooters is a bad CDI unit. A replacement CDI is $5.12 on Amazon, with free shipping as an add-on item with Prime. I had other things to order with it, so we got it in two days.

Still no spark.

But guess what? If you turn the engine stop switch to "OFF", it fires right up. I don't know if this is poor English language skills or poor assembly, but it's true. It runs pretty well now.

We considered drilling the bolts and adding a cotter pin to keep those two nuts from falling off again, but in the end we just lock-tited them.

I found this constellation of problems comical so I decided to share them here. :-)

I have heard many tales of these things being terrible POS. I wonder how many of the failures are this simple, but so far beyond the comprehension of the owners, that they don't get fixed? Instead they just get made worse by the owners doing things like attempting to install a carb they don't need, and botching the job. I wonder how much of the Chinese-scooter=POS reputation, is just the demographic that buys them, and the fact that it doesn't take many hours doing diagnostics at shop rate, to spend more than a new one would cost. If the scooter was identical yet cost twice as much, would that move it out of the POS category by making it worth the cost to fix it?