Kennewick hobbyist's homemade buggy doesn't pass street-legal test

By Pratik Joshi, Herald staff writerOctober 13, 2008 

Roger Slack thought he'd found an economical way to get around by converting a golf cart into a buggy.

The Kennewick man cut the frame, put two brackets to give the cart a "lift" to install bigger tires for a cushioned ride.

For comfort, he added seats that came out of a Harley-Davidson cart, and set up a stereo with speakers. And, for safety, he installed headlights, brake lights, turn signals, a wind shield and mirrors. He even installed a nitrous oxide system to boost the engine, and also threw in a horn.

In all, the former motorcycle racer spent about $1,500 and a lot of sweat to make it ride-worthy.

But Slack, 52, can't drive his colorful vehicle around, except, say, in his yard.

Years ago, the state Department of Licensing told him driving his souped-up, gas-powered cart would be illegal, said Slack, who works as a metal production tech at ATI Allvac in Richland and loves to tinker with autos.

In Washington, only electric-powered or battery-operated carts are legal, said Melissa Van Gorkom, equipment and standards manager for the Washington State Patrol. And, they have to meet federal standards, she said.

Factory-manufactured carts, or what are also called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, comply with those standards, Van Gorkom said. They can be licensed in the state to run on streets with speed limits up to 30 mph, she said.

A street-worthy cart has to meet the federal equipment standards, said Sgt. Al Escalera of the Washington State Patrol.

It has to have headlights and brake lights and turn signals at certain heights so that other drivers can see it while on the road, he said. It also needs a stop lamp, reflex reflectors, seat belts, a windshield and an identification number, he said.

Factory manufactured carts are built stronger to be able to withstand impact and are equipped with the required equipment, said NanceyAustin, who co-owns with her husband Ala Cart Golf Carts in Richland.

The battery-operated carts, which cost $6,400 and up, can't go above 25 mph, she said. People with gas-carts could potentially drive faster than that, Austin said.

The battery-operated, low-speed vehicles have a VIN and need to be insured, Austin said. Locally, interest is growing in the Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, she said, noting her store sells about two to three a month.

Slack doesn't see much difference between his cart and the manufactured one.

"I can add seat belts on my cart in five minutes," he said, adding he would love to drive his cart to the river. "It's only nine minutes from my home."

He said several other states have no issues with the home-assembled carts that run on gas.

State patrol officials say Slack can get permission to use his cart as an off-road vehicle.

He also can apply for a VIN, said David Gotzh, vehicle identification specialist with the state patrol. And, if he has the receipts for the major components of his cart, he also could get a title, Gotzh said.

"What good does that do to me?" Slack said, adding if he could drive his cart on streets, it could save him gas money.

But that's not going to happen anytime soon.

"At least, I can look at it and take pride that I made a piece of junk workable and usable."

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