How To Get The Best Performance From HO Kit Cars

There is some good news for today’s model railroader when it comes to HO kit cars when compared to those kits which were manufactured in the past. For example, the model freight cars which are made available in contemporary kits are almost absent today of problems. With just a few minor adjustments they’ll run as close to perfect or as close to perfect one can hope for.

With that said, however, there are three main issues which can potentially cause problems and effect your freight cars performance as well as other rail cars and they are: The weight of the car which may not be adequate or balanced correctly, the cars couplers, and there could also possibly be problems with its trucks.

When you purchase an HO kit, the first thing that you should check is the cars trucks. Do this regardless of what may have been written in the instruction sheet which was included with the model. Closely inspect the trucks before you do anything else.

Why? This is one of the main culprits for derailments, and your cars ability to run smoothly depends on their reliability and smooth operation. To be able to check the trucks efficiently you’ll need a National Model Railroad Association Standards gauge.

These can be purchased at your local model train hobby shop, regular hobby shops, or directly from the NMRA whose address is NMRA, 4121 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga, TN 37421.
Given that almost all kit wheelsets are made from plastic, you can easily adjust them if they are out of gauge by twisting the wheels in or out with your fingers to correct this deficiency.

The model railroad term for the correct wheel and truck alignment is the word “tram” and it is also the prototype term. Tram insures that the trucks follow the rails rather than pulling off to one side or another.

If you find that it is necessary to adjust your wheelset, make sure that after locking them in the correct position you then secure them in place by using a small drop of CA where each wheel meets its axle, and on the inside which is away from the bearing end.

There is a possibility that your wheels may be a little wobbly and this is easily detected by hand pushing the wheelset along a short length of track and through observing it carefully.

If you discover that your wheels are out of square this can also be a leading cause for derailments. The solution to this type of problem is to simply replace or change the wheelsets.

With the kits which are manufactured today there is one

more thing that is important to check, and that is the sideframes. Most kits now have rigid trucks with the sideframes and the bolster molded in one single piece.

Inspect the sideframe to be sure that they can move freely and are not lifting the wheels off of the rail. This can also cause derailments. The most effective solution for this type of problem is to set up the truck so that it has a three point suspension.

When this is done, one truck will actually allow two trucks to follow a track which is uneven, and at the same time keeping one truck tight, which will ultimately insure that the car has a steady or trouble free track.

Finally, it is worth addressing the common question of whether or not it is necessary to lubricate your trucks and the answer is no. The reason for this is that most sideframes which are made today are far to slippery and in many instances the axles are made of plastic as well.


The NMRA is an important resource that provides guidance for a variety of things which are related to this rewarding hobby, and one of those is the design of what is known as the “horn-hook” coupler.

In fact, most car kits come with these, and unfortunately they really aren’t that efficient. You can, however, make them work well by performing this minor maintenance method.

To do this corrective maintenance apply a lubricating product or any other type which is similar to Kadee’s no. 231 Gease-em to the coupler boxes and onto the coupler’s gathering horns which will enable them to move freely.

Another cause of derailments relates to the height of the coupler pin. If they are too low they will get hung up in the track work. Here’s the solution: you can first try adding shims inside the box, and that may or may not work. If it doesn’t, the only fix for this problem is to substitute the Kadee box.

You’ll also discover that it will take quite a few washers to correct the couplers height, and this will definitely subtract from the cars appearance because it will ride to high. With this problem the solution is to replace the original coupler box.

Often hobbyist mount couplers in their own boxes and they frequently do this by gluing them. However, this is not a permanent solution as they won’t last long. It would be best to secure them with screws or pins which are fastened into the cars body.


There is a great deal of debate among model railroaders about adding weight to cars. Some of these debates and opinions are beneficial and some are not. In spite of this, if you decide to add additional weight, follow the guidelines that are set fourth by the NMRA. More often than not, the inclusion of weight will greatly improve the functioning of the couplers and the car will ride the rails better.

The best way to monitor the weight which is added to a car is by using a postal 2 pound scale which can be purchased at most stationary stores or office supply stores.

The best guideline to follow when adding weight to a car is to make sure you distribute it evenly throughout the car and that it is placed low.

Finally, before you place a car on the tracks for its first run, make sure that you check its couplers, trucks and weight. This will help insure that you avoid frustrations and add to your model railroading experience in an enjoyable way

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