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Driving success in The Villages: Michael Thomas, the Cartfixer, takes the wheel in repairing a community's golf carts

Thomas says the Indiana Jones theme song has been with him since he started his business. (Levi D’Amato/WUFT News)
Thomas says the Indiana Jones theme song has been with him since he started his business. (Levi D’Amato/WUFT News)

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Michael Thomas hears the “Indiana Jones” theme song around 60 times a day. He hasn’t changed it as his ringtone since he first got into the golf cart repair business in 1988.

“I don’t hire anybody to answer my calls for me,” Thomas said. “I like to give things a personal feel and maybe solve some of the problems while I’m on the phone.”

Thomas repairs around 3,000 golf carts a year in The Villages, a large community made up of mainly retired people. Thomas saw his opportunity to reach the large retired community, where there are at least 70,000 golf carts and 56 golf courses.

“I’m trying to take a small piece out of a big pie,” he says.

The population also grew 7.5% between 2021-2022, making it the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area in the country.

“I considered going to a place like Peachtree City as well,” Thomas said.

In Peachtree City, Georgia, more than 10,000 households own golf carts. But Thomas settled on The Villages, where golf carts whiz by on their own designated roads all day.

“Life wouldn’t be life without the golf cart here,” says Terry Johnson, a customer of Thomas. “I drive it pretty much every morning.”

Johnson doesn’t play golf because of a shoulder injury he suffered playing, but he still uses the golf cart for his daily transportation.

“I go to lunch every morning in my golf cart, and then go get my mail in the afternoon in it,” he said. “I get groceries three times a week on the golf cart.”

Because of the demand, the “Cartfixer” van is constantly on the move. On a regular day, Thomas repairs 10 golf carts.

“If you’re on my books, I get you done,” said Thomas. “That’s my mainstay.”

Many depend on the carts for their day-to-day lives. Others consider the carts as luxury items, used for a sunset family cruise or peaceful drive with the dog. Whatever the circumstances may be, it always brings a smile to Thomas’ face.

“For my customers, the golf carts are like a toy,” he said. “They are expensive but it’s worth it for them.”

According to Thomas, the average price of a new golf cart can range betweenis in the ballpark of $5,000 to $15,000. The repair costs can vary from around $100 to $1,000, depending on the problem and cart type.

Thomas says a problem that has arisen lately in the golf cart industry is the constant adaptations to technology and innovation.

“It used to be that around 75% of people would have electric carts,” he said. “Now we are seeing a switch back to using gas carts.”

There are also some carts that Thomas sees the same troubles with all the time.

“I got a problem with my fuel-injected cart,” says a caller over the phone as Thomas drives to his next job. “You told me not to buy the fuel-injected, but I did anyway.”

The fuel-injected cart comes up on a lot of the repair jobs lately.

“With these carts, you have to drive them around once a week,” Thomas said. “Otherwise, it gets idle and you have to replace the fuel container.”

With a full tank of gas that must constantly cycle, the fuel becomes unusable and then ends up ruining the tank. Golf carts aren’t driven as much as regular cars, so Thomas says they are more susceptible to this.

Ashley Hermann filled the one she bought with fuel but then didn’t drive it enough.

“I pretty much only drive it around the neighborhood,” Hermann said.

Hermann lives outside of The Villages, in nearby Leesburg. She bought the new golf cart last summer for her family to go joyriding together.

This problem comes as many of the new golf carts contain newer parts and technologies. Some of the higher-end ones are becoming almost as complicated as some cars.

“The biggest problem nowadays is misdiagnosing,” Thomas said. “Lots of the newer guys don’t have the ability to diagnose all the problems the carts have.”

Most of the repairs Thomas has are simple fixes, like brake and gas problems, battery failure or simply a broken outer piece on the cart.

With the more intricate carts, fixing these problems can turn complicated and some repair jobs may make things worse.

Thomas attributes his ability to deal with the influx of new golf carts to his years of experience, but also his versatility.

He moved from Hawaii to California in 1985 to pursue opportunities in car racing. While he was racing he got the opportunity to work on a golf course with 225 golf carts.

“They were open 365 days a year, and they did two rounds of golf a day,” he says. “And most of the customers were foreign tourists, and they wrecked the carts.”

The massive amount of golf carts ruined by reckless tourists gave Thomas all the education he needed.

“The course also had both gas carts and electric carts, which was fortunate for me,” he said. “And any time you are tearing carts down and having to build them back up, you get a lot of knowledge.”

In The Villages, it appears that golf carts are something of a rite of passage for a new homeowner.

“I moved here nine years ago, and I bought my first golf cart nine years ago,” says Theresa Daniels, a Cartfixer customer.

There is a specific app for navigation in The Villages, showing how to get to different restaurants and centers in the community. There are even lanes on the main roads dedicated to golf carts.

“I take my dog for rides, I like to do downtown trips in it,” Daniels said.

The main reason for Thomas’ move to The Villages was the opportunity to work in the largest golf cart community in the United States. But there is also a second: the clientele.

“There’s a lot of wisdom I gain from working with older people,” he said. “And they are typically much better clients because they are on time and waiting for me.”

Thomas says that over time he has learned how to grow and mature from listening to older people. The Villages has a median age of almost 75. Now that he is 60, he reflects on the lessons he has learned.

“When I was 20, they told me how not to be when I turned 60,” he said.

Along with the great customers, there are also always the bad ones.

“I have one terrible review on Google,” said Thomas. “This guy called me to fix his cart and then kept trying to jump in and help me.”

Thomas said the encounter was not fun, but there was a bright end to the story.

“I gained a customer from this exchange,” he said. “A lady called me and appreciated how I had responded to his review.”

Thomas has also done a fair share of nurturing in the golf cart repair community. One protégé named Henry Leon first came to him when he was sixteen.

“I hired Henry when he was a kid, and then I fired him. He just didn’t have a work ethic,” Thomas said. “Then he came to me later and became a great worker.”

Now, Leon runs his own golf cart repair business in The Villages, called Golf Cart Guy. The two don’t consider each other competitors, but friends working together, even though they have separate businesses.

It can be a small world in the golf cart repair business. As Thomas leaves a job he sees the tire repair guy he sends his customers to.
“That’s my second time seeing Brandon today,” Thomas says as he calls Brandon up to let him know he passed him. “I’ve got some more people to send your way.”

Levi is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing