Go-karting is a great way to drive without the restrictions of the road. Whipping around corners in the karts is an incredible thrill that cannot be matched by much else.
However, the karts used at the tracks that most people race at are only pared-down versions; there are plenty of ways to modify a go-kart to make it your own to achieve specific goals or a unique appearance.
This guide will look at all the different ways a person can modify and add to a go-kart.
What Can You Modify on a Go-Kart?
A go-kart contains a plethora of components designed to make it run and look a certain way. However, before starting your modifications, it is first worth learning which parts of a kart can be customized to fit your needs, whether you want more speed, better handling, louder noise, or an eye-catching appearance.
In a way, go-karts resemble any standard car; they require:
- A gas-powered or an electric engine to power the vehicle
- Four tires controlled by a steering wheel
- Brakes on the wheels
- A body covering all these parts
Like an average car, go-karts have many intricate components needed to operate the vehicle and features that make them unique from standard cars. All the following parts can be modified, added, or swapped out for a more advanced part to boost the kart’s performance to whatever levels you desire:
- Air Filter
- Fuel Filter
- Fuel Tank
- Body and Frame
- Tires, Rims, and Brakes
- Interior Components
- Steering Wheel
Additionally, you can modify the go-kart’s aesthetics to match whatever you want it to look like. Everything from custom rims, extra parts like a spoiler, more aerodynamic features like a more wind-resistant hood or side panels, or even a custom go-kart paint job are all-possible on a go-kart.
Types of Go-Karts You Can Modify
Several different types of go-karts are available to people to purchase or build. First, there are the standard karts that you can see and find in amusement parks; these are usually one- or two-seat karts that have minimal power.
When you start to look at more professional and custom go-karts, though, there are more variations to choose from.
- Racing go-karts are generally going to have larger engines that allow for more power and increased speeds. They also are going to have customized tires and brakes that allow for the most handling possible.
- Outside of the track karts, there are off-road go-karts. These karts are generally larger because of the track’s features and the engine’s need to be more powerful. Additionally, the tires are bigger on these vehicles to better grip the terrain.
How to Modify a Go-Kart Engine
The go-kart component that can be most modified is the engine because there are so many different parts that can be swapped and altered to fit your needs.
There are a variety of go-kart engines, depending on the size and power of the vehicle. For most standard go-karts, their motors are either electric or a four-stroke engine. Racing go-karts, meanwhile, use smaller two- or four-stroke engines.
- The smaller four-stroke engines usually produce between 5-20 horsepower, with some more powerful engines getting up to 50 horsepower. These are the engines used by amusement parks that younger kids are more likely to use.
- The two-stroke engines are the more powerful engines, with the horsepower ranging from 60-90 horsepower, depending on the cc unit type (the larger the cc unit, the larger the motor).
With the vast differences in these two go-kart engines, you may be wondering whether you can swap them out for one another when you are modifying your kart.
If you are looking to switch out between these various engines, you might have a little bit of trouble. The motors are generally going to be different sizes because of the number of strokes in each component, and therefore may or may not fit your kart’s build.
Of course, if you design your kart to have more room with a smaller sized motor, then you might be able to swap out for a larger sized engine. Alternatively, you can downgrade to a smaller engine if you wish to update your kart for kids or casual use.
Note: For the most part, the engine in a go-kart will be behind the driver, unlike classic cars, because the motor is usually too big to fit under the kart’s front hood.
Part of the engine that helps keep it clean and free of debris is the air filter. This piece is vital to the kart’s performance because it blocks foreign particles and other dust or debris that might otherwise disrupt the engine.
While there are no fashion pieces for air filters, there are various sizes that you can choose from that fit smaller or bigger engines.
Note: Air filters are found on go-karts because most use a carburetor that mixes air and fuel before it enters the gas engine. If you are racing with an electric motor, an air filter is unnecessary because an electric engine does not run on gas but rather an electric current, so no air is required to move the kart.
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The carburetor on the go-kart is essential to help propel the kart forward by combining the fuel and incoming air in a proportion specific to the kart and then pushing it through the combustion chamber of the engine. The carburetor needs the gas from the fuel inlet and air from the air intake to function correctly.
Carburetors are found mainly on racing types of go-karts because they help boost the performance of the kart. You do not necessarily need a carburetor on your go-kart to function, but many racers add them because of this increase in performance.
With that said, a carburetor can also be attached on both road and off-road style go-karts.
Along the same lines as the air filter, the fuel filter can be installed on go-karts to ensure that the kart’s fuel is free of debris and other impediments. These are connected in two different places on the go-kart: one in the fuel lines and the other in the carburetor via the fuel inlet.
- The fuel filters installed in the fuel lines are magnetized to allow fuel to flow while catching any rust that might be coming through. It also has a sieving material on the outside to prevent impurities from coming into the engine.
- The fuel filters help the carburetor because carburetors have small jets that can get clogged with debris and other impurities if not filtered properly. In keeping those impurities out, the fuel filter helps keep the engine’s performance at its peak levels.
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Gas-powered engines must have a reserve of fuel to operate. So, go-karts that are gas-powered need to have a fuel tank somewhere in the kart’s body to have the energy necessary to power the engine.
This is where the modifications come in:
- For the most basic karts, the fuel tank is placed in the kart’s front, near the steering column.
- For most racing karts, front fuel tank placement can be dangerous, as the driver is positioned right in front of the steering column. So, some kart designers will put the fuel tank near the back of the kart or in one of the side panels—whichever the designer of the kart sees fit and does not drag down the aerodynamics.
- For some off-road karts, the fuel tank is placed in the back by the engine. There is more room back there in off-road karts than street-racing karts because of the kart body’s design.
You can also choose to use a tank with a different material:
- Fuel tanks that are generally built out of materials such as stainless steel or aluminum are used on off-road go-karts.
- For racing karts, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is used because it is incredibly lightweight and able to fit into smaller spaces that generally are found on the karts.
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When someone is racing with a high-performance engine in a go-kart, the parts tend to heat up very quickly. Overheating can cause parts to break down and stop functioning.
Most normal go-karts and off-road karts are cooled by airflow going in and out of the engine. High-performance racing karts require a radiator’s installation to help with the cooling down process because of the karts’ design and performance.
The radiators are generally made from aluminum or brass because those materials are great heat distributors. The cooling agent is typically water or coolant pumped through the engine via water pumps and flows around the cylinder to cool the engine. The heat is subsequently dispersed once it flows through the radiator.
Modifying the Go-Kart’s Body and Frame
Most go-karts’ body and frame are all relatively the same, regardless of the type of kart. These structures are meant to be as aerodynamic as possible to allow the driver to get the best performance out of the kart while racing. This means that the body and frame will usually be lighter and designed to experience minimal resistance.
The go-kart’s body is generally made from fiberglass and can be shaped and formed to fit the driver’s style and ideal performance standards. While go-karts can have bodies containing the kart’s frame, some karts do not have a body and only have a frame.
If you are building a kart from scratch, some websites like BMI Karts and Go Karts USA have starter kits with all the essential parts needed to start creating your go-kart. However, some of these kits will not include a kart body because some go-karts are built without the fiberglass structure and have the frame.
The frame of the go-kart is the most visible part of the kart besides the actual body. The frame is essentially made up of metal bars that surround the engine; it usually is more noticeable from the back of the kart. The purpose of the structure is to keep the engine and the necessary components of the kart together.
If you want to customize this part of the kart, be sure that the basic frame covers the engine’s outline and the kart’s base.
Modifying a Go-Kart’s Tires, Rims, and Brakes
A few of the accessory parts you need to operate the go-kart, such as tires, rims, and brakes, can be customized for both style and function. Although modifying these components is optional, you may desire to switch them out to fit best the type of racing you plan on doing in your kart.
One of the first accessory parts you can modify is the tires. Tires on a go-kart can determine how well the kart grips the surface you are racing on. Go Kart Guide has a great chart to help you decide which tires from specific brands might best fit the go-kart you are looking to run. I can also teach you how to read go-kart tire size if you still don’t know.
- You will want to use tires with a low profile for any street or track race that allows for the grip on a dry track to be as tight as possible.
- There are tires with a little more of a profile and treads to grip any wet gravel or paved surface.
- If you happen to be on off-road terrain, specialty tires allow for maximum gripping power. These tires are usually a lot bigger than street tires and have wide treads to help grip the off-course terrain.
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Along with the tires, the rims on go-karts can also be customized to fit the driver’s style and racing type. For example, for the most part, the rims for a street-racing go-kart will be bigger than those on an off-road go-kart; this is due to the larger tire size of off-road go-karts.
The driver can also modify or swap out rims based on:
- The type of material the rims are made from
- The number of bolts holding the rims in place
- The size of the rims
- The rims’ pattern
Go Kart Supply has a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and other customization options for rims on go-karts.
The brakes on a go-kart are essential because they slow down and stop the kart. For most go-karts, there are three different kinds of brakes: disc brakes, drum brakes, and band brakes. Each of these brakes uses friction as the primary way to slow down or stop the kart.
- The disc brakes are the most common brakes on go-karts, and they operate by using calipers to clamp on the disc brake to slow down the kart. This type of brake is similar to those found in regular cars.
- Drum brakes operate by using friction material to clamp down on the drums and slow the kart.
- Band breaks are the more simplistic form of brakes. They are bands that tighten around the brake drums when the brake pedal is pushed. The resulting friction causes the kart to slow down.
Each of these brakes is used in several go-karts classes, so which one you choose to use is up to you and your comfort levels with each type. However, disc brakes are generally found on racing and off-road karts, with drum and band brakes being found on most homemade karts.
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Modifying a Go-Kart’s Interior Components
While everything outside of a go-kart can be customized to achieve peak performance, everything inside will be more customized to driver comfort. For example, seats and seatbelts for karts come in various sizes and shapes; the options you choose to upgrade to in your kart will come down to what you prefer.
The seat in most go-karts is all about function over form. For the most part, the seats are lightweight and designed to keep the driver safely inside the vehicle, and there are not many comfortable designs involved.
For the most part, fiberglass is the primary choice of material to create seats for go-karts. It allows the chair to be molded and fitted to the kart, and it can be easily modified to allow for as much comfort as possible. Other seats can be formed out of plastic or similar materials.
Along with the seat itself, some websites offer padded seats or padding that a person can add to the chair to help maintain some level of comfort. For the most part, the padding will be fitted on the seat’s lower back and rear end areas.
However, some places have padding up near the chair’s head area because the driver’s head sometimes will bounce around. BMI Karts has a small selection of seats and pads that one can purchase.
Perhaps one of the more controversial parts of the go-kart is the seatbelt. In traditional go-karts found at amusement parks, seatbelts are required to drive because of liability concerns. But, in racing go-karts, there are fewer restrictions in some circuits.
For the most part, the seatbelts are going to be different than those in a traditional car. Unlike the two-point contact belts, go-kart seatbelts are three- and five-point contact belts. These seatbelts usually go around the waist and the shoulders to induce minimal movement by the driver during a race. These types of seatbelts are common on off-road types of karts.
But, in racing go-karts driven on streets or gravel, some drivers prefer to go without a seatbelt and may opt to have them removed. These drivers feel that they can move more freely without the restrictions of the seatbelt.
Additionally, these drivers feel that if their kart flips over, they can get out of the kart quicker and not have to fumble with a seatbelt. Most of the go-karts seats provide enough cushion and protection because of their tight, molded fit to the driver.
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One of the more unlikely parts customized to fit the driver’s needs is the steering wheel. For the most part, the steering wheel is either a three-hole or five-hole mounting pattern—whichever suits the kart’s steering column.
The customization part of the steering wheel comes from its design and the material it is made from.
Some wheels are circular, some are square, and others have their unique style. Steering wheels are mainly made from steel, polyurethane foam, or leather that can be formed to fit the driver’s style. There are even options for reducing the wheel’s vibrating amount and increasing the driver’s grip on the wheel.
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As you might have guessed from the above guide, there are different aspects of a go-kart that can be customized and altered to fit your specific wants and needs. For the most part, the kart’s engine will be the most adaptable of all its components to improve its performance.
Remember, when you are updating the kart, whether that be fixing, painting, or modifying it, take all the necessary precautions; wear safety gear like gloves and goggles to ensure safety. Along with that, plan out any designs and modifications ahead of time to prevent any mistakes.