Two different engine types are used in go-kart racing: 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines. Each engine has its advantages and disadvantages. In this article, I will explain how each engine works, its pros and cons, and which engine is better depending on the use.
What Is A Stroke?
All internal combustion engines contain something called an engine stroke. An engine stroke (a power cycle) is an internal combustion cycle sequence of events when fuel is injected into the cylinder, followed by compression, ignition, expansion, exhaust, and intake.
The main difference between these two engines is in applying the strokes, so let’s talk about how each engine works before comparing them in detail, so you can decide which type of engine suits you better.
How Two-Stroke Engines Work
The 2-strokes are smaller and less complex, with a greater power-to-weight ratio than their bigger brothers, the 4-stroke. They are mainly used in sprint racing and require less maintenance.
The way the 2-stroke engine works is as follows:
- Intake/Compression – The burned gases from the previous cycle go out through the exhaust valve. The compressed air from the cylinder moves into the upper chamber (above the piston) from the upper intake valve. The piston then compresses the fresh air.
- Combustor/Exhaust – A plug creates a small explosion pushing the piston down. The burned gases are then expelled through an exhaust port.
Pros of a 2-Stroke Engine
- A two-stroke engine is a smaller and lighter engine.
- The engine’s turning motion is even, requiring one power stroke for every crankshaft rotation.
- Because there is no mechanical valve mechanism, these engines’ designs are relatively simple.
- This engine generates less friction on its components during operation and has improved mechanical efficiency.
- This engine has a significant power boost with an extremely high power-to-weight ratio, creating extra torque and responsive power.
Cons of a 2-Stroke Engine
- Two-stroke engines consume more fuel, and only a small amount of fresh charges mix with gasses from the exhaust.
- You may experience a high amount of vibration or noise during operation.
- It has a shorter life span.
- Two-strokes have a narrow power band or range within which they’re most efficient.
- It may become unstable when idling.
- Releases more exhaust gases and pollutants than four-stroke engines.
How Four-Stroke Engines Work
The 4-stroke engines are robust, complex, and high-maintenance, built to perform during long races. They are more efficient and will last longer than 2-stroke engines.
The way the 4-stroke engine works is as follows:
- Intake – When the inlet valve opens, a mixture of air and fuel comes in from the inlet port, pushing the piston down.
- Compression – When both inlet and exhaust valves close, the piston pushes up and compresses the mixture of fuel and air, which enters the combustion chamber in 1st stroke.
- Combustion and Power Stroke – A spark plug produces an explosion that pushes down the piston.
- Exhaust – The exhaust valve is opened, and the piston moves back up. The gas exits the chamber, and the new cycle begins.
Pros of a 4-Stroke Engine
- Four-stroke engines produce higher torque at lower speeds than two-stroke engines.
- Offers better fuel efficiency.
- Produce less pollution due to advanced combustion efficiency.
- Durable and can handle high levels of use.
- With the four-stroke engine, you won’t need any extra oil.
- Produces less noise and vibration than two-cycle engines.
Cons of a 4-Stroke Engine
- Larger and heavier compared to the two-stroke engine.
- A larger engine contains more parts, and repairs and maintenance are more complicated and expensive.
- Because it only gets fuel once every four revolutions of the piston, it’s less powerful than a similar two-stroke engine.
- This engine design has a complicated gearing system, which makes it difficult to maintain.
- Regular maintenance is required, increasing the costs of parts and services.
Differences Between 2-Stroke & 4-Stroke Engines
To summarize the difference between the two types of engines, let us compare them side by side in each of the following categories: weight, durability, power, maintenance, and environment.
The difference in weight between 2-stoke and 4-stroke engines is significant due to the size and parts that make up these two engines. While the 2-stroke is relatively simple and contains only a few parts, the 4-stroke can get quite complex and has twice as many parts, adding to the weight. Because of the extra weight, 4-stroke is not great for short, sprint races, but it will outperform 2-stroke if the race is long.
If appropriately maintained, a four-stroke engine will outlast a two-stroke engine because the combustion inside a 4-stroke engine is not as strong, thus putting less pressure on the engine components.
For an untrained eye, confusing power with the number of strokes is easy. The truth is that even the basic two-stroke engine creates more power than a four-stroke engine, delivering that power to the wheels quicker. This is one of the reasons why dirt bikes and motorcycles use 2-stroke engines.
Maintaining a 4-stroke engine can get quite complex, and if you are not a mechanic or don’t know your way around engines, make sure you go with the 2-stroke. Additionally, the complexity of the engine correlates with the parts needed for it to work properly. The more parts you need, the more money you will spend on maintenance.
You would think that because a 2-stroke engine had stronger combustion, it is more environmentally friendly, but that is not the case. The 4-stroke engine is by far more efficient and uses far less fuel.
Additionally, because two-stroke engines consume a blend of oil and gasoline, they produce higher levels of smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter compared to four-stroke engines that run solely on gasoline commonly used in newer go-karts.
So, if you want to help the environment by reducing exhaust gases while still enjoying racing, go with the 4-stroke engine.
In go-kart racing, the two most commonly employed engines are the 2-stroke and 4-stroke. The 2-stroke engine, known for its lightweight design, potent power output, and minimal upkeep, also has drawbacks such as decreased sturdiness, heightened fuel consumption, and elevated emissions.
On the other hand, the 4-stroke engine, with its increased durability, fuel efficiency, and reduced noise and vibration, also has its limitations, such as its larger size, greater weight, and more demanding maintenance needs.
Ultimately, the engine choice for racing relies on the race’s specifics, with the 2-stroke engine being best for short, energetic sprints and the 4-stroke engine shining in long races.