How To Build A Go Kart: Our Comprehensive Guide
When building a go-kart, you might be stuck thinking, “where do I even start?” Looking on web pages and inside shops can get you part of the way to answering this question, but there are so many parts to navigate, it is hard to get all your answers in one place. Thankfully for you, we have come up with the ultimate guide on how to build a go kart. Building a go-kart is all about asking the right questions, and it’s here where you’ll get all the answers you’ve been waiting for.
Making sure you’re asking the right questions and getting the right information can be the difference between crying kids and happy, go-kart cruising kids. It can also be the difference between spending a couple hundred dollars and a few thousand dollars.
This guide puts together the most essential topics and answers the important questions for building a go-kart. To get the most out of this guide, make sure you’re addressing every possible situation and paying attention to details. This will ensure for the ultimate go-kart experience.
If you’re in the business to build a go-kart to maximize fun and give a great past time for you and your children, keep on reading our all-inclusive guide.
Table of Contents
Different Types of Go-Karts
Probably the first thing that pops in your mind when you think how to build a go-kart is what it will look like. There are a few possibilities and types of go-karts to choose from, and it all depends on your needs and who will be riding it.
Before you decide how you want to design your go-kart, ask yourself, how many people will it carry? Is the primary driver an adult or a child? If the driver is a child, how can you make it small enough where they can ride with enough control?
Once you answer these questions, you can decide if you need a one-seater or two-seater go-kart. For adults with young children or older children with younger siblings, a two-seater go-kart is ideal so everyone can join in on the fun.
If there is just one primary rider, a one-seater go-kart will be enough. Keep in mind; it is unsafe to carry children on your lap when riding a go-kart. If you intend to build a one-seater go-kart and bring your children along with you, you should think again about the safety risk this imposes.
As we continue down our list of things to think about when constructing your go-kart, keep in mind the “who” for every question. Go-karts that are heavy-duty, built to go fast, and great for adult rides impose extreme risks to smaller riders.
How to Power your Go-Kart
Getting your go-kart moving is perhaps the biggest concern people have when getting started to build, and for good reason! Make sure when considering how you’re going to power your go-kart, you keep in mind who is riding and where they’re riding.
There are several ways to power a go-kart. Gravity, pedal, gas, and electric methods are all possible when considering what works best for you.
The most basic model is a gravity-powered model that moves on its own without an engine. If you don’t live somewhere with hills, this model will not be possible. Also keep in mind that if this model is for a child, the cart cannot weigh too much more than them so they can roll it back up the hill.
A pedal-powered go-kart is great for lightweight models, so you can actually pedal it. Often, people intending to build a pedal-powered go-kart end up using way too many heavy materials and the result is impossible to pedal.
To avoid this, make sure you’re using lightweight materials such as PVC, and aluminum for the frame. If an adult will be using this go-kart, you can use a bit more heavy materials than normal.
If you’re going to give your go-kart an electric power source, make sure you have some prior knowledge in the area before you go hooking up wires and connecting batteries. A typical running circuit won’t work, and you’ll need electronic controllers to run your go-kart.
A 12-volt battery best fits the needs of normal go-kart use. You’ll also need a quite large electric motor to move the entire go-kart. If you’re trying to keep costs low, this might not be the best option for you, although it is improving as more batteries are constantly being introduced.
Building a gas-powered go-kart is definitely the most popular option. It’s also easier in the sense that parts are more readily available. However, this power source can be more dangerous and, you should use caution if children will be using this go-kart.
The benefit of a gas engine is that it is completely versatile, allowing you to ride in a variety of road and weather conditions. You also don’t need to charge this engine as you would with the electric power.
Types of Engines
Obviously, if you want your go-kart to go, you’re going to need a good engine. There are two types of engines to choose from when constructing your go-kart.
The first kind is an air-cooled engine. As in the name, this engine is cooled down by the surrounding air when the go-kart is moving.
The second type of engine is a water-cooled engine. This engine utilizes a radiator that uses fluid to cool off the engine when running.
An air-cooled engine is going to give you an easier installation experience with your go-kart. The engine is small, simple, and easy to install. However, these types of engines aren’t meant to be used in the same place for a long time.
A water-cooled engine is great for a heavy duty go-kart. You can keep the engine running for a long period of time without overheating. The installation of a water-cooled engine, however, is not so simple. Make sure you are setting up this system properly, or you could be in trouble later on.
Sources of Go-Kart Engines
For keeping costs down, you probably don’t want to go out buying a brand new engine for something you might just be using as a toy for you or your children. Here is a list of engine sources you can reuse when constructing your go-kart:
A leaf blower engine is small and similar to the engines you can purchase in stores. If you use this method, you will need to add a clutch to your go-kart. These engines are also usually on the pricier side.
These engines are cheap and readily available. This engine gives a decent amount of power, but not ideal if you want a fast go-kart.
For a high-speed go-kart, a small car engine will do the trick. Most car engines are too costly and carry too much weight to be practical for a go-kart. However, if you can get your hands on an old, small car engine, once you install the clutch, you have a great go-kart.
A motorcycle engine is a perfect fit for a go-kart. They’re versatile, small, and readily available making them an ideal choice.
What Material To Use
Once you get an idea of what your go-kart is going to look like and how you’re going to power it, the next step is to collect all the parts you’re going to need. Having all the parts at once will make building your go-kart a whole lot easier than building some, then going back for more parts.
Here's an idea of the parts of a go-kart you will need to account for when purchasing supplies:
Depending on how you power your go-kart, some of these items may not be needed.
Material for the Frame
There are two types of material commonly used for the frame. These are steel pipe and PVC pipe. A PVC pipe will offer you a much lighter framework and is great for go-karts built for young children. A steel frame will give you a lot more stability and is essential if you’re going to be using an engine in your go-kart.
There are also two different shapes of steel you can use on your go-kart. These are round piping and square (angular) steel.
The round pipe steel is going to offer you a better look, but it can be a pain to weld together. While the square cut steel is going to be more cost-friendly and readily available, but not as visually appealing. A combination of these two welded together will ensure a go-kart that is sturdy and strong enough to last tough conditions.
Materials for the Wheels
Most go-karts use smaller tires in the front and larger ones in the back. If this is what you want, you’re sure to find the sizes you’re looking for at any auto shop.
The best choices for the wheels are rubber tires with a lot of traction that is more able to stand up to tough road and weather conditions.
Keep in mind you will also need to purchase bearings for your tires. The typical size is ⅝” which fits perfectly on one-inch tubing. If you want to keep costs down, don’t invest in high-speed bearings that usually come at a much higher price point.
If you’re up for it, investing in rims on your go-kart is a great way to add some personal touch and a visual appeal.
Materials for Steering Wheel
Even the most basic of steering wheels will cover your go-kart needs. These can be found at any automotive shop or big retailer. Make sure you’re also purchasing a shearing shaft so the wheel can be assembled securely.
Additionally, you’re going to need to purchase spindle brackets to put on the corners of the steering frame. Purchase four rods to put on all ends of the steering frame to mount it correctly.
Materials for the Brakes
There are many types of brakes you can purchase for your go-kart. Make sure you’re taking into account the quality of your engine, so you find brakes to match. The four kinds are a scrub brake, band brake, drum brake, and disc brake.
Scrub brakes are metal brakes that control the rear tires. If you’re looking for a hand brake option, this type of brake can be converted into that.
A band brake is going to be a much easier and cost-effective brake method. But beware, this method isn’t great for rainy places, as it doesn’t stop too well on wet surfaces. This method uses a metal band to stop the movement of the tires.
Drum brakes will swell to stop the tires from moving instead of controlling outside movement. If you are in a rainier place, these brakes are a great option because they’re inside of the vehicle and don’t get wet usually.
The last brake option is a disk brake which provides the best ability to brake quickly. The downside of these brakes and the reasons why many people tend to go with other options is because they’re quite expensive.
Materials for Seats
The good news about seats is you’re able to save a lot of money on them if you get them used. Old car seats and even other old go-kart seats can work. This is a great place to save money if you’re looking for how to build a go-kart on a budget.
With seats, make sure you’re purchasing a wood-backing to keep the seat in place while driving.
Also, do not forget the importance of seat belts. It’s imperative to have a seat belt in case of a compulsory forward movement of the vehicle. Even seatbelts can be reused, so they won’t cause much of an increase in your budget.
Clutch or Torque Converter?
Depending on what type of engine you’ve equipped your go-kart with, it may be essential to add a clutch. However, for a more efficient option that adds significantly more power, explore the possibility of installing a torque converter.
With a torque converter, your go-kart is able to go quicker and handle hills and elevation change better. A torque converter can add a pretty penny to your budget, however. If this is something to see as important, consider buying a used version.
Building a budget-friendly go-kart can be a bit of a hassle, but it is completely possible. By purchasing used parts instead of new ones, and scaling back on things you won’t use all the time, you’ll be able to keep your go-kart within your budget.
Although used parts are tempting to buy, make sure the used parts you are buying are good enough to sustain your go-kart into the future, or you may be investing even more time and money fixing the old parts than you would have just bought a new part.
A prime example of this is a smoking engine. Old engines tire out more easily and therefore, can result in smoking when you drive your go-kart fast or uphill. A quick fix is adding a little bit of oil or water to the engine, but this is only a temporary fix before you go-kart goes up in smoke again.
If the engine you’re using doesn’t seem reliable into the future, this can end up costing you a lot of money in engine modifications.
Another thing to keep an eye out for when using used parts is rust on the joints. Rusted joints may seem like they’re not a big deal, but they actually can be a huge cause for concern. Using rusted joints can lead to stress fractures on your go-kart.
Instead of painting over the rust, buy new or gently used joints. You can cover your joints with a water-resistant paint, so they joints are severely less likely to rust over time. Also, keep your go-kart out of the sun for extended periods of time as this can also lead to rust.
Repairs can really add up, here’s an example of a time where it might have been better to spend a little more money up front:
Money spent on all materials: $500
Replace engine: $200
Repair bent axle: $80
Fix the frame/remove rust: $100
Repair the steering system: $100
Total cost of repairs: $480
Total price: $480 + $500 = $980
At this cost, you could have just spent the extra money to buy nice materials up front. Repairs can end up doubling the cost of your go-kart, or even more.
Up Front Costs
Once you’ve analyzed which parts are best to buy new, gently used, or used, you can begin building your budget. Begin by writing down all your up-front costs before going to the auto shop, so you don’t get roped into buying things you don’t need.
We’ve compiled a list of the things you should absolutely consider buying when buying your go-kart. Try taking this list to various automotive shops and seeing what they quote you in your area.
It’s estimated if you use these items, your total costs will bring you to around $750. If you’re using something other than a gas engine to power your go-kart, your costs could be significantly less as the engine accounts for about half of the total material cost.
Once you’ve received a quote from an automotive shop, the next step would be determining which materials you could buy used to cut down on costs. We’ve already pointed out the potential hazards of purchasing a used engine or frame, but if you’re using one that’s not too old and reliable, this could be a great way to keep costs down.
Driving and Accidents
Where you’re going to drive your go-kart is another very important point to consider before building any framework or purchasing any materials. Some people tend to get very carried away with the aesthetics and a fast engine, that they hesitate to consider where they’re actually going to be using this thing.
If you’re just going to be taking the go-kart around the driveway and into the cul-de-sac, there no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy engine and a steel frame. Do you have a track where you can ride around and reach top speeds without worrying about other objects getting in your way? Then maybe it is best to invest a little more for things like a nice engine and a torque converter.
Keep in mind when building a go-kart that it is illegal to drive them in the road. If you intend to take this thing out into the street, you might want to think again before you end up with a huge fine equivalent to what you paid for the go-kart in the first place.
Although most people don’t want to face this reality, accidents are a legitimate concern for go-kart drivers. Make sure wherever you’re driving, it is safe, a big enough size, and free of obstacles like trees and garage doors.
Besides just running into obstacles or people, go-karts are dangerous because of how hot they get. With the tires and the axles spinning at such a high rate, it’s easy to catch fire. To avoid this, don’t build anything that goes outrageously fast and again, always keep in mind the “who” of who will be operating this vehicle.
For additional coverage from accidents, install good seat belts and reliable brakes. Without a seat belt, the driver could be projected forward and be launched from the vehicle in an accident. However, this could be a good thing if the go-kart is very heavy and can crush the driver in a potential accident.
When determining what precautions to take for potential accidents, take into account who will be driving, how heavy the vehicle is and where you’re going to be riding it. After thinking about all these things, you’ll be able to build a go-kart that you can drive without much concern.
Tools, Equipment, and Workspace
Before you get started on building your go-kart, you need to make sure you have all the tools that you’ll be needing readily available.
To make your go-kart building a positive experience, put a decent amount of effort into giving yourself a good workspace. Whether this is in your garage or an actual automotive shop, a good workspace can be the difference between a thrown-together go-kart, and one with a lot of effort and pride backing it.
One rule of thumb is to keep your workspace clean, and have all the necessary materials and tools laid out for easy access. Another good idea to set up a work schedule and plan. If you have one of these, it can also be motivating to put it on display in your workspace.
Here is a list of some of the equipment you will be needing when constructing your go-kart. To save on costs, borrow these materials from a friend if you don’t have them at your own disposal.
Creating a Work Schedule
Both a schedule of how you’re going to complete your go-kart and a schedule of how often you will check up on maintenance of your go-kart is very important.
Some people build a go-kart in as little as a day while some people use weeks. There are six main steps in building a go-kart. These are:
You can divide these steps into however many days you need to make a good work schedule for yourself. Hang it in your workspace to motivate you and show you a clear picture of what you would like to accomplish for the day.
Building your Go-Kart
Now that we’ve discussed the first and most important step of building and designing a go-kart let’s get down to the physical work.
Constructing your Frame
The first step to building your go-kart will be laying out your frame. You’ll start by drawing a life-sized frame of your go-kart and drawing a line down the middle. Make sure in your drawing you’ve left space for the engine, seats, axle, tires, and pedals.
Once you are satisfied with your drawing, you can begin by laying the frame material over time and welding it together. This can be a PVC pipe or a steel frame. It’s very important to make sure the frame is completely sturdy before you go on to other parts of construction.
It’s best to build a frame with rounded edges and keep the curve size consistent across the entire go-kart. Before building more of the base, you’ll want to secure your seats onto the frame with the help of a wood panel. This should show you where to begin building up and out.
For the parts of the go-kart that are off the ground, start by connecting the remaining steel to your base. This can be done with a welder. Always triple measure your steel materials to ensure correct length before moving on. Also, make sure you’re using the right size of bolts and screws and ones of good quality to keep your go-kart from falling apart in the future.
This is probably the most time-consuming process of the whole construction. However, it is also the most important. Make absolutely sure your entire base is solid both at the bottom and going onto the roofing.
Installing a Steering System
To secure the steering system onto the frame, you’ll want to use steel clips that you push into the steel pipes. Make sure you have plenty of nuts and bolts on hand as you’ll be using them to get the steering wheel completely secure onto the frame.
Securing the steering system can also be done with welding. You can weld an upper and lower steering block to the top and bottom of the frame. Secure with rod ends and nylock nuts.
Next, weld spindle brackets to the front of the go-kart frame, connect rods to each end of the brackets and insert the axle into the front wheels. Keep adjusting the positions until the steering system and the rods line up to perform steering correctly.
It’s a common issue for first-time builders not to have their steering angles lined up correctly. If this is the case, do not worry. Make sure you are welding the rods straight up and down, so you have no difficulty turning and steering.
Installing the Rear Axle
Installing the rear axle is one of the easiest parts of building the go-kart. Use about a meter (or whatever the length of your go-kart) in steel rods. Fit the steel to the sprocket and brake disk next to your rear wheel spots.
The axle, like the engine, must be completely straight when fitted. If not, this could throw off the center of gravity for your whole go-kart and make riding a less pleasant experience.
Once completed, fit the back tires onto the axle ends and add the rims. Then, secure the rims to the wheels with bolts to make sure everything stays in place.
Installing the Engine
Installing an engine is going to vary greatly depending on what kind of engine you’re using. If you’re unfamiliar with how engine installation works, do not hesitate to leave that area of the construction process up to a professional. Messing with an engine you don’t understand can have a lot of safety hazards.
If you’re doing this process yourself, you’re going to start by welding a mounting plate for the engine in the center of the frame, or wherever you’ve decided to put your engine. Next, bolt your engine to it making sure it doesn’t slide around even when a lot of force is exerted.
Depending on the type of engine you have, you may or may not also be installing a clutch. If this is the case, you’re going to want to align the axle sprocket with a clutch sprocket and weld a rod to the place it intersects in front of the brake band. Keep all the screws on these bearings extra tight.
This is also the time when you would install the torque converter if you decided to use one.
Installing Brake Cables
When both of your foot pedals are in place on the frame, you’re going to start adding some cables for safe braking. Start by threading the brake cables to the rear and securing them onto the frame. You want the cables to be pulled tight enough just until the point where there’s some tension.
You can use wire stoppers to secure the beak cables onto the top of the brake band. This will allow the band to tighten around the drum to stop the axle from spinning. Next, secure the throttle cable to the engine while the engine is idle.
To test if the cables are working, start the test with the pedal connections. You can even use bicycle brake cables with the plastic removed for this step.
So you’re done with the structural parts of your go-kart. Congrats! If you’re someone who cares not just about how fast you go, but how fast you look, some simple aesthetic upgrades can take the look of your go-kart a long way.
One of the best ways you can make your go-kart look faster is by putting racing bodywork on it. You can buy bodywork online for a couple hundred dollars, cheaper if you go with used bodywork. You do have to ask yourself if such a steep price tag, but that’s the price of looking cool.
To install the bodywork, make sure everything is lined up and sits well on the frame. Don’t weld anything until you’re absolutely sure. Once you see the parts fit correctly, weld your new body parts to the inside or outside of your existing go-kart.
Another way to add a fresh look to your go-kart without breaking the bank is a fresh paint job. While this is a good idea to paint everything before you build the frame, it’s still possible to do after the frame has already been built.
Start by breaking down the frame. This is also a good time to check if there’s any sharp corners to grind off or any places that weren’t welded properly. If you’re going to be breaking down your frame, be extra careful to put the nuts and bolts that remain with that particular part alongside it, and not everything in one pile.
Before adding paint, clean the frame and remove any oil that could cause the paint to not stick to the steel correctly. Add a couple coats of water-resistant paint and allow it to harden in the sun for a couple of days. Reassemble your go-kart for a freshened up look.
Just because you’re all done building your go-kart doesn’t mean you never have to work on it again. It’s imperative both for your safety and for the longevity of the go-kart to check it out every so often for damages and problem areas.
To keep your go-kart from falling apart, wear and tear, and rusting away, we suggest you give it a good checkup every ten rides. This rule of thumb is a great way to make sure you’re taking good care of your go-kart you’ve worked so hard to construct.
Every ten rides, make sure you’re checking the chains, clutch, brakes, steering system, oil, and engine. Additional maintenance can be done once a year to add more water-resistant paint to keep your go-kart from rusting and causing further damage.
Now that you’ve finished designing, building and developing a maintenance plan for your go-kart, go out and enjoy it!