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How to Build Your Own Go-Kart: A DIY, Step-by-Step Guide

I've built a few go-karts over the years and I have a general want to share what I've learned about the process with others.

Learn how to make your own go-kart by reading this article!

Learn how to make your own go-kart by reading this article!

A go-kart is a small vehicle with a simple design, a small body build, four wheels, brakes, and an automotive engine. It is also known as a kart, a gearbox/shifter kart, and an off-road buggy.

As difficult as it looks, they are somewhat easy to build on your own. It will be a very interesting project for you and your family and friends. You will spend lots of bonding time building something useful together.

But before you follow the step-by-step guide below, be warned: Building one requires time, special tools, dedication, and money.

Building Your Own Go-Kart Will Also Build Your Sense of Responsibility and Dedication

If you're one of those people who really love to assemble things, go ahead and build your own go-kart from scratch. Buy every spare part after hunting for the best price.

An alternative to buying your own tools is to have an automotive shop fix the parts as needed. It might be costly, but its a real time-saver. You don't have to clean the mess inherent in fixing your own parts, and you won't make noises that often annoy neighbors.

You will need a special place for your project. That place should be dry, roomy, and well lit with a concrete floor. You'll also probably be working on this project for three to six months, so a part of your garage is the obvious choice.

Are you really ready to build your own go-kart? Let's start and gather the spare parts you will need.

5 Do-It-Yourself Aspects of Building Your Own Go-Kart

  1. Front A-arms assembly
  2. Mainframe assembly
  3. Steering system assembly
  4. Drive axle assembly
  5. The "guts" of the go-kart
A Homemade Frame (Photo courtesy from sadik.net)

A Homemade Frame (Photo courtesy from sadik.net)

1) How to Build the Front A-Arms Assembly

  1. Always measure the steel materials twice to make sure that the specified length is correct. Never use welded pieces for the main supporting parts.
  2. Use a pattern, a template, or a guide to make sure that the shape of the A-Arm is accurate and equal all over.
  3. Weld all joints and pieces together well. Use steel clips to keep these pieces from moving while welding.
  4. Use the right size of nuts to lock bolts. Do not forget to put a washer in between each nut and bolt. Join the ends of steel tubes to avoid warp and wear.

2) How to Build the Mainframe Assembly

  1. Lay down the pipe steel on a clean part of your concrete floor. Be sure to measure the length and width before welding each piece.
  2. Use proper support to get proper height and clearance of parts to be welded.
  3. The body and roofing frame need bending to create round edges. Use a pattern to be sure that all curves are equally measured.
  4. Arrange the bucket seats in their designated places to see how big the body size of your vehicle should be.

3) How to Build the Drive Axle Setup Assembly

  1. Find a lawnmower differential with a 13-teeth sprocket and 9-teeth axle.
  2. Link them by a type (or size) 50 chain so that the speed will get higher than what the lawnmower originally could give.
  3. Install a chain guard to keep the chain from falling off while the vehicle is running.
  4. Choose the appropriate sizes of bearings and tires to ensure good running condition.
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4) How to Build the Steering System Assembly

  1. Secure the steering part on the frame with the use of steel clips pushed into bored holes on pipe steel.
  2. Use nuts and bolts where securing is needed.
  3. The steering rack used here is converted from a 1986 Hyundai Excell (models from 1985 to 1989 will also work).

5) The Essential Parts of a Go-Kart

  1. Frame
  2. Engine
  3. Suspension
  4. Steering
  5. Tires and wheels
  6. Brakes
  7. Seats
  8. Seat belts
  9. Centrifugal clutch
  10. Torque converter

How Should I Build My Go-Kart Frame?

There are two types of steel for the frame:

  1. Pipe (round): Pipe steel on a go-kart looks neat, but it is harder to manipulate and weld together.
  2. Square (angular): Square steel is cheaper and easier to bend or join, but not as visually appealing.

Go-Kart Frame Welding Tips

  1. You can combine pipe and square steels to create the frame.
  2. Weld all the pieces of the frame properly and accurately. Put in supports where needed.
  3. Make sure the welded joints are tough and strong so that they can take abuse during rough rides.
  4. After each test ride, carefully inspect the welded points of the go-kart to make sure that it is built to last long.

The First Part to Hunt for Is the Engine

Two Types of Engines for Go-Karts:

  1. Air-cooled engines: Cooling is provided by wind/air when the kart is moving.
  2. Water-cooled engines: Cooling is provided by fluid (coolant) that runs to a radiator.

Air-cooled Engines

Air-cooled engines are smaller and simpler, so they will do better for your go-kart. They also start-up more easily in extremely cold temperatures; they won't freeze because there's no coolant! The downside of air-cooled engines is that they're prone to overheating.

Water-cooled Engines

Water-cooled engines are heavy-duty and they can keep running without the risk of overheating. But the water system of this type of engine should be properly set up, or your engine could be ruined due to a simple leak.

Where can I Source a Go-Kart Engine?

  1. Motorcycle engines: Motorcycle engines are the most adaptable and flexible engines for a go-kart. Whether a 2-stroke or a 4-stroke, a motorcycle engine of any size is a very easy fit.
  2. Lawnmower engines: Lawnmower engines are low-priced and always available. They have enough power, even though they're a little bit slow. These engines can produce more torque which can set your vehicle in motion.
  3. Leaf-blower engines: These and similar engines from other small machines are less complicated than the previous options and can be bought in stores. They are not cheap though, and you need to install a clutch.
  4. Snowmobile engines: Snowmobile engines are quite inexpensive and easy to come by in some places. They have a lot of torque, but they do not perform well during hot weather.
  5. Car engines: Car engines are too heavy, too pricey, too big, and they produce too much torque. It is possible to build a go-kart that uses a small car engine, but you need to set up the original transmission, clutch, and other essential parts to make it run smoothly.
  6. Variety of other engine sources: You can also find an engine in a chain-saw, generator, moped, water pump, rotavapor, or an old go-kart.

Disadvantages of Motorcycle Engines

  • Run fast and have low torque
  • Some are water-cooled and could take a lot of space
  • Expensive and hard-to-find

Disadvantages of Lawnmower Engines

  • Lawnmower engines have a vertical shaft and horizontal wheels; thus they take a lot of tinkering to fit the engine into place
  • An adapter and a differential are needed to get power to your wheels

Important Tip: Horsepower (HP)

The average horsepower for an engine is 8 HP, but 10 HP is desirable. With a 10 HP engine, you can create a larger gear ratio, so you will have more torque and your vehicle will be able to climb higher with minimum hassle.

Best Practices for Working With Engines

You can bring all the tasks that need professional attention to a reputable auto mechanic shop. Never attempt to do something that you do not understand fully.

Engine parts that need to be fitted and steel frames to be cut, drilled into, or welded together should be done with some expertise. You just have to make sure that everything is done according to your specifications.

If you have a welding machine, a steel-cutting machine, or any other type of machine, and you would like to try your hand on them while building your go-kart, be sure to wear protective clothing and gadgets such as a welding helmet and face mask. You also need to work in a comfortable and well-ventilated area.

Go-kart frame—Photo from Flickr

Go-kart frame—Photo from Flickr

Go-Kart Suspension

The role of suspension in your vehicle is to make the ride less bumpy during long travels. Some go-karts have shocks installed. But since you're not driving your vehicle over long distances, you might want to skip the installation of any suspension.

Eliminating suspension will also save you a lot of money. If you really want a softer ride, you have the option to put in big tires instead.

Go-Kart Steering

Second to the engine, steering is the most complex part of setting up your vehicle. The main role of steering is to keep all—both rear and front—wheels aligned and neither pushed away or toward each other. A durably constructed steering wheel is absolutely crucial because it gives direction to your vehicle. Steering calls for some expert handling, so have it assembled by your dependable mechanic. Or find and buy a new steering set-up from major parts stores.

Four Essential Parts That Will Make Your Go-Kart Easy to Drive

  1. Steering shaft: This begins at the steering wheel and ends at the bottom with the pitman arm.
  2. Spindles: These are also known as axles when in the front of the vehicle. The spindle is the steering connection to the axle.
  3. Tie Rod: This connects the pitman arm and the spindles. The tie rod dictates the amount of "toe-in" for your vehicle to turn corners well.
  4. Pitman Arm: This is found at the bottom of the steering shaft. When you turn the steering wheel, the steering shaft also turns, and the pitman arm attaches to tie rods to push them towards the desired direction.

Tires and Wheels for Your Go-Kart

Most vehicles use large tires at the rear. You can find different sizes of wheels that fit the 4.10 x 3.50 from major auto parts suppliers.

Standard sizes for bearings are 5/8" and ¾". Take note that the size 5/8" has axle bolts that fit perfectly on 1-inch tubing.

Best choices:

  1. Ribbed tires are more resistant to traction and to wear than the knobby type.
  2. Tubeless tires require tubeless rims.
  3. High-speed bearings are also high-priced, but they have better performance than the low-speed and cheaper standard bearings.

Go-Kart Brakes

Four Types of Brakes for Go-Karts:

  1. Scrub brake: These have metal paddles that are pressed against both rear tires when the brake pedal is pressed. This brake pedal can be transformed into a hand brake but can put a lot of pressure on tires.
  2. Band brake: These are simple to fix and relatively cheaper but won't work well when wet. A band brake uses a metal band to squeeze around the outside of a brake drum to stop the motion of the wheels.
  3. Drum brake: This swells inside the brake drum to restrain movement, rather than controlling from the outside. Drum brakes are better and more durable than band brakes because they don't get wet often.
  4. Disc brake: This is the best because it provides superior stopping ability, but its also really expensive. You may use the drive sprocket as a substitute for the brake disc, but it needs to be cleaned often to work properly.

Seat for Your Go-Kart

Any old or new seats can be used, as long as they fit into the vehicle and protect the riders. Most have bucket seats made of durable plastic or fiberglass.

You can use old car-upholstered seats, but they collect dirt and are more difficult to clean.

Seat Belts

Seat belts are compulsory protective contraptions in every vehicle, even on a small and simple one.

Two Types of Seatbelt:

  1. 3-point harness: These are cheaper and commonly used.
  2. 5-point racing seatbelt (or 4-point racing harness): These are more appropriate. Three-year-old racing belts are less expensive than new versions because they cannot be used by professional racers anymore.

Sprockets for Go-Kart Torque!

A chain and sprocket are popular for the drive assembly because they perform better than the pulley system. They are also simple to set up and a lot cheaper. For go-kart applications, the following chain sizes are good performers: #35, 40, 41, and 420 pitch sprockets.

Large sprockets (or drive sprockets) have better low-end power, while small sprockets (or engine sprockets) give higher top-end speed.

Small sprockets tend to weaken the low-end torque of a vehicle. To help improve its poor performance, you might want to add torque converters.

A Go-Kart Centrifugal Clutch or Torque Converter?

Centrifugal Clutch

The centrifugal clutch is the very simple mechanism that transmits the engine's power to the drive wheel.

Your other option, which could be more efficient, is the torque converter.

Torque Converter

Torque converters get more power from the engine to be used while running the go-kart. At low speed, the torque converter automatically shifts to low gear, creating more torque and power. A lower gear ratio means your vehicle can run faster and can climb higher.

You might want to consider using a low-cost torque converter to help boost up a low-horsepower engine, rather than buying a much costlier 10 HP engine.

Customizations to Your Go-Kart

Single-Wheel Drive

Go-karts with the single-wheel drive are common choices for the do-it-yourself enthusiasts. It is easier to put in because one-wheel drive assemblies are sold in many car parts stores. The rear wheel, sprocket, and brake are put together as one part. It costs less and saves time.

The single-wheel drive (also known as a fixed axle) runs better on hard-packed dirt and asphalt roads. It runs a chain from the engine clutch directly to the drive wheel, where a sprocket was set up, so the other rear wheel spins freely, and the axle does not move.

Drive wheel assemblies are available in sizes 4", 5", and 6".

Two-Wheel Drive

Two-wheel drive vehicles are also popular, especially to those who drive off-road.

Two Ways to Upgrade to Two-Wheel Drive:

  1. Live axle: The two wheels are fixed straight to the axle, so the axle spins. Since both wheels have the same power at the same time, driving on sand and loose dirt is easy. However, this makes on-road driving and turning are more difficult because both rear wheels are running at the same speed.
  2. Differential: This can be added to solve the live axles' shortcomings. Setting up a differential will power both wheels to allow taking corners without slipping or skidding even when driving on-road. These differential systems can be bought from parts stores.
This new differential design used less screws and should hold together much better. Photo from Flickr.