Go-karts have tons of extras that can be added on to them. However, it can be difficult for drivers and mechanics to discern which parts will actually provide a solid performance boost and which parts are just a waste of money.
The 10 best performance upgrades for karts are:
- Braking Air Intakes
- Axle Extenders
- Dynamic Kart Steering
- Air Shield Tap
- Tire Temperature Sensors
- Carbon Fiber Reeds
- Tuned Piston
- Heat Exchanger
- Brake Distributor
- Lightweight Parts
However, even once the part is identified it can be difficult to find the right manufacturer. If you’re looking for performance, you want the best quality parts rather than cheap knock offs. We will first look at the legality of these parts, and then we will consider them each in more detail.
Legal Or Illegal?
It’s essential for you to do a lot of research on whether these performance parts are legal or illegal within your racing series. Of course, if you are just karting as a hobby and don’t plan to enter any races then you don’t need to worry about that.
Check Your Rules
However, if you are racing at local or international level it’s always best to check the rules. Rules can differ between championships and what might have been allowed at one championship may be illegal in another.
The last thing you want is to be disqualified for a race that you paid a lot of money to attend. Using illegal parts on your kart is classified as cheating, and punishments can be as severe as race bans or even a season ban if you are caught.
Beneficial Or Not?
Aside from the legal side of things, you also need to ask yourself if the parts are worth it. Some parts may claim to be performance upgrades. However, they might just be cheap knock offs that don’t do the job properly, or they might not even work at all. Always do your research on the upgrades you are considering, to avoid wasting any money.
A good place to check is on forums and websites such as Reddit where you can chat to a whole community of kart racers. You can also do some YouTube research to see if there is anyone out there that perhaps made a video on exactly how the upgrade works or if it is or isn’t worth it. Research will once again allow you to save your money if the part is unnecessary.
The 10 Best Go-Kart Performance Upgrades
1. Braking Air Intakes
Braking air intakes may sound like a bit of waste in karting as they do not reach the extreme speeds that cars do. However, karts have no way of cooling their brakes when driving. The brakes can easily become extremely hot, especially when the ambient temperature is quite high as well.
When the brakes become hot, they begin to ‘slip’ and lose their effectiveness on track. This will of course slow you down as you will not be able to brake as late as you need to in order to keep your lap times as fast as possible.
Keeping your brakes cool will keep them running at prime performance. This is especially key in races and in hot conditions. Braking air intakes are extremely helpful for cooling the brakes, but they are also aerodynamic and will not disrupt the airflow over the kart.
Braking air intakes cost around $25 so they are not too expensive. They are made from plastic so there is a possibility that they could break in high impact situations. These air intakes are available from various karting stores online. Air intakes are built by well-known manufacturers such as Tony Kart as well so you can shop around depending on your needs.
2. Axle Extenders
Adjusting the rear axle is an incredibly useful set up feature, and it can make a huge difference in how the kart handles on track. Adjusting the rear track width can help you to gain valuable speed when you need it most.
In addition to changing how your kart handles, it can also help your kart to go easier on its tires and prevent them from overworking and overheating. Changing the rear track width is arguably the best set up feature you can tinker with.
Time And Effort
There is, however, one small problem with this set up feature; it takes some time and effort to adjust. The traditional method requires careful adjustment and measuring in order to keep the balance of the kart. This takes a lot of time, and it can be quite a laborious activity.
Axle extenders will save you some of this time and effort. These are spacers that have already been set in specific measurements, much like the spacers you find on the front wheel hubs that help you to adjust the front track width of the kart.
These spacers make it much easier to adjust the rear track width by removing the requirement for you to actually measure the width of the rear track. But remember that there is a maximum and minimum rear track width that needs to be adhered to in championships. Axle extenders can be bought for as little as $2 each.
3. Dynamic Kart Steering
Remember when the Mercedes F1 Team brought their highly controversial DAS system into the 2020 Formula 1 season? Well guess what, there’s a karting version too! This system works basically exactly the same as the F1 version.
Moving the steering wheel forwards and backwards adjusts the toe-in and toe-out of the front tires. There are lots of advantages to using this system on a kart, just as there is in F1. It will take some getting used to though, so it’s recommended that you do some testing with it first.
The first advantage the dynamic kart steering system gives you is that it allows the tires to heat up much quicker. Your front tires will warm up much quicker than the karts around you during the warmup lap, and so you will have the most grip going into turn one.
The second advantage you will get is in qualifying. Unlike other karts, you will be able to adjust the toe of your front wheels on the fly. This means you can adjust for more toe out to get extra grip in corners and then adjust for more toe in once you get on the straight to get faster straight-line speed.
However, dynamic kart steering is not legal in every series, with many still unsure how to rule it. In the meantime, you can get your very own DAS system for around $350, but you need to decide if the money is worth the risk of it potentially being illegal in your racing series.
4. Air Shield Tap
For many, an air shield tap will sound like something from a Star Wars movie. But it’s actually a clever little system that fits onto your kart, and all it does is allow the driver to change the carburation levels while driving.
Normally the fuel mixture can only be changed when the kart is stopped by using the needle (quick fix, but not as effective). The correct way to change the fuel mixture though is by changing the jets in the carburetor to the correct ones based on the weather and temperature.
Make Adjustments Like An F1 Driver
It’s also called a fuel return valve, and it can be installed on the steering wheel. On the steering wheel it is simply an adjustable knob that can be tuned between ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum’ settings. This means the driver can easily change their fuel mix midrace.
The driver can adjust the fuel mixture to be leaner or richer based on their needs. A leaner fuel mix means that there is less fuel than air in the carburetor. A richer fuel mix means that there is more fuel than air in the carburetor.
When the engine is running too lean, you will find that the engine makes a ‘popping’ sound (as if backfiring) down the straights. If the engine is running too rich, the kart will be bogging down coming out of slow corners (or under heavy acceleration). Air shield taps can remove these issues and they only cost around $30.
5. Tire Temperature Sensors
Believe it or not, you can find tire temperature sensors specifically for karting. This is not the usual temperature gun used by mechanics when the kart comes into the pits. Instead, these temperature sensors are fitted to the kart and will feed information back directly onto the Mychron device.
But why do you need to measure tire temperatures while out on track if everyone does it as soon as the kart comes into the pits anyway? Karting tires are extremely sensitive to temperature changes meaning the temperatures drop as soon as the kart begins to slow down.
This means that the reading is not 100% accurate when you get to the pits. With onboard tire temperature sensors, the driver can instantly see when their tires in the perfect temperature operating window, or even if they are overheating and need to take some pressure off the tires.
This system will hugely benefit drivers who look to perfect and fine tune their setup, especially when it comes to tire pressures. These sensors do come at quite a hefty price though, costing anywhere between $300 and $500, and they are quite fragile so you might want to take them off for races and only use them in qualifying. The best one to go for is the Aim Mychron brand.
6. Carbon Fiber Reeds
This one might be for the more mechanically inclined racers as it involves a more technical aspect of the engine. Kart engines are sealed, and it is illegal to open them. However, there are some small adjustments you can make to the engine without opening it up.
One of these adjustments involves the reed valve pack. The reeds are the triangular inserts which can be exchanged for different materials and sizes. The normal reeds are made of aluminum, and the more premium reeds are made of resin and carbon fiber.
How Reeds Affect Engine Performance
Carbon fiber reeds are arguably the best reeds as they are extremely lightweight and very strong. The different sizes of reeds can adjust how much fuel enters the engine. For example, if you use a smaller reed it will allow more fuel into the engine.
The engine will then perform better at higher RPM, meaning it will have more power the higher the revs are (and thus better top speeds). It’s also recommended to swap out the aluminum reeds for resin ones if you are racing in high ambient temperatures.
This is because the aluminum reeds can get hot, resulting in the fuel flowing through them also warming up. This affects how the fuel combusts, and in the end also affects the overall performance of the engine. These carbon fiber reeds can be found for between $20 and $70.
7. Tuned Piston
Karts can have tuned pistons installed in the engine too. You might be skeptical as to how much of a difference this will make, however it has been tested numerous times and has been proven to make the engine faster.
The tuned piston simply has added ventilation through the use of perforated materials. The tuned piston also has better lubrication on the cylinder wall, which helps the piston to perform better without taking away from the engine’s reliability. These specific tuned pistons can be found for around $85.
8. Heat Exchanger
An overheating engine can be an extreme issue for many karting drivers, especially during the summer months. An overheating engine will not only become damaged, but it will also be underperforming as well.
Once an engine starts overheating it is difficult to bring the temperatures down again. This is especially the case in the middle of a race where the driver can’t stop in the pits without retiring from the race. The only choice here is for the driver to slow down to cool the engine.
The heat exchanger helps to solve this issue. The heat exchanger is placed on the water pipes between the engine and the radiator. All this little device does is cool down the water that is being fed into the engine.
This helps to keep the engine temperatures under control, and it will allow the driver to keep pushing their kart engine hard even if the ambient temperature is soaring. The driver will then be able to go faster and keep pushing while the other karts are overheating.
These can be found for around $12.
9. Brake Distributor
Brake distributors are designed for shifter karts. This is because shifter karts have front brakes as well as rear brakes. In other words, they have three brake pads as opposed to just the one you would find on a standard kart.
The brake distributor allows the driver to adjust their brake bias on the fly while sitting in the kart. Normally, adjusting the brake bias is done manually while the kart is stopped in the pits. However, with this clever piece of tech there’s no need for that anymore.
Is It Helpful?
Adjusting the brake bias is extremely useful in various different situations. For example, in qualifying, a driver can adjust their brake bias based on where they are on the circuit.
If they are moving into a hairpin and a heavy braking zone, they can switch to a more rearward bias brake in order to keep the kart stable and prevent the front wheels from locking up. The bias can then quickly be shifted forward again in order to put more weight and grip on the nose for faster corners.
The second situation where this is a useful tool is in wet and slippery conditions. If it were to begin raining in the middle of the race the brake bias needs to be shifted more towards the rear as the kart needs more stable braking. This can then be done without having to leave the circuit and change the set up in the pits.
10. Lightweight Parts
Often, drivers don’t think about swapping out the parts on their kart to make it faster. Most assume that the karts are built to be as light as possible. Others may think that small differences in weight don’t make a difference.
Small Changes, Big Differences
The slightest difference in weight can make a big difference in karting. It can mean faster straight-line speeds or better cornering abilities, so it’s always worth trying to minimize the amount of weight on your kart as much as possible.
But remember, most championships have a minimum weight limit that needs to be adhered to or else you will be disqualified from the race.
One quick change involves some of the metal components of the kart. You can change a lot of aluminum parts to magnesium. Here are the parts you can change and their estimated respective weights:
|Wheel hubs (x4)||365 grams||295 grams|
|Axle bearing casing (x3)||273 grams||202 grams|
|Total Weight||2.279 KG||1.786 KG|
As you can see, replacing the aluminum parts with magnesium parts can save you nearly half a kilogram, which in motorsport can make the world of difference in terms of performance. Using lightweight fairings and bumpers can also be extremely helpful in reducing the overall weight of the kart. Some recommended fairings are the Dynamica kit by Eurostar. This is designed and built by Parolin karts.
There are various different parts you can fit to your kart to boost its performance. These can make a huge difference to your kart’s speed, but it’s important to research the legality in your own championships first though.
Our favorite part is the dynamic kart steering system. It’s an incredibly clever system based on the success of a Formula 1 World Championship winning team. It is an incredible bit of kit that, when used correctly, can give you a huge advantage on track.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.