After spending most of my childhood and early teenage years entering amateur go-kart circuits, I’ve done my fair share of research into the important factors to consider when purchasing a kart. I can lay out some crucial things to think about, and better inform your decisions with my own experience.
So, which go-kart should you buy? The go-kart you should buy depends on personal preference. For pure speed, the best karts are shifter karts. Shifter karts with 125cc six-speed, Honda-powered engines can produce 45HP, reaching up to around 100mph on some sprint tracks.
Some of the biggest things to consider alongside top speed are maintenance, experience in karts, cost, and familiarity with race-craft. I’m going to further break down this question in order to address as many areas as possible. Kart beginners, intermediates and even experts, read on!
Sprint and oval tracks are the most common for races, and in almost every division you face, these will be the circuits on which most will spend their time.
In terms of sprint racing, the karts will look and feel far more familiar when compared to the unique enduro (think of laying horizontally in a kart going 90mph for at least thirty minutes round a road track) spec.
Most karts in entry level races or circuits will have a single-speed four-stroke engine, with the capability of hitting between 40mph and 50mph dependent on the track itself. Truth be told, for a kart that specializes in sprinting, big engines with more horsepower are almost a detriment in most classes.
These karts are specifically designed to be lightweight, and this can be seen in even the small details such only one set of brakes or a lacking of an external radiator. Adding gears and a shift is yet more weight, which is why your typical sprinter karts don’t have anything except a brake and a gas paddle where your feet will be.
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In terms of track type, ovals are a rather versatile racing destination. For those of you who are dedicated oval racers, you’ll know that the best results come from having a sturdy, somewhat heavier chassis to better handle the downforce and constant turns on the same side.
However, as I mentioned previously, sprint karts can also find a home on oval circuits if for no other reason than their all-rounder capability, but it would suffer in the maintenance department after a race.
To boil it all down, karts are highly variable and rather forgiving in terms of personal preference. Even if you decide to look at sprinter-spec karts, you can hop onto an oval circuit and vice-versa. The only category set aside from the two most common is the challenging enduro class, which requires a specialized set-up.
Personally, I would think about the racing tracks closest to you, and consider your karting experience before picking between the three main race types and therefore getting closer to your kart purchase decision.
Sprint and oval are great for all ages and experience levels with a lot of options in race lengths (you just need to appropriately adjust engines/sizes, as I’ll discuss more below), whereas enduro calls for a wealth of prior karting experience to handle the bodily strain of long, high-speed races. For example, my kart was chosen because all outdoor tracks nearby were made for sprints!
Engine Size, Power & Class
Now, I may have touched on differing engines and their power outputs in varying degrees before, but there is a lot to consider when picking an engine for your kart. The size of your engine should be considered in terms of not only your experience driving go-karts, but also the kinds of race divisions you want to be entering, your age, height and even your weight.
Similar to all motorsport, karting is split into different ‘series’ and engine outputs to level the playing field somewhat. Imagine turning up at a race with your trusty single-speed where everybody else had six-speed Shifter karts, and then think about trying to race against them. Yeah, I wouldn’t like my odds either!!
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Every track will have slightly varying engine classes and popularity, so I would recommend looking at this fact as well as considering the collection of areas I’ll cover. What fun is there in buying a brand new, fully-kitted LO206 spec kart when your area actually has a far fuller, more competitive TaG series? Or worse still, your local tracks don’t run LO206 series altogether.
If you do plan on taking part in races, asking around your local karting tracks about participation within the different series is an absolute must.
Onto some examples of different engine classes! Although it differs per area, a rather safe bet for those who want a tried and tested method of enjoying the sport is the TaG (Touch and Go) class.
Junior age and above use 125cc two-stroke engines that top out at 30hp, which varies in speed between 50 and 60mph, so it isn’t a class for the faint of heart or those who are totally green in the world of karting!
The most competitive engines in this class are the X30 or the Vortex ROK, which can cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for the complete set-up. Price tags will be considered more below, but if the expense isn’t a huge issue and you’re seeking mid-range karting with a big fun factor, this class is perfect for you.
If you’re wanting to dip your toes into the karting world, the previously mentioned LO206 class is a great place to start. Engines used in this class are a lot tamer, and unlike other series like the World Formula, they are sealed to avoid tampering and allow for a more even playing field.
Your standard engine on karts in this class is a Briggs & Stratton with varying horsepower per series, but most will top the charts at 18hp for adults which allows for between 30 and 40mph. Not only is this newer class a great way to enter the sport, but the price on engines is far more reasonable at only $1,000 for something fully spec’d.
The two classes that demand the most general karting experience, deepest pockets and highest speeds are the Rotax and Shifter classes. Although Rotax isn’t very different compared to TaG in terms of raw power/ engine types, it has the benefit of being very well-organized with the widest breadth of progression into bigger circuits, so I wanted to mention this here for those of you who are looking to make it big.
The Shifter class, as I actually touched on previously, is one of the hardest areas to break into within karting. This is because of the high skill ceiling and powerful six-speed engines with eye-watering top horsepower around the 45hp area, not to mention the expenses that come with all of the maintenance required. More parts mean more cost!
So not only do you need to think about your karting experience and prices when selecting engine sizes, but also remember to keep in mind the varied classes of racing that come with these options.
Nabbing yourself a reasonable sprinter kart that would be at home in TaG or LO206 will put you within those areas; for higher classes, you’ll have to consider a whole new kart. And that’s even excluding your personal height and weight! The taller you are, the more drag you will produce (there aren’t many professional kart drivers over 6ft, let’s put it that way).
Being lighter weight will mean that your straight-line speed can surpass your fellow drivers who are heavier, but they’ll have an easier time keeping downforce into corners. Most race classes will likely add weight to even the playing field, especially in the beginner and intermediate levels of experience, so keep that in mind, too.
Money and costs of different parts or full kart rigs have been mentioned throughout this piece, simply because it’s easier to give a perspective of that while assessing specifications such as engine class or track types. When I think of budget for go-karting, my mind doesn’t immediately shift gears into thinking of raw parts or rig costs.
Those expenses can be transparent enough; whether you’re considering a more affordable single-speed rig for $3,000, or a flashy Shifter in excess of $12,000. Even switching out components for different options can be crunched easily by researching and reaching out to any local mechanics if you aren’t sure of specifics for your engine class, height and weight.
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By now, I hope that you’ve considered what purpose you want to use your personal kart for and what level of experience you’re at which should affect your decision first and foremost. Or maybe you’re seeking to be as economically careful as possible, regardless of these big factors.
As somebody who spent a lot of time fixing karts with their dad to save money on repairs to make sure we could race again, I can totally empathize with that sentiment!
A very basic break-down on raw costs based on the classes I illustrated above, you can expect to pay $2,000-$5,000 on TaG or LO206 sprint karts, $6,000-$10,000 on Rotax class karts and $7,000-$12,000 on Shifter karts.
The next crucial thing to consider, especially if you want to race competitively, is how much each race will cost you. These vary wildly dependent on area, track length and engine class, but you can expect race fees to be between $50 and $500 for most occasions. Even practice will cost a fee, and whole weekends for a series can reach the $2,000 mark or perhaps even more.
Then comes the costs of transport to races, so you need to get yourself a trailer big enough for a kart or look at storage options at your local tracks.
The elephant in any kart-buying room should always maintenance costs, and this can be considered in a multitude of ways. Can you make repairs yourself? Are you willing to learn? YouTube is a fantastic tool for self-teaching, and as I touched on before, I turned to this platform on many occasions to save on repair and upkeep costs.
How much do spare parts cost for your chosen rig? How many sets of tires do you need to bring to a race weekend? Basic sprint karts for TaG can rely on three sets of tires for a weekend, whereas Shifters with their blistering speed can burn through five or six, give or take. Can I buy gas at the track? How much gas can I expect to burn per race?
For your average Shifter series kart, one of the most fuel-hungry around, you can look at $500 in gas fees alone for a month of races. And a word of advice; never rely on the track to have things available for you. Part of owning a kart is to be self-sufficient, so while race tracks and facilities will have some stuff to hand, it shouldn’t be expected.
If all else fails, be friendly with your local karting scene! As with a lot of sport in general, competition is the name of the game but people are always willing to lend a hand to a competitor in need.
If you’re an adult, you need only buy karting safety gear once… save for wearing out your suits and boots, of course (holes happen). Unlike quite a lot of sports, luckily, named brands aren’t as much of a game-changer as you might think; especially not when it comes to gear.
The only item I would recommend buying new is a helmet, and this is due to safety reasons to ensure that any crashes are properly mitigated. Otherwise, the rest of your gear is good to be bought second-hand! My favorite race gear haunt is eBay, or the sale sections of major karting brands like K1, Impact and RaceQuip where adult suits for my modest 5’4” self can be found between $70 and $200.
Truly, your budget will never be a definitive number. Always think of it as a sliding bracket, as I’ve demonstrated in terms of price ranges rather than a fixed amount of money. If you go into buying a kart expecting to run a season for a flat $10,000, even in the more efficient, lower-cost classes, you’re definitely low-balling a lot of costs. As in everyday life, small costs always add up!
When looking at brands for your kart, its component parts and even your race gear, remember that karting in most classes is all about an even playing field. Or rather, a playing field that is as even as possible when considering driver heights, weights and varied ways of tuning the karts themselves.
Because of this, you’ll come to find that brands are almost unimportant factors to think about when buying your first, or even your newest go-kart.
Engine differences come down to small horsepower variations and most of that is down to a lot of tinkering as opposed to brands being superior or inferior. Your best tool is to find yourself a class-A branded mechanic, or educate yourself to do the work in order to gain your edge in the competition!
In terms of safety gear, you should always remember what it’s there to do as its primary purpose. Sure, you can find the most light-weight matching set of boots, gloves and a suit, but how will they serve to protect you when things get rough on the track?
As I mentioned previously in terms of budget, considering that cost is a huge part of deciding on gear as well as branding, companies are highly competitive. Nobody can really afford to create lackluster products to be compared against others!
If you are really looking for a pedigree in your gear, however, I would personally recommend OMP due to its long history of developing suits; even for Formula 1 in the past. It really does come down to the factor of personal preference, appearance and budget when looking at brands for safety gear.
I may not have a perfect, simple answer for you, but if you’ve read this far and stayed with me on the multitude of factors to consider when buying your own kart, you should definitely be in the process of making a better-informed decision on the matter.
It may seem like a daunting task, especially with so much that depends on you personally, but owning and racing my own kart was by far one of the best things I’ve ever done! Money can be managed, engine classes can be changed and experience can be gained, all in the name of having a great time in a go-kart of your own.