Best Motor For Go-Kart

Article by Mark Trotta

If you're looking for a motor to power your next kart project, you have over 60 years of small engine technology to choose from! This article covers the different types of small gas engines best suited for yard karts and fun karts.

best motor for go kart

Originally, go karts were powered by modified lawn-mower engines, usually a 5-horsepower (or less) 4-stroke engine. Briggs & Stratton and Tecumseh were the most common brands, although there were others such as Lauson, Clinton, and others.

Horizontal vs Vertical Engine

Although a vertical-shaft engine can be adapted, the best choice for a go kart is a horizontal-shaft (side-shaft) engine. These are commonly found on gas-powered lawn equipment such as garden tillers and two-wheel lawn mowers. They can be purchased in many brick and mortar stores, as well as online.

Can You Convert A Vertical Shaft Engine To Horizontal?

A vertical-shaft engine will not work properly on it's side. It will start and run, but the engine internals will not be lubricated properly, which will quickly lead to seizure. This is because most small engines are splash lubricated by the engine oil.



2-Stroke vs 4-Stroke Kart Engine

When karting first began, two-cycle engines were very popular. They were lighter in weight and capable of higher RPM's than a 4-stroke motor.

Today, two-stroke engines are usually seen only on race karts, with brands such as Rotax, Yamaha, KTM, and Mcculloch. The power curves on these engines run up to 10,000 rpm or more, and are best suited for WOT racing.

2 stroke vs 4 stroke for go kart

Some people like the sound of a high revving two-stroke, some people don't.

Pound for pound, a two-stroke with the same displacement as a four-stroke will make more power. Keep in mind that a two-stroke engine may be good for propelling a 140-150 pound person (plus a 50-pound kart), but will have a hard time pushing a 180-200 pound person (plus a 50-pound kart).


Honda GX Series

The Honda GX series of 4-stroke engines are very well built and have proven to be long lasting. Two of the most common examples are the Honda GX160 and GX200 series.

Honda gx160 build

Honda Clone Engines

The low cost of Honda clone engines makes them very popular. They were designed to share parts with the Honda GX series engines.

Predator 6.5 horsepower

One of the most popular Clone engines is the Chinese-made Predator 212cc. These motors have put a good number of old go-karts back on the road. Out of the box, the Predator produces 6.5 horsepower, and can be easily modified to make more.


Subaru-Robin Small Engines

Subaru Corporation discontinued the manufacture of small engines in 2017, but there's plenty of these little beasts still around.

Subaru go-kart motor

Subaru Robin engines (also called Robin Subaru) are known for being durable and dependable, but have very few performance parts available to them.

NOTE: Wisconsin-Robin are flathead-type engines are are not to be confused with modern Japanese-made Subaru Robin.


How Much Horsepower Do I Need For A Go Kart?

Take into consideration who will be driving the kart, and where the kart will be driven. Safety needs to be at the top of the list, especially if younger people will be driving.

3 Horsepower - This type of engine is the best fit for younger (smaller and lighter) drivers.

5 Horsepower - Any 5-hp engine with a few modifications should be more than enough power for a yard kart. The most common is the Briggs & Stratton flathead engine.

6.5 Horsepower (and above) - These will be more contemporary engines, such as Honda, Robin-Subaru, and Honda clones.


Old School vs New School

Most factory go karts from the 1960's and 1970's were fitted with either a Briggs & Stratton or Tecumseh flathead engine. Both brands have the same mounting bolt pattern, so swapping one for the other is easy.

The 'look' of the Honda and clone motors is quite different than old-school flatheads. The main visual difference is that the cylinder is more horizontal than old Briggs or Tecumseh motors.



Many flathead small engines from the 1960's through the 1980's are still around, and are still a great choice for a vintage kart build.

5-Horsepower Briggs & Stratton Motor

The five-horsepower Briggs flathead is one of the most popular small engines of all time - so popular that there are racing classes based on it. These old motors are durable, reliable and easy to repair. There are still plenty of parts suppliers for these 50+ year old engines.

old school go-kart motor Briggs 5 horsepower

5-Horsepower Tecumseh Motor

Tecumseh and Briggs flathead motors are not that much different from each other internally, although one difference between the two is the connecting rods. The Tecumseh rod bolts have knurled heads, which are designed to mate with the soft aluminum rod material. Exercise caution when tightening these bolts! Service manuals state only nine foot-pounds is required.

best engine for go kart


Crankshaft Diameter

An important spec to keep in mind when selecting a suitable kart engine is the output shaft size. The most common size is 3/4" diameter, with about 2" of stick-out length. A longer shaft will work (you can always cut it), but a shorter one limits your options to engine placement.

Crankshaft Sleeve

A crank diameter can be increased with a shaft adapter bushing, also known as a crankshaft sleeve. These will allow you to keep or swap components such as a torque converter pulley.

shaft adapter bushing for small engine


Carburetor Types

A small 5-horsepower or less engine will have either a diaphragm-type or a float bowl type carburetor. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

Tecumseh flathead carburetor replacement

Read: Small Engine Carb Basics


Remote Gas Tank

This flathead Tecumseh engine has a non-original, detached gas-tank, which sits above the motor. Being gravity-fed means a float-style carb must be used.

go kart motor choices

An external gas tank is sometimes awkward, but it does give you the option of mounting it anywhere you want (within reason).


Centrifugal Clutch vs Torque Converter

A centrifugal-type clutch is found on most old-school go-karts, and they're the cheapest and easiest way to get power to the rear wheel. Their shortcoming is they do not like "stop and go" acceleration. If you drive it this way, the clutch will have a short life, so it's better to run pedal down or not at all.

go kart with centrifugal clutch

An alternative to a centrifugal clutch is a torque converter. This will allow you to run the gas pedal on and off without risking burning up the clutch.

Read: Best Torque Converter For Go Kart

NOTE: Before ordering a centrifugal clutch or torque converter, measure the width of your output shaft. Most 5-hp motors have a 3/4" (.750") shaft, but older and smaller horsepower engines may have a 5/8" (.625") shaft.


Related Articles:

Best Tires for Go Kart
Small Engine Performance
Briggs 5-HP Engine Build
Vintage Tecumseh Engine Build
Go Kart Scrub Brakes
best honda gas engine

Read: Honda GX160 Build