Whether you are a beginner or experienced go-kart driver, it is important to choose the one true engine for your kart.
There are many different engines on the market, so how do you know which one is best for you?
In this blog post, I will show you the best eight engines for your go-kart and how to choose the right one.
4 Best go-kart engines around $200
(small block engines)
These small block engines will do the job just fine for a typical homemade go-kart. A perfect engine for your go-kart in this price range is usually:
- Horizontal shaft – this is the most common type of engine for go-karts
- 6.5 HP (or more) – anything higher than 8 HP can hardly be found at this price and is not necessary for a DIY go-kart
- 4 stroke – they’re more reliable, last longer, and are less noisy than a 2-stroke engine. This is actually up to your preference as 2 stroke engines also have their own benefits. I will dig deeper into this topic in the below part.
Before moving on to the detailed review of each product, I ranked them based on different aspects, with 1 being the best and 4 being the worst.
|Predator 212||DuroMax 208||AlphaWorks 212||XtremepowerUS 212|
The Predator comes out on top with an average rank of 1.25!
Predator 212cc – Best value for money
|Dry weight||37.5 lbs|
|Customers’ rating||4.5 ★|
I’ve made a video reviewing the Predator 212cc on my go-kart, enjoy!
The Predator 212cc is by far the most commonly used engine in go-karts.
With 6.5HP, it has just the right amount of power to provide an exhilarating but safe ride. This little engine (weighs only 37.5 lbs) can reach 20 mph all the way up to 35mph, depending on your gear ratio and tires sizes.
Repair and maintenance costs are low with the Predator 212cc as well. You can easily find many aftermarket parts.
One cool thing you can do with this engine is to remove the speed governor and upgrade it further. This will help you unleash the full potential of this engine. If you have the right skill and a big budget (even bigger than the engine’s price), you can tune it up to 9500 RPM. This guy in the video made the kart reach 88MPH with some extreme modification.
With an affordable price and its reputation, the Predator 212cc is definitely your first consideration when choosing an engine for your go-kart.
However, the Predator 212cc is not without any weaknesses.
The common complaint is that it’s sometimes quite difficult to start with the recoil, especially when the temperature outside is low. In addition, valve springs are the major reason that will limit the engine RPM. At 5,500RPM, they will start to float, which is something you want to consider if you’re planning to upgrade the engine.
DuroMax XP7HPE 208cc – The heavy monster
|Dry weight||46 lbs|
|Customers’ rating||4.5 ★|
DuroMax is less known than the Predator, but their 208cc engine is a great alternative to the latter.
The DuroMax 208cc shares many similarities with the Predator 212cc. They both have a horizontal shaft, are air-cooled 4-stroke engines, and can reach up to 40mph.
The main difference between these two engines is probably the price. The DuroMax 208cc is about $30 more expensive than the Predator 212cc. Moreover, it comes with an electric start rather than a recoil start, a great addition.
Another thing to note is that the DuroMax 208cc weighs a bit more, at 46lbs. But you also get one extra HP (7HP) with this engine.
Like the Predator 212cc, the DuroMax 208cc is quite easy to tune and upgrade. You can easily find many aftermarket parts for this engine as well.
One thing I don’t like about the DuroMax 208cc is the kill switch. The idea of the kill switch is to cut off the engine in case you need to stop immediately. However, it’s sometimes the cause of the engine not starting, which is something you need to remember if this Duromax has such a problem.
AlphaWorks 212cc – The lightest engine
|Customers’ rating||4.6 ★|
The AlphaWorks is another excellent alternative to the Predator 212cc. It has many features that you can find on more expensive engines but at a fraction of the price.
This horizontal shaft engine has a 7HP, comparable to the DuroMax 208cc. However, it only weighs 27lbs, making it the lightest engine on this list.
The AlphaWorks is a great choice if you’re looking for an engine that’s easy to start and maintain. It does not come with an electric start, which is expected at this price. However, the recoil start is quite easy to use, even for first-time users.
One thing to note is that AlphaWorks does have a governor. But it’s easy to remove if you want to upgrade the engine further.
The major drawback of this engine is the speed. With the governor, it can only reach 28mph, which is quite slow compared to other engines on this list. But its lightweight allows somewhat better acceleration.
XtremepowerUS 212cc – The alternative option
|Customers’ rating||4.4 ★|
XtremepowerUS is a brand that you might have heard of before. Their 7HP 212cc engine is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a go-kart engine.
This horizontal shaft engine is quite powerful, with a max output of 7HP@3600RPM. You can start the engine with a single pull, even in cold weather. The manufacturer claims the fuel consumption is around 1,4 gallons per hour, which is quite decent. However, many users say that it’s actually a little more than that (esp. when you are off-roading.)
The XtremepowerUS 212cc engine is quite easy to install and maintain. However, one thing to note is that there is no low oil shutoff sensor. This means that you need to check the oil level regularly to avoid engine damage.
One thing I don’t like about this engine is the warranty. There is no warranty information (except 30 days return policy) on the Amazon product page or the manufacturer’s website. This is something you need to take into consideration before making your purchase.
Overall, the XtremepowerUS 7HP 212cc is a great engine for the money. It’s robust, easy to use and maintain, and exceptionally durable. However, the lack of warranty information is a bit concerning.
4 Best go-kart engines around $500
(big block engines)
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, there are some great big block engines that you can consider. These engines have more power and can reach higher speeds. However, they are also more expensive and make your kart more difficult to control.
Because of the extra power they offer, big block engines are only suitable for experienced adults racers or those who are building powerful off-road go-karts. If you’re a beginner, I would recommend sticking with small block engines.
In this category, there are a few factors you have to consider:
- Horizontal or vertical: most of the time, I would go for a horizontal engine. Not because it’s stronger, but because it’s a lot easier to install and maintain.
- Horsepower: At around $500, expect an engine with at least 13HP. This is just the initial number. The engine can be more powerful with aftermarket modifications.
Before getting into the best big block engines, you can take a look at how I ranked them from best to worst, with 1 being the best and 4 being the worst.
|Predator 420||Lifan 420||Briggs & Stratton 500||DuroMax 440|
Predator and Lifan share the first position, meanwhile the Briggs & Stratton 500cc is my least favorite engine on this list for many reasons.
Predator 420cc – Best fuel consumption
|Dry weight||73 lbs|
|Customers’ rating||4.0 ★|
Another great design of Predator! The 420cc engine is one of the most powerful and popular engines you can find on the market.
This horizontal shaft engine has a max output of 13HP@2500RPM. It’s quite easy to start using the electric start (with recoil backup.)
The engine also comes with a low oil sensor, making sure you don’t damage the engine by running on a low oil level.
Another great feature is the cast iron cylinder. This makes the engine a lot more durable, even when you’re using it for heavy-duty applications.
When buying this engine, one thing to keep in mind is that the price can differ between Amazon and Harbor Freight from time to time. Check both websites to see which one is offering a better deal.
Overall, the Predator 420cc is truly the best value for money in the big-block category. Let’s see a customer’s review on a go-kart forum:
“It seems the thing to do with this first, is remove the governor. I suspect there is a debate there, but I think the gov was designed more to run a log splitter than a buggy, and I think the rev limiter is simply, well, limiting. I’ll probably do the usual mods while I’m doing that, such as removing the oil sensor. Also likely a custom muffler, intake filter, and appropriate jetting. I may not do all this right away, but it seems that doing the governor and oil sensor is a lot easier on a brand new engine, but I dunno… maybe I should see how fast this goes as is before putting my kid in it.”
Lifan 420cc – Best performance
|Customers’ rating||4.0 ★|
The Lifan LF190F-BDQ, a clone of the Honda GX390, is a horizontal 4-stroke engine with a displacement of 420cc. It has a max power output of 15HP (with the governor,) which can reach up to 40mph (if your gear ratio is right.) Removing the governor and making some modifications will allow you to bring this bad boy to the race track.
Of course, if you’re building an off-road kart, top speed is not your priority. In that case, Lifan 420cc will not let you down. Just make sure you have a 40-series torque converter to unleash the power of this engine.
Even though Lifan is a well-known brand in the US, finding an upgrade kit and replacement parts for this particular model can be quite difficult.
Here’s what a customer has to say about this engine (and other engines on the list):
“1. Lifan has the cleanest castings and best overall quality. The valvetrain is the closest thing you can get to the 440. The valves are SS, and it’s got groove-lock retainers.
2. Duromax is the lowest quality and most difficult to modify. (Hollow Pushrods, Inferior valve material, weird cylinder head angle, larger camshaft bosses, so aftermarket cams don’t fit well.
3. Predator has the lowest compression, and I’m not a fan of this combustion chamber. I don’t remember what the cam bosses measured out to. I think they were oversize as well. Otherwise, it’s a small step up from the Duromax.”Source
Briggs & Stratton 500cc – Best engine for unique design
First thing first, Briggs & Stratton 500cc is a vertical shaft engine, which means it’s not easy to install if you don’t have the right knowledge. If you’re looking for a horizontal engine, stop reading this and check out other engines on the list.
If you’re still here, let’s take a look at what Briggs & Stratton 500cc offers.
|Customers’ rating||4.6 ★|
This is the engine with the highest displacement and price on this list. I would not say this is the best option for your go-kart. However, a vertical engine is not a bad choice if you want a unique, powerful go-kart.
17.5 HP is more than enough for an off-road go-kart.
A vertical engine is always a no-no for a racing go-kart because more-complicated transmission systems can break easily under the extreme stress of racing.
DuroMax 440cc – The most powerful
|Dry weight||77 lbs|
|Customers’ rating||4.6 ★|
The DuroMax XP18HPE is a horizontal shaft engine with a displacement of 440cc. It has a power output of 18HP@3600RPM.
DuroMax is not as popular as Predator or Lifan, but it’s a decent engine for the price. And that’s also the main advantage of this engine – price. It’s more affordable than other engines on the list with similar specs.
You can quickly start the engine in the first few pull (but sometimes it won’t start until the 10th pull.) Electric start is a big bonus as well.
Compared to the Briggs & Stratton 500cc, it’s a bit noisier. But that’s not really a big issue because you can always add a muffler to reduce the noise.
Overall, the DuroMax 440cc is a decent engine for an affordable price. If you’re looking for a powerful big block engine without breaking the bank, this is the one!
How to choose the best engines for your go-kart
By “best,” I mean “most suitable”! You need to ask yourself several questions before picking the one true engine for your go-kart.
- Are you building the go-kart for adults or kids?
- Is this a racing or off-road go-kart?
- If it’s a racing go-kart, what kind of classes?
- And very important, how big is your budget?
Have you got the answers? Let’s move on!
Small block engine vs. big block engine
A small block engine (usually 212cc) can be used for both kid and adult go-karts. In case you’re building a go-kart for kids, do not remove the governor as it can be dangerous for them!
Small block engines can also be used in off-road karts (using a 30 series torque converter.) However, don’t expect too much power from them.
Big block engines (usually 420cc and up) are more powerful and can be used in both higher racing classes and off-road.
This can be a good choice if you’re building a go-kart for adults who have experience driving these things. Otherwise, I recommend you to stick with the small block engine as they offer many advantages:
- Lighter, better acceleration
- Easier to control
2-stroke vs. 4-stroke engine
2-stroke engines are lighter, faster, and cheaper. However, for a typical DIY go-kart, I always recommend you to get a 4-stroke because it’s a lot more reliable. You will spend plenty of time maintaining and fixing that 2-stroke engine. Just get the one that’s less likely to fail in the first place.
There are some situations where 2-stroke is better. For example, when you’re building a racing go-kart for kids (under 100cc) or you’re racing in a class that doesn’t allow 4-stroke engines.
This is another crucial factor when choosing an engine for your go-kart. A typical indoor racing go-kart has around 5 – 13HP. In this case, a small block engine is always a better option. Indoor tracks usually have lots of tight corners, so you need a lightweight kart that can turn sharper and accelerate quickly.
For outdoor racing go-kart, the HP can vary a lot depending on the classes. Your local clubs have their own rules and regulations. The engine you choose must meet the HP requirement for that class. For the most part, they will have a small block open class.
On the other hand, an off-road go-kart should have at least 15HP. With the right tires and gear ratio, a smaller number than 15 can still run your kart decently (with the right tires and gear ratio.) However, it will be much slower on steep hills, and you might get stuck quite often.
This is the most important factor for many people (including me!)
You can find a decent 212cc engine for around $200. For a big block engine, the price can vary a lot depending on the brand, features, and horsepower.
A good rule of thumb is: the more powerful the engine, the more expensive.
My recommendation is the 212cc small block. This is ten times better than getting an expensive big block if you’re new to the go-kart world.
There is no information about this spec in the products manual. These engines are designed for multiple applications, not just go-karts. Even if you could find any specific number on the internet, it would be meaningless without knowing your go-kart’s weight, gearing, and driving habits.
In the above parts, I’ve made a table with some rough estimates of those engines’ fuel consumption (based on my experience.)
Engine dimensions are another thing you should consider. It’s rare that an engine won’t fit in your go-kart frame, but it can happen. Especially if you’re building a mini go-kart for kids. In that case, you might need to get a smaller engine or modify the frame a bit.
The size of the shaft is also something you should check. This makes sure you can install a clutch or torque converter without trouble finding the right nuts and bolts.
Some engines come with a few extra features that might be useful for your go-kart. Here are some of them:
- Electric start – this is much more convenient than the pull-start method. However, not all karts can accommodate this feature.
- Low oil shutdown – this will automatically turn off the engine when it’s low on oil, preventing damage to the engine and saving you a lot of money in the long run.
- EPA & CARB certification – the engine is legal to use in all 50 states.
I hope this guide has helped you choose the best engine for your go-kart. If you still hesitate, I would recommend you to get the Predator 212cc 9 out of 10 times.
If you’re sure that a big block engine is a good fit in your kart, Lifan 420cc is the way to go.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which engine is right for your needs. Don’t forget to leave a comment below in case your have any questions.