A go-kart is a small four-wheeled vehicle. Go-karts come in all shapes and forms, from motorless models to high-powered racing machines, some, like Superkarts, being able to beat racing cars on long circuits.
Amusement park go-karts can be powered by 4-stroke engines or electric motors, while racing karts use small 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines. Most of them are single seater but recreational models can sometimes accommodate a passenger.
Recreational, concession and indoor karts
Besides traditional kart racing, many commercial enterprises offer karts for rent, often called "recreational" or "concession" karts. The tracks can be indoor or outdoor. Karts are rented by sessions (10 to 15 minutes usually), they use sturdy chassis completed with dedicated bodywork providing driver safety. Most of these enterprises use an "Arrive and Drive" format which provide customers with all the safety gear (helmets, gloves and driver outfits) where necessary and allow them to show up any time to race at a reasonable price, without the hassle of owning one's own equipment and gear.
Outdoor tracks can offer low speed karts strictly for amusement (dedicated chassis equipped with low powered 4-stroke engines or electric motors), to faster, more powerful karts similar to a racing kart (powered by 4-stroke engines up to 15 hp and more rarely by 2-stroke engines) but designed to be more robust for rental use. Typically, these outdoor tracks may also be used for traditional kart races.
Indoor kart tracks can be found in many large cities in different parts of the world. These tracks are often located in refurbished factories or warehouses and are typically shorter than traditional outdoor tracks. Indoor karts are typically powered by a 4-stroke gasoline engine producing anywhere from 5 to 13 horsepower, or sometimes by an electric motor. Many tracks offer competitive races and leagues. At the top level, an Indoor Karting World Championship (IKWC) exists.
There are nearly 80 indoor kart tracks in the United States.
Power is transmitted from the engine to the rear axle by way of a chain (some rentals use a belt).
- 4-stroke engines can be standard air-cooled industrial based engines, sometimes with small modifications, developing from about 5 to 20 hp. Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh, Kohler, Robin, and Honda are manufacturers of such engines. They are adequate for racing and fun kart applications. There are also more powerful four-stroke engines available from manufacturers like Yamaha, KTM, Biland, or Aixro (Wankel engine) offering from 15 hp up to 48 hp. They run to and around 11,000 rpm, and are manufactured specifically for karting. PRD makes the PRD Fireball, a two-stroke engine delivering 28.5 hp at 15,580 rpm.
- Electric go-karts are low maintenance, requiring only that the lead-acid batteries of the cars be plugged into an array of chargers after each run. Since they are pollution-free and emit no smoke, the racetracks can be indoors in controlled environments. Most fully charged electric karts can run a maximum of 20 minutes before performance is affected. Some karts have been fitted with hydrogen fuel cells.
Electric Go-kart's speed can also be directly controlled by an operator. So the karts can be slowed down for new customers, and sped up for more expericed drivers.
Go-karts used in amusement parks can be fitted with additional electronic controls such as remote speed limiters to help promote a safer operating environment. In the event of an accident or an out of control racer, the track attendant can remotely slow or stop all vehicles on the track via radio control. This remote speed control can also be used to limit young riders to a slow operating speed, while a race consisting only of adults is permitted a higher speed. These controls can be applied to both electric and combustion-engine karts.