Go-Kart vs ATV: Are They the Same?

Two questions that I commonly get asked is if go-karts and ATVs are the same and who would win a Go-Kart vs ATV race. These questions come up quite often, because there are some similarities and differences and between go-karts and ATVs. To cut to the chase, is a go kart considered an atv? To give you the short answer, when you compare go-karts vs ATVs, they are not the same and there are some quite interesting differences.

This question gets more interesting because there are many different types of go-karts and ATVs. If you compare a traditional racing go-kart to an ATV you’ll quite easily be able to tell the difference. However, when you take a look at off-road go-karts, dune buggies, sand rails and other quads, the answer isn’t clear at first glance.

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at what makes go-karts and ATVs different, how they are defined, what their purposes are, how their equipment differs and if you can convert an ATV to a go-kart. To give you a better idea, let’s start with explaining what each vehicle and what their similarities and differences are.

Go-Kart vs ATV: Similarities and Differences

Let’s take a look at each of these vehicles first. You’ll be able to see some of the visual similarities and differences already. But let’s also take a look at the suspension, steering, wheels, drivetrain, type, frame and speed.

racing go-kart vs atv

Racing Go-Kart:

Suspension: No
Steering: Wheel
Wheels: 4
Drivetrain: 2WD
Type: Racing
Frame: Wide
Speed: Fast

off-road go-kart cost

Off-Road Go-Kart

Suspension: No
Steering: Wheel
Wheels: 4
Drivetrain: 2WD
Type: Off-Road
Frame: Wide
Speed: Medium

atv vs go-kart

ATV

Suspension: Yes
Steering: Handlebar
Wheels: 4
Drivetrain: 2 & 4WD
Type: Off-Road
Frame: Narrow
Speed: Medium

What are the Similarities

As you can see from the comparison chart above there are very common visual differences between go-karts and ATVs. However, go-karts and ATVs do have some things in common. The main commonality is that all types of go-karts and ATVs are most commonly used for recreational use. ATVs share the most similarities with off-road go-karts, compared to racing go-karts.

Both ATVs and off-road go-karts are designed for off-road usage. They’re equipped with two large front wheels and two large rear wheels, that make racing on any type of terrain fun and exciting. This also means that both ATVs and off-road go-karts are equipped with larger engines that can handle uneven surfaces.

They are not designed purely for speed, but to navigate through dirt, sand, mud and other rough surfaces. To make driving over rough terrain more comfortable, both ATVs and off-road go-karts also have a spring suspension system. Although an ATV shares these similarities with an off-road go-kart, both vehicles are inherently different.

atv vs go-kart
  • ATVs and go-karts are recreational vehicles
  • Both are commonly 4-wheelers
  • Off-road go-karts and ATVs are designed for all-terrain

What are the Differences

It’s quite easy to see that a racing go-kart has almost no similarities with an ATV, apart from it having four wheels and that they’re both recreational vehicles. Racing go-karts are meant to be raced on asphalt surfaces, whereas ATVs are used primarily for off-roading or dirt tracks. Racing karts have a wide and low frame to maximize speed, whereas ATVs are narrower with a taller frame. This helps them scale uneven surfaces.

That’s also the reason why racing go-karts have no suspension and have much smaller tires. On the other hand ATVs are equipped with a suspension system and large off-road tires. As you can see, in every essence they are different types of vehicles. 

A racing go-kart is designed purely for track racing and hitting top speeds, whereas an ATV is designed to race on dirt tracks and climb tough surfaces. ATVs are a type of quad vehicle that are designed for off-roading, just like off-road go-karts. You may think that off-road go-karts and ATVs may have a lot in common. Let me explain why the differences outweigh the similarities.

The main difference is that an ATV is closer to a 4-wheel motorcycle, while an off-road go-kart is closer to a dune buggy. ATVs are also a type of quad or quadricycle. They have a seat above the engine and you sit on top of the vehicle. On the other hand, you sit inside an off-road go-kart and the engine is mounted at the back. While both ATVs and off-road go-karts have suspensions, go-karts generally have a 2WD drivetrain, compared to an ATVs 2WD or 4WD drivetrain.

While they are meant to climb mountainous terrains, an off-road go-kart has a wide frame and the steering is done via a steering wheel. The wide frame helps to lower the center of gravity of the go-kart and the steering wheel is comfortable to operate with low seating. ATVs on the other hand have a narrower frame and the steering is done via a handlebar, much like a bike or motorcycle. 

You’re also in a high seating position, which allows you to move your center of gravity around more effectively. The higher seating position also allows you to operate a handlebar much more comfortably than a steering wheel.

As you can see, there are many technical differences between ATVs and go-karts. While racing go-karts share almost no similarities with ATVs, it shares some similarities with off-road go-karts. Off-road go-karts and ATVs may be used for similar purposes, however when it comes to the technical aspects, they are quite different.

off-road go-kart cost
  • Steering wheel vs handlebar
  • 2WD vs 2WD & 4WD
  • Low seating vs high seating
  • Sitting inside vs sitting on top
  • Higher vs lower center of gravity

Is the Safety Gear for Go-Karts the same as for ATVs?

Go-kart racing equipment and ATV equipment are very different from each other. When you race go-karts on the track you’ll definitely need a pair of karting gloves and a helmet. A racing helmet is much thicker and has fire-retardant properties. The gloves are also slightly thicker, as they are made to absorb vibrations from the steering wheel. Seasoned go-kart racers often wear a neck collar, rib protector, karting shoes, helmet and suit. You’ll often see this in professional go-kart races.

When it comes to ATV safety equipment, you’ll commonly find gear that is meant for dirt biking or motocross. The helmet and gloves are much lighter, but are more padded. You’ll also see people wearing knee, arm, ankle and back pads for extra protection. Their design is light in weight, but well-padded. Compared to go-kart racing, the chance of falling off your ATV is much higher. That’s why padded equipment is required for riding ATVs.

In that sense, ATV and off-road go-kart gear is quite similar. In fact, you can use the same helmet and gloves. However, it’s quite uncommon for off-road go-kart racers to wear arm and leg pads. This is because off-road go-karts usually have a roll cage and seat belts, which means that you won’t easily get flung out of your kart.

Go-Kart vs ATVs: Race Test

Now that you’re aware of the similarities and differences between ATVs and go-karts, aren’t you wondering how they will fare against each other in a race? In a ATV vs go-kart showdown match, who do you think will have the advantage? Do you think the ATV has the upper hand, as it’s more agile and can find its way around the course faster? Or will it be the off-road go-kart, due to it’s brute force and high speed? Well, let’s find out.

After watching these videos you’ll notice that the ATV is quicker off the starting line. This is similar to comparing a motorcycle with a car. ATVs are much lighter than an off-road go-kart and will usually get a better start with the same engine configuration. However, you’ll notice that the go-kart will eventually catch up once both vehicles reach top speed.

Off-road go-karts need to account for the additional weight of the frame, rollcage and seat. This added weight restricts it from matching the acceleration of an ATV. However, off-road go-karts shine in different ways. They are much safer due to the seat belt and roll cage. Additionally, they are also more comfortable due to the padded seats.

If you compare a racing go-kart to an ATV, things will look much different. In a drag race, the ATV would stand no chance against a racing go-kart. This is because racing go-karts are designed to be as lightweight as possible and to achieve top speed as soon as possible. However, a racing go-kart will have no chance against the ATV on off-road races, as it lacks the grip and suspensions to move along uneven terrain.

  • ATVs accelerate faster as they are lighter
  • ATVs are more agile and maneuverable
  • Go-karts are safer because of the frame and seat belt
  • Go-karts are more comfortable as they have proper seats

Can You Convert an ATV to a Go-Kart?

When you ask a mechanic if something can be done, the classic response is “anything can be done, but…”. This statement holds true for the question if an ATV can be converted into a go-kart. First off, ATV to go-kart conversion is not as uncommon as you may think. In fact, many people have done this before. However, there are some things that you need to account for. 

Remember what we highlighted above, when we compared go-karts with ATVs? Now the technical differences become more challenging, because you have to use ATV parts in order to make them into a go-kart. 

This means that you’ll need to transfer the components onto a wider frame, convert the 4WD to a 2WD rear-wheel drive (RWD) transmission. A steering column should also be installed and the handlebar should be converted into a steering wheel. You’ll also need to install seats and a frame that supports a roll cage. 

The list above is not exhaustive and there are also other things that you may need to account for, depending on what you want your final build to look like. Check out this video where you can see a fun ATV to go-kart conversion in action!

Popular Go-Karts with ATV Engines

You can definitely convert an ATV to a go-kart, however the less complex thing to do is to install an ATV engine on a go-kart. This makes for an interesting project, because most ATVs have 4-stroke engines and some have a 4WD drivetrain. Check out some of these popular off-road go-karts that feature an ATV engine.

1. Red Beard’s Garage Off-Road Go-Kart with ATV Engine

If you know Red Beard’s Garages’ YouTube channel well enough, you’ll know that he’s all about doing fun projects and coming up with great go-kart ideas. One of them involves mounting an old 200cc Bayou engine on top of an off-road go-kart. This can be quite tricky, as it needs to be properly fitted, but he pulls it off very nicely!

Build Information

  • Owner: Red Beard’s Garage
  • Type: Off-Road Go-Kart
  • Build: Custom
  • Engine: Bayou 220cc (ATV Engine)
  • Link: YouTube Link

2. Joseph26ify’s Garage Custom Go-Kart with ATV Engine

Joseph26ify took a similar approach and mounted a 110cc ATV engine on to a go-kart. The go-kart is built from scratch and is in barebone style. This means that it doesn’t have all the fancy kits and features, but it gets the job done. It’s a great showcase for people building their own go-karts from scratch and even being able to incorporate an ATV engine. You’ll also see how much space he had to account for at the rear of the kart, due to the lengthy ATV engine size.

Build Information

  • Owner: joseph26ify
  • Type: Off-Road Go-Kart
  • Build: Custom
  • Engine: 110cc (ATV Engine)
  • Link: YouTube Link

Conclusion

A go-kart vs an ATV, who is the winner? Well, that really depends. As you have seen in the article, we’ve outlined some of their similarities, but also many of their differences. An ATV is closer to a bike or 4-wheeled motorcycle, whereas a go-kart is more like a dune buggy. They each have their pros and cons, so to answer the question, it’s ultimately up to you! Choose whatever your preferences are and whatever is most fun for you. They’re both absolutely fun to race with and are excellent recreational vehicles.

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