Do Go Karts Have Transmissions Or Reverse?

Before owning my first go kart, I just assumed they had transmissions. Even though the purpose of them is drastically different, go karts are very similar to the mower in your garage.

The vast majority of older go karts do not have transmissions, instead, they use gears between the axle and engine and control speed from the RPM’s of the engine. Most higher-end and new go karts have transmissions and you can even integrate reverse into a go kart without a transmission. Let’s look at the options.

Why aren’t transmissions used more often?

With older go karts, transmissions were much higher priced and would have drastically increased the cost of go karts. To keep costs low and sell more, the majority of go karts used a clutch or torque converter. Now with the price of transmissions being a bit more affordable, most new go karts come with them. There are still some out there that don’t, but most new go karts can get away with smaller engines and transmission to help with top speed. Still though, having a transmission in a go kart increases the cost, and as soon as you add a few extras, you get into UTV territory. The line between go karts and UTV’s is much thinner nowadays because there’s not much distance between the two price points. Some go karts cost upwards of $4,000 and for a little more than that, you can probably find a used UTV which is far more capable. 

Personally older go karts without transmissions are the true form of a go kart. Add a transmission and it starts to get a lot heavier, and not as nimble, you might have to shift it manually, and the overall focus can shift from having a great time to just making the go kart function. I’m being a bit drastic here, but simple is usually best with go karts. Less to break, and more time having fun!

Is there a benefit to a transmission?

Yes, having a transmission makes the drivability of a go kart skyrocket. Not to mention it opens up the potential of the engine. You are able to take advantage of high torque with the first gear and also a very high top end with your final gear. You basically get the best of both worlds, where the majority of go karts, you have to choose between high torque and low high speed, or high speed and low torque. There’s no arguing that a transmission does allow you to get the most out of an engine, just like how your car works.

Do Go Karts Have Gears?

This is another similar question, however, this one is mostly true. Go karts have gears in the sense of metal sprockets with teeth used with a chain to drive the go kart. There are a few different types of drive systems to note. The oldest style is a direct drive where the shaft from the engine has a sprocket gear that is attached directly to a gear on the axle shaft with a chain. These go karts have to be push-started and will begin moving as soon as they startup.

Most go karts will have a clutch or torque converter in between the engine shaft and the axle shaft. Clutches and torque converters still use gears to drive the go kart, but they offer the ability to idle and engage and disengage the throttle. 

Gearing for go karts plays a huge factor in the top speed of go karts as well as the torque. To read more about the relationship between gearing and top speed, check out this article.

Is adding reverse worth it?

This topic is a bit more difficult as it honestly comes down to how much it’s worth to you. Kits range between $100-$500. Expect to pay around $200 for most kits that include all the parts you need without any extras. For me, $200 was half of what I paid for my go kart so an obvious choice to skip. As long as you plan ahead in how you are driving you’ll be fine. Also don’t forget, because go karts are light, you can very easily pick up the front end and move it around the other direction.

How can I add reverse my go kart?

If you are still interested in adding reverse check out the video below. 


Transmissions and reverse are absolutely next level when it comes to go karts, but the vast majority of older go karts don’t include them. One big benefit of not having them is the overall weight savings. When we talk about the fun factor when it comes to go karts, the lighter the go kart is and the faster it goes, the more fun it is. 


I love to drive my kids around in our go kart and I'm always looking for an opportunity to share what I've learned with others!

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