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Do Go-Karts Have Gears? Go Kart Gearing Explained

Do Go-Karts Have Gears? Go Kart Gearing Explained

Go-karts are thrilling low-weight, high-speed vehicles. These little vehicles are also easy to control, making them a popular pastime for both the young and the old. Getting into karting is just as easy, especially if you already tinker with cars. You just have to learn what makes their drivetrains different.  

Go karts do not usually have gears. Instead, they use an automatic transmission system. This gearless transmission allows for greater speed control and maneuverability. However, you can modify a go-kart to use a geared manual transmission.

Both transmission styles have their pros and cons. By reading further, you will learn what these are and how to use them to operate your go-kart.

Do Go-Karts Have Transmissions?

Every motorized vehicle needs some type of transmission, and go-karts are no exception. Transmission systems allow the operator to control the vehicle’s speed and maneuverability. To achieve these goals, they come in numerous forms depending on the skill level of the operator and the ease of manufacturing.

Because of this, most go-karts use a gearless automatic transmission system. That means you can operate them without shifting or worrying about maintaining a good drive-wheel gear ratio.

The engine manages its speed and revolutions-per-minute (RPM) range on its own. This gearless system also prevents the engine from overheating, leaving you with a smooth ride.

Some Go-Karts Do Have Gears

However, that does not mean all go-karts use a gearless transmission. Some higher-end models, such as professional racers, use a fully geared manual transmission. Professional drivers prefer these manual “shifter” go-karts because they are usually simpler to maintain trackside while offering a bit more speed control and power.

These shifter karts usually require more training to operate than your typical automatic kart. You have to learn when to shift between each of the six gears to achieve the optimum torque between the engine and the wheels.

Go-Karts Also Have Clutches

While earlier models used a direct drive system, all modern go-karts have a clutch. Manual go-karts have clutches that work similarly to the clutches on other types of manual transmission vehicles such as cars. On the other hand, automatic go-karts use a centrifugal clutch to manage their 125cc engine.

Here’s a video showing how to shift gears on a go kart, with more below. These steps will work for street or off road go karts and buggys.

This is where we got our Offroad Go Kart Buggy for the kids off Amazon. We went with the Trailmaster buggy but they also have smaller karts and all electric options with great reviews.

How Do You Shift Gears on a Go-Kart?

The way you should shift gears on your go-kart largely depends on the type of transmission it uses.

Single Speed or Touch-and-Go Go-Karts

For instance, automatic go-karts have no driver-operated means for shifting gears. Instead, these “touch-and-go” (TaG) karts automatically shift gears as your drive as a response to RPM changes in their engines. The process ensures the RPM stays within a specific range to keep the engine from exploding from overheating.

This automatic gear shifting is usually smooth enough that you will not notice or feel it as you drive. Although, you can hear the drop in RPM if you are observant enough.

Shifter Go-Karts

On the other hand, shifter go-karts require active gear shifting through the use of a stick-controlled gearbox.

The average shifter driver can expect to upshift and downshift their go-kart several times throughout a lap, less the kart blows up in the middle of the race. Due to the health and safety risks, these go-karts are usually reserved for the most skilled expert racers.

Using the Gearbox

Shifter karts have a 6-speed transmission with a 7-position gearbox. The system operates like any other manual stick shift transmission.

You just take your foot off the gas, and then move the stick into one of the following 7 positions:

  • First gear
  • Neutral
  • Second gear
  • Third gear
  • Fourth gear
  • Fifth gear
  • Sixth gear

Pushing the stick moves the kart into a higher gear while pulling it downshifts. Though, you will want to keep your foot on the throttle when downshifting to prevent accidental braking.

Karts always start in Neutral, and you cannot skip gears. As such, you must go through each gear in order every time you drive your kart.

 Mind the Braking System

Shifter karts use an all-wheel braking system, which can be difficult to manage at high speeds. Therefore, you will want to brake while going in a straight line for improved brake performance and reliability.

Adjust to the Increased Power

Shifting the gears will put a lot of strain on your body from the increased power and g-forces. If you are not ready for the increased pressure, you run the risk of losing control over your go-kart. Therefore, you must take every precaution that you can before you strap yourself into a shifter kart. If you cannot precondition yourself before a race, just be wary of any sudden sensation that may occur on the track.

Is it a Go-Kart Manual or Automatic?

Most go-karts have an automatic, direct-drive transmission. While you can get one with a manual transmission, these karts are usually reserved for high-end, professional racing models. Both versions have their pros and cons.

Automatic, Single-Drive Go-Karts

In a single-drive go-kart, the engine controls the drivetrain directly through a single gear. As such, these karts require no gear shifting, making them easy to drive and manufacture.

You can usually just hop in and go. Although, many single-drive carts will feature a clutch to jump-start the engine. This allows the kart to function like a car. You can then ignore the clutch for the remainder of your ride.

However, if your kart does not have this feature, you have to get out and physically push the kart to manually start the engine.

Shifter Karts

Shifter karts are fully manually driven with gearboxes that can feature up to 6 gears in total. They function like any other vehicle with a manual transmission. So, you must switch the gears to maximize their performance and reduce wear on the engine.

This also means that these karts also have a clutch that you should use during gear shifting. However, this is not always required. These karts are designed to be abused to allow you to keep as much of your speed as possible. Although, you will always need to use the clutch to start the engine.

This is where we got our Offroad Go Kart Buggy for the kids off Amazon. We went with the Trailmaster buggy but they also have smaller karts and all electric options with great reviews.


Go-karts use a simplified version of the transmission you find in most cars. Therefore, most of them do not have any gears in the traditional sense. Those that do are usually reserved for professional drivers who need the extra control, power, and maneuverability that comes with manual drivetrains.

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