Skip to Content

Does a Go Kart Need a Differential? How It Works

Does a Go Kart Need a Differential? How It Works

Differentials are parts in cars that allow the wheels to move at different speeds, which is necessary when turning because the outside wheel has to move faster. However, does a go-kart need a differential?

A go-kart does not need a differential to turn because it increases the weight and center of gravity of the kart, going against the regulations of the CIK which stipulate that go-karts must be as light as possible. Instead, jacking is the method used to turn a go-kart.

How can go-karts turn without the differential? Read on to learn more about turning in go-karts and how you can install a differential in your kart if you want to.

Are Differentials Necessary in Go-Karts?

Unlike a car or other vehicle, differentials are not a necessary component for go-karts.

There are several reasons why this is the case:

  1. Putting a differential on a go-kart is against CIK-FIA rules and regulations
  2. Differentials make go-karts heavier
  3. Differentials make the center of gravity of a go-kart higher
  4. Differentials require regular maintenance

Let’s explore each of these reasons in more detail to see why a differential is not the best choice for a go-kart.

Here’s a video showing jacking, how to turn without a differential, notice the wheels lift up on corners:

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.

Differentials Are Against CIK Regulations

The Commission Internationale de Karting (CIK) does not allow differentials on go-karts because it goes against their technical regulations and fundamentals of go-kart design. Article 1 Section 2.8 of CIK regulations state that go-karts must get their power from behind, so any type of differential is not allowed.

Additionally, go-karts are supposed to be light and fast open-wheel and top-vehicles optimized for racing. Adding a differential takes away from the intended design of go-karts and their potential as racing vehicles.

Differentials Add Unnecessary Weight To a Go Kart

As mentioned above, go-karts are supposed to be lightweight so that they can perform better on the track. Installing a differential gives karts more bulk which will affect their speed and turning ability. With a differential, the weight of a vehicle goes up anywhere from 30-40 pounds which is significant.

Differentials Affect Go-Kart Center of Gravity

Go-Karts are designed to be low to the ground so that they make contact with the track and gain traction, The low center of gravity also allows karts to make highly precise turns at high speeds and avoid flipping over while doing so.

On the other hand, when a differential is installed it requires the kart to be higher off the ground. This negatively impacts the turnability of the kart and increases the likelihood of it flipping over.

Differentials Need to Be Maintained

Go-karts already need regular maintenance so that they stay in top condition. Since a differential is essentially a set of gears, installing one only increases the work needed on karts. Differentials need to be oiled on a consistent basis.

These are all plausible reasons why differentials are not installed on go-karts. However, how does a go-kart turn without a differential in place? There are a few options for this.

Turning a Go Kart

Go-karts have two aspects that allow them to turn without using a differential: jacking and their flexible frames.

Jacking, otherwise known as lifting, is when the inside back wheel of a go-kart lifts off of the ground so that the outer tires receive more pressure. This gives the outer tires more traction and keeps those on the inside from slipping on the track.

The frames of go-karts are made of low-alloy steel, allowing them to bend and flex. This flexibility is necessary for jacking to occur.

Without the flexible frame, jacking would not be an option. Go-kart designers have to be meticulous when designing frames so that they are as light and flexible as possible, otherwise they will not perform well in races.

Is There Ever a Case Where a Go Kart Needs a Differential?

If a go-kart is used for racing, a differential is not needed and is discouraged for the reasons described above. However, if you are using a go-kart for recreational and or travel purposes, adding a differential will make turning easier.

When a differential is added to a go-kart, it works the same way as it would in a car. Pressure is applied to the wheels individually for smooth turns.

How to Install a Differential in a Go-Kart

The process for installing a differential will vary slightly depending on the model and size of your go-kart, but the first step is to find a differential that is compatible with it. Once you have the differential you need, you can install it.

The first step to installation is opening the rear axle, which is where the differential is usually placed. Use a wrench to remove the go-kart wheel and then free the axle from the engine by removing the parts around it, such as the sprocket and brake. You might have to lift the kart to see the parts better.

Write down the order the parts were removed so you can put them back.

Then, get the differential ready to install. Ensure that it is the same length and diameter as the rear axle in your cart. Mark the differential with a measuring tape so you know where to install the sprocket and brakes on the shaft.

Finally, install the differential on the go-kart, Put it in place, then connect it to the engine and brakes, and put the wheels back on the kart. Now, the differential is installed and ready to use. It may be a good idea to put a differential on a kart you no longer use for racing so you can compare turning styles.

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 do not need a differential because they use a method called jacking to turn. Differentials are also against CIK regulations, which stipulate that go-karts have to be as light as possible.

Differentials add weight to and change the center of gravity of go-karts which goes against this rule, If a kart is not used for racing, drivers can add a differential if they wish for easier turning.

Sharing is caring!