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What is the Best Engine for a Dune Buggy?

What is the Best Engine for a Dune Buggy?

Dune buggies depend on having a robust engine that can perform in off-road and track conditions with equal measure. Some engines could be wrong for the type of area you are riding, and others could be flat area monsters that reach the top-end with the quickness. So what is the best engine for a dune buggy?

The best gas engine for a dune buggy is a LS1 engine that can be found in street-legal sports cars like Camaro and Corvette. Diesel engines are popular choices for rock climbing dune buggy’s. The most popular dune buggy engine is from an early 70s VW.

One of the most impressive things about dune buggies is that they often comprise several parts. For instance, the engine could come from an old VW or be a custom-made LS1 beast. So read on and learn about the best engines for your dune buggy.

What is the Best Engine to Put in a Dune Buggy?

Selecting an engine for your dune buggy requires you to know a few things about it, like where you will ride it and what energy source the machine uses. In addition, knowing what your buggy weighs could heavily influence the size and style of engine you choose.

Gas isn’t the Only Option for Dune Buggy Engines

One of the most important things to decide is what power source your buggy will use. There were only two choices back in the day, but today three significant sources can be used when designing your rig.

It is best to think of the convenience of each and their potential benefits before making a choice.

Some of the choices that can be made for dune buggy energy systems are:

  • Diesel – Diesel engines are a favorite pick for those folks who will use their buggies for rock climbing. The diesel has lower torque, allowing the light buggy to be pulled up and over rock faces and steep inclines. Diesel is an excellent choice for rocks but does well with deep sand.
  • Electric – The new kid on the block is the electric engine. Electric engines are known for having a high top end but could be challenging to repair or replace while on the trail. First, however, something must be said about batteries that can be recharged with solar energy while protecting the environment.
  • Gas – Traditional engines are some of the most popular dune buggies. They can come in various sizes, from four-cylinder up to LS1 engines that can be found in street-legal sports cars like Camaro and Corvette. Gas engines work best in sloppy terrains like mud and water.

Energy for your buggy could be readily available, or take some work to get it going. Choosing your energy type depends on your purpose for riding and the vehicle’s terrain.

For example, if riding in a rocky environment where pulling is essential, you should select a fuel-powered model as it produces more torque. Choose electric when you need speed and efficiency.

Here’s a video of a sandrail dune buggy with a 75 VW 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.

The Terrain Has a Huge Impact on Engine Choice.

Dune buggies can be driven anywhere. They are versatile machines with open wheels allowing them to churn up mud and dirt to better grip the ground. The terrain is vital because each engine type you choose will impact the buggy and the area where you ride.

The most common types of terrain where dune buggies are used are as follows:

  • Sand – Sand is the first home of the dune buggy. When people began to create these off-road machines, they first explored dunes and uninhabited beaches. The depth of sand at these locations meant that they needed a buggy that could pull in the loose ground while keeping traction and speed regular.
  • Mud – Playing in the mud is serious fun. Dune buggies adapted for mud are often like rocks skipped across a pond. They are light and have strong engines that allow their robust wheels to skim across the water at high speed.
  • Rock – Rock crawling is becoming one of the favored past times of dune buggy enthusiasts worldwide. Rock crawling buggies have strong pulling engines that allow them to climb large rocks or traverse steep hills.

Terrain also will impact the other choices you make. Engines are often built around a purpose, and if you want a buggy that does a bit of everything, you might be in for a rude awakening.

Consider the terrain when building your buggy, or you could face unexpected repairs and catastrophic crashes.

Buggy Weight is the Final Factor

The weight of your machine is the last thing to consider when building a dune buggy. Weight is critical because it determines which energy source will work best.

For instance, a heavier buggy will need a large diesel engine that can pull it over steep inclines. Lighter buggies could use an electric motor that makes it reach top speed.

The weight levels for dune buggies are as follows:

  • Light – Light buggies are often seen in sandy and muddy settings. Their light frame means you can choose a smaller engine if you want to have fun and a beast if you want to pick some bugs out of your teeth.
  • Medium – Medium weight buggies are the most versatile of the bunch. They have an engine bay that can hold most sized engines and a frame great for rock climbing or taking a dip in the mud.
  • Heavy – Heavy buggies could be a liability without an equally heavy engine to keep them moving. Heavies are often used when rock climbing as the extra friction allows them to hang onto ledges and rock edges.

Weight is fun to play with because a buggy that is very light but has a highly stout engine will be fast and agile. Heavier buggies are meant for slow crawling through mud and over rocks, while those in the middleweight range can be used for almost any type of riding.

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.


Choosing an engine for your buggy will determine its purpose. If you stick with the sand, you can select a machine that allows you to hit high speeds and jumps, while a heavier engine will allow you to crawl on rocks and ledges.

Dune buggy engines are the most critical part of the machine. If you have one that is undersized, your rides will be boring and uneventful.

However, with a large, heavily powered engine in the rear, you can skim the dunes and plow through mud puddles that will make your inner child glow with happiness.

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