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Build a Go-Cart or Off-Road Buggy

Barracuda, a customized off road go-cart

Barracuda, a customized off road go-cart

Off-Road Go-Carts and Buggies

Welcome, you’ve arrived at this article because you’re a speed-demon, a motor-head, an avid DIYer looking for the next project, or you have kids and you want to please them big time.

Go-carts—or go-karts if you prefer—fulfill all those appetites and come in flavours suitable for most tastes. For this article, I’m going to extend the definition to include buggies as well.

Of course, not all flavours are equal. As such, care must be taken in selecting the one that’s right for you. Many a home project has sat uncompleted on the garage floor because of failure in this department. This not only wastes money and time, but really annoys the spouse, who will eventually sell it on eBay for 1/10th of its actual value.

Taking a slow trip around the track with my youngest daughter, in the first buggy I built.

Taking a slow trip around the track with my youngest daughter, in the first buggy I built.

DIY Go-Cart FAQs

Who Is It For?

Keep it mind that a thirty-horsepower naught-to-one-hundred-in-three-seconds jet-cart may be ideal for those with a death wish or seeking to orbit earth, but a tad advanced for your six-year-old.

On the flip-side, don’t expect to impress your off-road buggy friends with a three-horsepower solid-frame, no-suspension, bone-judder machine.

Therefore, match engine and cart frame size with body weight and speed requirements.

Large ATV wheels are essential for off-road buggies lacking suspension.

Large ATV wheels are essential for off-road buggies lacking suspension.

What Is It for and Where Are You Going to Ride It?

Once again, go-karts and buggies serve different purposes.

Do you want to build something small so the kids can simply scoot around the driveway? Or for a teenager who wants to join the local speedway club? Or for dirt tracks through forest, or extreme jumps down on the dunes? Maybe it’s just to test your DIY skills to see how mean you can make that machine.

Consider also that many local authorities now have noise level restrictions that prevent go-carters from riding near built-up areas. I've heard of some having to sell their hardly used pride-and-joy because they had nowhere nearby to legally ride it.

Wish I'd built this one.

Wish I'd built this one.

How Are Your DIY Skills?

For some they are non-existent, for others they're fair, for a few they can build anything. Which describes yours?

Building a go-cart or buggy comes in degrees of difficulty and many have become unglued at this point, realising they've bitten off more than they can chew. Use the following as a basic gauge of what makes such projects more or less difficult.

What Construction Materials Do You Need?

Timber is easier to work with than metal and some metals easier than others. Most can use a hammer, but how is your welding? Can you ARC, MIG, TIG? It has to be good welding if you intend to take a buggy off-road or over jumps.

What Are the Fabrication Requirements?

How many parts require fabricating and what tools will be required to do this? And even if you had the tools, can you operate them to the level required? For example, do you have a metal lathe that you feel competent enough to turn an axle hub? Tools can be dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced.

How Deep Is Your Wallet?

A go-cart can cost you as little as a few dollars to upward of twenty grand for the true motor-heads. And you do get what you pay for.

For example, many cheap go-cart wheels are simply taken from a removalist trolley. However, these have a speed limit of 15km, over which the bearings melt. Add a motor capable of 50km to that go-cart—use your imagination. In other words, spend enough to achieve what you require, but not less.

How Much Time Do You Have?

This is probably the main reason projects get left uncompleted: because it wasn’t anticipated how long they’d take. For example, it took me twelve months of fabricating and building on weekends and after work to make my first go-cart. It was a challenge at times, but I had my five-year-old son work alongside me throughout, so it was well worth it.

Kids Absolutely Love Buggies

Kids Absolutely Love Buggies

Many Companies Offer a Graduated Approach

Depending on your skill level, time and budget. You can purchase a plan, build what you can yourself, and then purchase the remaining parts. I did this with my first project, managing to build 80% myself. One such Australian company is EDGE.

The more you manage to build yourself, the cheaper it is for you; however, it is a comfort to know you can finish the project regardless of your ability.

Your final considerations will have more to do with ongoing enjoyment of the toy:

  • Where are you going to store it? They're not small.
  • How are you going to transport it? Trailers are expensive.
  • How are you going to maintain it? Things break, sometimes often.
  • What safety equipment will you need? Helmets are essential.
  • When are you going to use it? Nothing disappoints the kids (or the dads for that matter) more than a toy they can never play with.

Hope this helped in your decision making.

All the best with whatever project you decide on, and good luck.

The EDGE Barracuda MKII

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2010 Richard Parr