Dune Buggy Vs. Go Kart: What’s The Difference?

There are many varieties of vehicles used for recreation on the market currently. It can be confusing to distinguish between them all. They have different characteristics and uses. In this article, we will consider the differences between two vehicles: dune buggies and go karts.

A dune buggy is a licensed, fiberglass vehicle built on a car-type chassis. It has big, wide tires and is used primarily for traversing sand and gravel. A go kart is low to the ground, has smaller smooth, treaded, or studded tires, and is used for racing. It is not licensed for roads.

Dune buggies and go karts have different histories, and this has affected their design and manufacture. Although they both started as informal recreational vehicles, they have changed significantly over the years. We will consider the history and development of these vehicles, their characteristics, and their current uses.

The History Of The Dune Buggy

In the 1950s, Californian beach enthusiasts began to cut parts out of VW Beetle bodies and fit fatter tires to drive on the beach. Bruce Meyers watched the four-by-four jeeps struggling to move on the beach. He noted that the adapted Beetles were better suited due to the fact that the engine was in the back, allowing them better traction on the sand.

Bruce had a background as a shipbuilder and artist. He was familiar with using fiberglass as a construction material. He knew that a vehicle built from fiberglass would be lighter than the modified Beetle body. The combination of the fiberglass body together with a rear-fitted engine would manage the sand even better than the Beetles.

The First Dune Buggy

He completed his first fiberglass dune buggy in 1964. It was built on a stripped-down, modified Beetle chassis. Bruce used fiberglass to construct the sides, fenders, and front hood. He called his creation the Meyers Manx. It was fast, had a small turning circle, and had good traction on the sand. In 1967 Bruce Meyers and his friend,

Ted Mangels, set a driving record. They drove the Manx on the Baja 1000 route from La Paz, Mexico, to Tijuana in thirty-four hours and forty-five minutes. This feat gave rise to a leap in popularity of the dune buggy. Soon their popularity spread to Europe and other continents.

Modern Day Dune Buggies

The United States military noted the ease with which the dune buggy traveled over sand. It developed a military version known as Desert Patrol Vehicles (DPV) or Fast Attack Vehicles (FAV). Some recent modifications have led to a new version known as a Light Strike Vehicle (LSV).

These vehicles are used by special military divisions such as the Navy Seals and the British SAS. The modified military dune buggies are also used by the United States Border Patrol. The military forms of dune buggies  (DPV, FAV, and LSV) are designed with engines that can produce much greater acceleration than recreational dune buggies.

Dune buggies are still popular as recreational vehicles. Many owners take a great deal of delight and pride in building their own dune buggies. They enjoy styling and personalizing their buggies. It is possible to buy dune buggy kits to construct at home. Recently some manufacturers have produced e-buggies that run on electricity.

What Are The Characteristics Of A Dune Buggy?

A dune buggy (also known as a beach buggy) is a vehicle with large wheels (24 – 26 inches) and broad (8 – 10 inches) tires. Dune buggies are used primarily on sand or gravel. It has a light frame so that the power to weight ratio is increased. The lightweight frame and powerful engine allow the dune buggy to traverse beaches and deserts. They have a small turning circle and can travel at high speeds. Dune buggies have fiberglass fenders and often still retain the round headlights reminiscent of the original beetle. They are usually licensed to drive on the roads.

The History of Go Karts

Originally go karts were children’s toy pedal cars and did not have a motor. Innovative fathers and teenagers began fitting lawn mower engines and other small engines to these lightweight frames. This became the foundation of go karts as we know them today. Adults took an interest and began fitting more powerful engines and refining the designs.

The First Go Kart

In 1956 Art Ingalls and Lou Borelli used discarded lawn mower engines adapted to custom fit a chassis they had designed. They entered their go kart in a local race and won the public over to the concept. People began building go karts, and small local races were organized.

Roy Desbrow and Duffy Livingstone became pioneers in promoting and popularizing go kart racing. They formed a company called Go Kart in 1957 and began selling go kart kits for home building. By the 1960s, there were go kart races organized in most towns across the United States.

Modern Go Karts

In the early stages of go kart racing, there was no standardization. It became a hobby where the rich excelled because they could afford more powerful engines and durable but lightweight frames. The playing fields were leveled in 1971 when the World Karting Association was formed.

Briggs and Stratton, and Yamaha invested in the future of go karts by redesigning the go kart. Initially, the engine was positioned behind the driver’s seat. The influence of these big manufacturers was to create more legroom by pushing the seat further back and placing the engine on the side of the go kart.

The World Karting Association standardized the track surfaces and the length of the tracks. Most race tracks were a tenth of a mile long. During the 1980s, go karting became recognized and formalized as an official sport. Many Formula One drivers have had their start racing go karts.

What Are The Characteristics Of A Go Kart?

Go karts have a low center of gravity as the chassis sits very low to the ground. This is done to enhance stability and reduce wind or air pressure during racing. Go kart chassis’ are usually only a few inches above the ground. Their tires are generally around ten to eleven inches in diameter and four and a half to seven inches wide. They can be smooth (known as slicks), treaded, or studded.

The choice of tires depends on the weather and track surface. There is much debate about the correct positioning of the engine. The critical element is to ensure that the go kart is balanced, with the driver’s weight and the engine weight being the two most significant considerations. Go-karts are not licensed for use on public roads.

The Differences Between A Dune Buggy and A Go Kart

Dune BuggyGo Kart
Licensed for road use, and drivers must have a valid driver’s license.Not licensed for road use. No driver’s license is required.
Chassis is often from a VW Beetle.Chassis sits a few inches above the ground.
Fiberglass body. The body is usually made of lightweight tubing.
Engine positioned at the back. Engine positioned at the back or side.
Tires are larger, broader, and have big treads.Tires are smaller and may be smooth, treaded, or studded.
Used for sand and gravel surfaces. Recreation and military use.Used for racing on paved or dirt tracks.
No official regulating body.Regulated by World Karting Association
Top speed 60 -100 mphTop speed 40 – 50 mph


There are some notable differences between dune buggies and go karts. Dune buggies are licensed for use on public roads and beaches, and therefore drivers must have a driver’s license. A driver’s license is not needed for go karts as they are primarily used on race tracks and are not permitted to drive on public roads. Dune buggies are larger, weigh more, and can go faster. Their design has been adapted for military use.

Go karting has become a formalized sport with sponsors investing in the design and manufacturing of go karts. They have a low chassis and are designed for cornering and manoeuvering through the corners of a race track. There are still some races at local levels, and the pedal version of go karts will probably always be popular with small children.  




Louis Pretorius

As an amateur off-road enthusiast, I have always been drawn to outdoor adventure. I have decided to share all of my learning experiences with you as I dig a little deeper into my new-found passion and wonderful world of off-roading. My mission is to create the Ultimate Off-roading space on the internet in the process. Stay safe and happy Off-Roading!

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