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ATV vs UTV [pros and cons]

Outdoor activity is booming and off-roading, specifically with ATVs and UTVs is rapidly gaining popularity.  This activity can be enjoyed by everyone and is some of the most fun you can have. Dealers report ATVs and UTVs are flying out the door and hard to keep in stock.

ATV vs UTV: Which one is best for you? You need to consider who are you riding with, where are you are going to ride, how much you can spend, and the type of riding you prefer. ATVs and UTVs are very different and understanding the differences before you buy is important.

atv vs utv

Always Wear a Helmet & Protective Gear!

What Does ATV Mean?

ATV is an abbreviation for All-Terrain Vehicle. ATV’s have a single seat and handlebars to control the vehicle. They are primarily designed for one person.

ATV’s have motorcycle like controls with a hand lever for the front brake and a foot lever for the rear brake. The throttle is usually controlled via a thumb lever.

What Does ATV Mean
What Does ATV Mean?

What Does UTV Mean?

UTV is an abbreviation for Utility Terrain Vehicle. These types of off-road vehicles have four wheels and can carry passengers sitting ‘side by side’. They are capable of traversing a wide range of difficult terrain.

They have plenty of room for storage and carrying a wide variety of items in addition to the passengers. Some UTV’s have two rows of seating able to carry four people.

Unlike an ATV that has a handlebar, UTV’s have steering wheels, a brake pedal and a gas pedal like a car.

What is a Side by Side?

A “Side by Side” is a UTV. Another abbreviation for a UTV or Side by Side is SxS. The term “Side by Side” comes from the fact that two people can sit ‘side by side’ in these vehicles.

what is a side by side
What is a Side by Side?

The Differences Between an ATV And UTV 

ATV is short for All-Terrain Vehicle, it is an off-highway vehicle, which has four wheels (there used to be three-wheelers, but to my knowledge they are no longer in production). 

You straddle an ATV, much like you would a jet-ski, snowmobile, or motorcycle.  You typically use some sort of thumb throttle, handlebars, and hand/foot brake combo. 

While, in theory, there are some nuanced differences between UTV and SxS, the majority of people use the word synonymously. Like an ATV, the UTV is an off-highway vehicle

A UTV is going to be similar to a car, you sit inside of it, use a steering wheel, have a gas and brake pedal, and usually seat belts.  

There are different categories of both ATVs and UTVs but, in general both have sport, utility, and hybrid models.  

  • A sport model will be the machines that you see people digging corners and going fast on. They are usually faster and lighter than the other styles. 
  • A utility machine, will be made mainly for work, but also have their place in off-road riding.  They are used by people who use their machines for work, hunting, fishing, and of course riding. 
  • Then you have your hybrid models.  These are a combination of both utility and sport.  They can get up and go, but you can also haul some wood or hunting equipment. 
  • ATVs are made to accommodate one to two riders. 
  • UTVs can accommodate 2, 3, 4, 5, and even 6 riders.

Pros and Cons of ATV vs UTV

The first step in figuring out which machine is better for you, is first identifying who you will be riding with. 

These two styles of machines offer vast differences and serve the needs of many riders.  Understandably, both have pros and cons.

Should I Buy an ATV?

Overall,  ATVs are going to be smaller than their UTV counterparts.  

ATVs can usually accommodate two riders, either with the stock seat, an add-on seat bolted to the back rack or an ATV that is manufactured as a “two seater”. 

should i buy an atv
Should I Buy an ATV?

However, generally speaking two riders on an ATV will be tight. If you are someone who rides solo or occasionally has a riding partner with whom you don’t mind being close to, then an ATV is a good option. 

ATVs also require more skill and body mechanics, so if you are younger with no lingering injuries or pain an ATV may be a good choice. 

Typically when riding an ATV you use more of your body to control the machine by leaning, bracing bumps or divots or even lifting off the seat to avoid an impact.

You can also look at ATVs if you plan on using your machine for activities, like big game hunting and fishing. I use my ATV to haul my stand, firearm, and other gear into thick woods. 

Should I Buy a Side by Side? (UTV)

The obvious benefit of a Side by Side or UTV is the size.  The size allows you to comfortably and safely carry more passengers as most are equipped with seat belts or harnesses.  So, if you are someone who has a constant riding partner(s), then an UTV may be a better bet.

UTVs are a great option for families who want to ride. UTVs with four and even six seats are becoming increasingly popular for this reason. 

You can secure a child seat into a UTV with the seat belt or harness and easily find youth-sized goggles and helmets in order to legally bring young kids out for rides. 

If you are older, have injuries, or chronic pain, then UTVs are a great choice.  More ATV riders transition to UTVs, as they age, because they find it easier on their body. 

My father-in-law had been riding ATVs for 40 plus years, but when he turned 60 he decided to get a UTV.  He found himself riding more without the added pain and discomfort of manipulating an ATV for hours. Now, at 67 he rides as often as I do.

UTV Work Vehicles

There are many UTV uses beyond just play riding. Another reason to look into UTVs is if you plan on using your rig for working around a farm or yard.

For this type of work, a utility UTV with a dump body can make easy work of your chore list. 

utv work vehicles
UTV Work Vehicles

This style of UTV is what I own. I use it for hauling mulch, dirt, and gathering firewood. Many hunters who frequently hunt with buddies, haul their duck boats or travel with their gundogs also find UTVs to be beneficial to their sport. 

The added space allows for easy access to cargo and a way to get into those spots that might be too tricky for a truck or SUV.

ATV vs UTV: Where Are You Going to Ride

This decision point can dramatically influence your choice of rigs. If you plan on riding in a desert, then buy whatever you like, because size won’t be an issue.  The desert is wide open with lots of dirt roads.

However, if you live somewhere like the northeast, then you’ve got some thinking to do.  NOTE: Trail size can be an issue out west too. For example, in Idaho and surrounding states there are many trail systems that only smallest UTV’s are allowed on.

Research the trails where you plan on riding and see what the rules and regulations are. Many trails have size restrictions and access gates that accommodate off-road vehicles up to a certain width. 

For example, there are State Parks in New Hampshire that only allow ATV and UTVs up to 50 inches wide. This limits your choice of UTVs because most are 60 inches plus.  (Out west too)

Also, in New Hampshire there are towns that allow UTVs to drive on town roads and class VI roads, just as if you were driving a car, but these towns do not allow ATVs on those roadways.

Occasionally you will find trail systems, such as Ride the Wilds in New Hampshire that offers 1000 miles of interconnected trails which allows ATVs and UTVs and can accommodate just about any standard sized UTV. 

Let’s focus on these types of trail systems for the simplicity of it. 

ATV vs UTV: What’s Your Style

Let’s assume you found a trail system that allows you to use either an ATV or UTV. Now what?

Riding An ATV

In my opinion, ATVs are more enjoyable for actual riding.  I am talking about steep hill climbs, rock climbing, and mud holes.  

Being able to use your bodyweight and mechanics can assist with technical riding. It is more exciting!

Riding An ATV
Riding An ATV

When you inevitably break down, blow out a tire, or get stuck in a mud hole, you’ll find it easier to muscle out an ATV or tow it back home with another machine. 

UTV Driving Experience

I find UTVs to be better for long day rides and multiple day rides.  The sheer fact that you have a seat, can make riding an UTV for several hours much more comfortable. 

Plus, UTVs have added storage space and little compartments throughout the machine that makes it easy to store gear.  Little things like a cup holder and armrest add to the comfort of a UTV. 

While you can still do steep climbs and hit mud holes, you have to account for your longer wheelbase and width. If you get stuck or break down, it can be a headache dealing with a UTV in the woods. You are not going to simply lift up one side of it to get over an obstacle.

When we go on long rides, we will load up our machine with a cooler full of burgers and drinks, a small grill, extra clothing, and gear.  

We leave first thing in the morning, grill on the side of the trail for lunch, and get back at dark.  It’s a lot of fun and you typically aren’t as sore or beat up. 

ATV vs UTV: What is Your Budget

Finally, you need to ask yourself what is your budget? Both ATVs and UTVs cost a lot of money.  In general, a UTV is going to be a lot more money than an ATV! 

Remember, many dealers add in setup fees and other extras in addition to your state sales tax on top of the selling price for the unit.

How Much Does an ATV Cost?

My two ATVs set me back about $6,000 each. Price range depends on if you are getting a Sport model or Utility model. Also, engine size plays a role.

You can plan for between $5,000 and $10,000 for an ATV.

How Much Does a Side by Side Cost? (UTV)

My UTV was over $15,000.  Do a little planning and put some thought into how much money you can spend.  Yes, Side by Sides can give you sticker shock!

You can probably plan for a price range of between $8,000 and $30,000 for a Side by Side or UTV.

Additional Costs To Consider With an ATV

I am not going to talk about the cost of an ATV and UTV, because the prices on each have such a wide variety. I want to make sure you are informed about some of the “hidden costs” you may not know of.  

First, consider your current vehicle, can it haul an ATV or UTV.  If you have a truck and want an ATV, then you are ahead of the game because it might fit in the back. Simply buy some ATV ramps and cargo straps and you are ready to go.

ATV Trailer  

However, if you have an SUV you will need a trailer.  With an ATV you can buy a smaller trailer, which will cost you less money. But, don’t forget to factor in trailer registration, maintenance, and cargo straps.

ATV Trailer
ATV Trailer

You also need to consider gas. Generally speaking it will be cheaper to fill up an ATV, then a UTV.  As it will be cheaper to fill up your vehicle towing the lighter ATV.

Additional Costs To Consider With a UTV

With a UTV you are most likely going to need a large trailer. Depending on which machine you get will dictate which trailer you need.

UTV Trailer  

With a four or six-seat UTV, you may need a 14 or 18 foot trailer. These side by side trailers can cost well over $2000.  For a two-seat UTV, you could possibly use a 10-12 foot trailer. 

You’ll want to make sure you have a big enough trailer. Don’t skimp and find yourself with something too small to safely haul your expensive toy. 

Depending on your current vehicle, you may need to upgrade to a larger vehicle that has the capacity to tow the heavier machine and trailer.  Most people will use a truck or larger SUV.

In general, UTVs will be more expensive to fill up at pumps, and towing them will burn more gas in your vehicle. 

Did you know that UTV Trailers are BIG? Plan for where you will store the trailer and UTV before you buy one.

If you have to put your ‘rig’ at a storage facility that is an extra money cost

Hidden Costs That Are Associated With ATV’s & UTV’s

Here is a quick list of some other costs to consider. 

  • Insurance
  • Medical Kit
  • Helmets, goggles, gloves, and other protective gear
  • ATV/UTV parts and repairs, you will eventually break something or blow out a tire
  • Cargo such as tow straps, come along straps, cans of Fix a Flat, mini-air compressor, mechanics tools, duct tape, lots and lots of duct tape
  • Winch (can help you get yourself ‘unstuck”)
  • Lodging (Unless you only do day trips)
  • Fuel (For the ATV/UTV as well as your vehicle that hauls them)

Storing Your Rig & Trailer

Storage is something that is often overlooked when one is considering buying an ATV or UTV. When I first moved out of my parents house and into my condo, my ATV was an afterthought.

All of a sudden I realized I had nowhere to put it! My new place only had a shared parking area and no garage! 

Luckily, my parents didn’t care if I left it on their property.  If this wasn’t the case I would have been looking at renting a storage facility nearby.  

People will leave their machines in enclosed trailers, sheds, garages, car ports, or simply a model specific cover or tarp.  

Just make sure you think about where to keep your machine when not in use, because that too could be an additional expense. 

ATV vs UTV Decision Time

I have owned and ridden both ATVs and UTVs for the past 15 years. Personally, I like ATVs more, because I like being more engaged in my ride.  They are more fun in my opinion. More like riding a motorcycle but easier.

My brother on the other hand only likes UTVs, because he opts for comfort and security of the roll cage (including seat belts).  

Considered who you will be riding with, where you will be riding, what your budget is, and where you will store your machine. 

It basically comes down to personal preference and what you like and want. If you still aren’t sure which machine is right for you, locate a rental facility near you and test drive a couple. 

There will be a rental fee, but at least you won’t make a purchase you end up regretting. Renting for a day can be a great way to figure out if you really want and ATV or a UTV.

Off Road Joy

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