The terms ATV and UTV are often interchanged, but there is a difference between the two, and you should understand those differences if you are in the market to buy one.
ATVs, all-terrain vehicles, are typically used for recreational purposes, while UTVs, utility task vehicles, are generally for work purposes. In addition, ATVs are smaller and usually hold one passenger, while UTVs can hold 4-6 passengers.
Before you purchase an ATV or UTV, you should understand the various aspects that keep them in their own category. Keep reading to learn more about the difference between ATVs and UTVs and why it’s important to understand the differences.
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The ATV and the UTV: Is there a Difference?
The main difference between ATVs and UTVs is ATVs are typically designed for recreation, while you use UTVs for work purposes. In addition, ATVs are commonly for single riders, while UTVs can hold more passengers.
If you want to purchase an ATV or UTV, you must understand the differences. For example, if you require a vehicle for work, you will want to research UTVs, not ATVs.
Also, UTVs are larger than ATVs, so ATVs are smaller and lightweight, and ideal for single passengers. You’ll want to consider whether you have space to store a bigger vehicle.
What is an ATV?
An ATV is an all-terrain vehicle used for off-roading and is kept separate from other vehicles on the road. The most common types of ATVs are four-wheelers/quad and designed for one rider.
While ATVs previously were available with three wheels, they have been banned in the United States since 1988. Depending on the model, an ATV can reach a maximum speed of 85 mph.
In addition, ATVs are often open-topped, however, you can find models with a cab enclosure. ATV users use the handlebars to steer and a twist throttle or thumb to decelerate and accelerate.
ATVs are built to handle rough and tough terrain and therefore are meant for recreational riding. You can expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to over $25,000 on an ATV, depending on model, make, and year.
Users appreciate the easy operation, particularly if you have driven snowmobiles or motorcycles. While an ATV only allows one passenger, you can join others in a group ride, but remember to be safe and not ride too close.
Features of the ATV
When deciding whether an ATV is right for you, it’s important to look at the top features and decide whether they check all your boxes. Remember that certain models offer features that another model may not come with.
You also get what you pay for, and you’ll get more features with higher-end models. However, there are likely some features you don’t need and therefore don’t need to spend extra money.
Here are the features you can find in ATVs:
- Open-topped/No roof or roll cage
- Single passenger
- Can handle all kinds of terrain, including snow, mud, rock, and sand
- One straddle seat
- Handle-bar like steering
- Gasoline engines
- Low-pressure tires
- High ground clearance
- Thumb throttle on some models
- Electric power steering is available
- Manual, automatic, or semi-automatic transmission
- Drum or disc brakes
- Cargo rack
- Storage compartments
- Trailer hitch
Common Uses for an ATV
While your specific needs will vary from someone else, there are common uses for an ATV you’ll enjoy. You should know ATVs are not street legal unless your state has a law stating you can ride on public roads.
In addition, you often need to add certain features like tail lights and mirrors for an ATV to be considered street-legal. But, again, you must check your state’s rules and guidelines before attempting to ride your ATV on the street.
- Sport racing
- Camping trips
- Trail rides
- Light cargo towing
- Land mowing
- Patrolling property
It’s important to note the difference because your needs might not be compatible with all types.
Types of ATVs
There are four main types of ATVs- sport, utility, side-by-side, and youth. For example, the Youth ATV is ideal for children and is a safer alternative for younger kids than the sport ATV. However, if you plan on off-roading and hitting the trails, you’ll want to check out the Sport TV.
Let’s take a closer look at each type of ATV.
- Sport ATV – Ideal for riding over rough terrain, mountainsides, and roaming trails.
- Utility ATV – Ideal for hauling cargo, not speed, but provides power and agility.
- Side-by-Side ATV – An ATV with extra seats, typically two front seats. Ideal for off-roading and steering like a small car.
- Youth ATV – Secure for children to drive and can be customized to your child’s size.
Top Speed of an ATV
Most ATVs typically have a top speed of 85 mph, but it can vary based on your make and model engine. However, as you shop, you’ll likely find a range of speeds from 50-90 mph. As you would expect, the bigger the engine, the faster you can go.
It should go without saying, but always ensure you practice safe riding, especially at higher speeds. ATVs require balance, so if you cannot safely drive at top speeds, you should avoid doing so.
Benefits of ATVs
ATVs have several benefits you should be aware of when shopping for one. While it’s smaller than UTVs, it offers features you won’t find in the larger vehicle, particularly its maneuverability and smaller footprint.
- Drives well over rough and rugged terrain
- Smaller build than UTV
- Agile and can take sharp turns
- Reasonably priced
- Can access tight spaces
- Easily towed
- Smaller footprint
Pitfalls of ATVs
While there are several benefits of ATVs, there are some pitfalls you should be aware of, but they shouldn’t make it or break it for you. Like all vehicles, there are some features you don’t mind doing without.
- The small size doesn’t allow passengers
- Not built for street use and is illegal on public roads in some states
- No attached safety features
- It can be physically demanding to drive, and you must keep your balance
- Steering can be hard to control
What is a UTV?
A UTV is a utility task vehicle referred to as a “side by side” or “SXS.” UTVs are larger than ATVs and are built for specialty work, including farming, towing, and carrying cargo.
In addition, UTVs can hold more passengers than ATVs, usually up to six. You’ll also find the UTV safer, with seatbelts in the front, something ATVs lack. While it has safety features not found in ATVs, you should still wear a helmet and other protective gear.
You’ll find driving a UTV is similar to driving a car, as it has a steering wheel and pedals similar to a standard car. Therefore, if you can drive a car, you should have no problem driving a UTV.
UTVs are ideal for families who enjoy camping or going on trail adventures, as the large vehicle is durable and built tough.
If you are looking to purchase a UTV, you can customize it with many features like LED lights, wheel upgrades, personalized stickers, and in-cab heaters.
You should expect to pay at least $10,000 for a UTV, depending on the year, make, and model. However, you might get a deal on a used one, but ensure you buy from a reputable seller.
Finally, you’ll often hear UTVs being referred to by various names, including Recreational Off-Highway Vehicles (ROVs), Multipurpose Off-Highway Utility Vehicles (MOHUVs), and All-Purpose Vehicles (APV).
Features of the UTV
The UTV has several fantastic features you can’t find on ATVs, which might make your decision easier when choosing which is best for you.
Remember, some features can vary based on make and model, but these features are generally found on all UTVs.
- Customizations available
- Front seat seatbelts
- It fits up to 6 passengers
- Four wheels
- Bars or cabin for extra protection
- Standard steering wheel and foot pedals
- Added storage
- 2WD or 4WD capabilities
- Bucket seats or bench seating
- Gasoline engine
- Side-by-side seats
- Rear cargo area
- Longer and wider than ATVs
Common Uses for a UTV
There are several common uses for a UTV, from daily use to camping, transporting cargo, and ice fishing. Since the UTV is a larger vehicle than the ATV, it’s a fantastic option if your work requires towing, hauling, or other hard labor.
You will also appreciate the extra cargo space if you use your UTV on camping trips, allowing space for necessities.
- Armed Forces use UTVs to access remote areas
- Camping trips
- Trail riding
- Heavy-duty tasks
- Transporting cargo
- Driving to work in the snow (if permitted by state laws)
- Ice Fishing
When shopping for UTVs, you’ll likely see various names mentioned, which can get confusing without some information. Here you’ll read about the different types of UTVs to help determine which is the best fit for you.
Types of UTVs
- Utility – Ideal for farm work, hunting, and other practical work
- Sport/Performance – Best for recreational riding
- Sport Utility – Provide a middle ground between utility and sport/performance
Since you can customize your UTV tires, you can use all types of UTVs throughout the year. However, you should try to find the type of UTV that fits your needs best.
Top Speed of a UTV
Some UTVs can reach top speeds of 80-85 mph; however, most fall within the 60-70 mph range. Generally, UTVs are not as fast as ATVs due to their size, but that’s not to say you can’t reach high speeds with UTVs. When shopping for a UTV, you’ll find speeds vary between 45-85 mph.
Similar to ATVs, UTVs have several benefits, making them appealing to users.
Benefits of UTVs
- Fits more passengers
- Can handle steep terrain
- Haul more cargo
- Standard steering makes driving easier
- Convenient for labor work
Pitfalls of UTVs
With all good things come some downsides. While UTVs have a lot to offer, there are a few features that you may not enjoy. Here’s a look at some of the pitfalls of UTVs.
- Not ideal for rough terrain without aftermarket tires
- Doesn’t maneuver well on narrow or winding paths/Larger turning radius
- Less agile than ATVs
- More weighed down
- Larger footprint
Which is Better: The ATV or the UTV?
Deciding whether the ATV or UTV is better depends on individual needs and use. For example, the UTV is a better fit for you if you want to fit multiple people.
However, you will appreciate the ATV if you are solely looking for recreational purposes like off-roading. In addition, you must consider what you will use the vehicle for and how often it will be used.
As you can see, when it comes to ATV vs. UTV, it boils down to personal preference. ATVs are a fantastic choice for someone who enjoys solo riding over rough terrain. However, if your family enjoys riding together or you need to tow more oversized cargo, the UTV is a better fit.
In addition, price is a factor when deciding between the two vehicles and might help make your decision easier. Regardless, ATVs and UTVs offer a fun, stable ride that you’ll thoroughly enjoy.
I’m William Guzenski, ASE certified master automobile technician & automotive expert. I love to attend race events and car shows throughout the country. I also loves to travel 40-foot motorhome, exploring abandoned mines and ghost towns. I’m currently building another car for Bonneville Salt Flats and will be campaigning a drag car at several events.