ATV vs UTV: A Complete Buyer's Informational Guide in 2021

May 8, 2021

Understand UTV and ATV differences, safety, prices, and which one is better for you

Polaris UTV on beach

UTVs and ATVs are types of off-road vehicles ("ORV") used for a variety of outdoor applications. There are various pros and cons for both vehicle types, and the best choice for you depends on your personal needs including your intended use/applications, budget, safety and performance requirements.

From a 30,000 foot level, UTVs operate similar to cars and golf carts (larger, steering wheel, side-by-side seating, etc), while ATVs are smaller and operate similar to motorcycles (handlebar steering, no side-by-side seating, smaller, etc).

Both UTVs and UTVs can be driven on-road and off-road.

What Is An ATV & What Does ATV Stand For?

Yamaha ATV Grizzly XT-R
Source: Yamaha

ATV stands for "All Terrain Vehicle". It is commonly referred to as a "quad" and "four wheeler" as well. ATVs usually have four wheels, although some are designed with three wheels. ATVs feature handlebar steering and straddle/motorcycle style seating, and they are smaller than UTVs.

ATVs tend to be better suited for very rugged terrain, as well as tight / confined areas — they are capable of making sharper turns. ATVs are also better suited for racing since they are able to accelerate faster.

ATVs typically have payload racks in the front and back. The front rack is the primary rack, capable of handling more weight than the rear rack. You must use straps to tie down and secure items to the racks (bottom is not solid). Some ATV manufacturers have begun adding full hitch receivers to accomodate trailers and attachments.

ATVs usually can seat one to two people comfortable. Some models are designed for up to three people.

Popular manufacturers include Polaris, Yamaha, Honda, Can-Am and Kawasaki.

What Is A UTV & What Does UTV Stand For?

Kubota UTV RTV X1140
Source: Kubota

UTV stands for "Utility Task Vehicle". UTVs are also referred to as a "side-by-side" or "SXS", as well as "RUV" (Recreational Utility Vehicle) and "ROV" (recreational off-highway vehicle). UTVs are versatile all-task vehicles with four to six wheels, bench or bucket seating (side by side seating), automobile-style steering wheel, and foot pedals. UTVs are bigger than ATVs on average, and are capable of carrying heavier loads.

UTVs have gained market share in the recreational off-road vehicle industry over the past couple decades. Manufacturers have grown their product offerings as consumers have shown an increased interest in the versatility of UTVs.

UTVs are very popular for large properties due to their versatility and ability to haul loads. UTVs typically have dump beds, making them very useful for hauling wood, rocks, machinery, sand and more. The wider wheel base of UTVs makes them better suited for hauling materials relative to ATVs. UTVs have become a common fixture on farms given their speed, fuel efficiency and ease of use. Most UTVs have full hitch receivers for trailers and attachments.

UTVs usually can comfortably seat two to four people. Some are designed for up to six people.

Popular manufacturers include Polaris, Yamaha, Honda, Can-Am, Kawasaki and Kubota.

What Is The Cost Difference Of ATV & UTV?

UTVs tend to be more expensive than ATVs given they have more parts, components and complexity. ATVs typically cost between $5,000 and $15,000, while UTVs typically cost between $8,000 and $30,000.

When you go shopping for a new or used ATV or UTV, be sure that you factor in additional items into your budget such as accessories, upgrades and attachments. UTVs often have more expensive add-on packages, so the final price can end up being much more than the vehicle sticker price.

How Safe Are ATVs & UTVs?

Manufacturers place a high priority on maximizing rider safety for both UTVs and ATVs. UTVs tend to be safer on average relative to ATVs because they are larger, wider, and heavier, and the designs feature more shielding (roll cages, doors, windshields, etc).

UTVs also can include seat belts, roll bars / cages, and sometimes doors and windshields. These items provide extra protection that ATVs typically do not offer (some ATVs can be fitted with windshields). It is important to remember that most UTVs and ATVs do not include air bags.

Additional safety tips to further protect yourself when riding on a UTV or ATV include:

  • Motorcycle helmet: Head injuries can be very serious and lead to long-term permanent damage. Motorcycle helmets can help prevent and reduce the risk of these injuries.
  • Eye protection: All passengers are at risk of airborne debris on the road — whether it is a random object (bug, bird, baseball, etc), or pebbles kicked up from the vehicle in front of yours. Airborne objects can hit your eyes and cause damage and distractions.
  • Gloves: Good quality off-road / motorcycle gloves give you better traction when controlling the steering wheel. They also provide extra protection against cuts and scratches.
  • Boots: Similar to gloves, boots provide extra protection against cuts and scratches.
  • LED Headlights: Lights help keep others aware of your vehicle, and they help you see better.
  • Flags: Adding tall flags is a cheap way to help increase your visibility.

Popular UTV Upgrades & Modifications

The most common upgrades and modifications for UTVs include roofs, windshields and doors. These items come in a variety of styles and materials.

A roof is not necessary, but it can be helpful when the weather changes. Roofs typically come in polycarbonate, plastic, aluminum, canvas and nylon. Roofs are often categorized as fixed or removable.

Windshields are popular because they help reduce dust in the cabin. UTVs can create a dust swirl inside the cabin, so adding exterior shielding helps prevent the dust swirl from forming. Windshields typically come as a full windshield or half windshield. Some windshields are fixed, while others are fold-able. Typically windshields are constructed from polycarbonate or auto glass. Rear windows are also available to help keep dust out.

Doors are another popular upgrade because they add utility and look good. Doors are classified as full door, half door, or suicide door. Doors are typically made from hard plastic, aluminum or fabric.

Some UTVs can be fitted with a full enclosure kit. This gives the ultimate comfort and protection. Some full enclosure kits offer forms of climate control (HVAC heating and cooling), too.

Summary

UTVs and ATVs are a ton of fun and great addition to your equipment fleet. Both ORV types have their pros and cons, so you should think about which is best fit for you. Either way, you are likely going to enjoy your next UTV or ATV purchase.

Resources

UTV Body Guide

What Is Best ATV To Buy?

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