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ATV vs. UTV: A Look at the Differences, and Which Is the Best for You


In the world of off-roading, you're bound to hear terms like ATV and UTV get thrown around almost interchangeably. If you're new to the environment, it may be a bit confusing to distinguish the difference between the two categories of vehicles.

In many ways, they're very similar. In fact, a large portion of people think these two acronyms refer to the same type of vehicle, but that's not entirely true. There are a number of key differences between them.

Maybe you're looking at a new powersports toy, or maybe you're just wanting to understand what the hell your friends are talking about, but hopefully the information below can help clarify a few things.

What's an ATV?

First off, ATV stands for all-terrain vehicle. According to the ATV Safety Institute, an ATV is officially defined as a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four wheels with low-pressure tires or non-pneumatic tires. It has a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.


A quad or standard four-wheeler would fit into this category. You straddle the seat, there's a throttle on the handlebars, and they typically have minimal safety features for the riders. The operator is exposed similarly to dirt bike riders, which is why it's important to always wear some type of protective clothing or safety gear while riding these type of machines.

Obviously, these off-road vehicles are designed for trail riding, as opposed to street-legal use. There are a variety of different two-stroke or four-stroke engines available, and they can also come in either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive configurations.

Additionally, there are lineups of ATV models that are more suited towards racing and performance, while others are specialized for tackling challenging terrain like deep mud or water.

As a few examples, consider such models as the Yamaha YFZ450R, Polaris Sportsman, or the Honda Fourtrax. Although they are made for different types of riding, they're all classified as ATVs due to their structure.


Read More: Self-Made Racer Corry Weller Shows the Boys How It's Done

What's a UTV?

Now, UTV stands for utility terrain vehicle. Some may argue that it stands for utility task vehicle, or just utility vehicle. Any of these could technically work when referring to a UTV.

Simply put, a UTV is a larger off-road vehicle designed to hold more passengers. These machines also have a greater payload capacity and more towing capability.


Another classification for UTV is a side-by-side (SXS), which gets its name because passengers typically sit side by side, as opposed to behind one another like you would see on an ATV.

What features make a UTV different from an ATV? In most cases, these models will have bucket seats with seat belts instead of straddle seating, a round steering wheel instead of handlebars, pedal controls instead of hand controls, and roll bars and roll cages instead of the open structure you would find on an ATV. As you could imagine, UTVs offer much more protection for the operator, though it's still recommended to wear a full-face helmet and other safety gear.

Again, there are tons of different types of UTV models. Some are designed with performance in mind, making them fantastic for racing type environments, while others are engineered to be used more as work horses. You can get them outfitted with utility beds, completely enclosed panels, towing packages, and so many other options to fit your needs.

One other cool option that you could find on a UTV is a turbocharged engine. That's not something you usually find offered on ATVs, but it only makes sense when you consider the additional weight that comes with a UTV chassis. Turbo models will increase the sales price quite a bit, but the additional performance you receive in return makes it quite tempting.


The Can-Am Maverick, Can-Am Defender, Polaris RZR, and Kawasaki Mule are classified as UTV models. Even though they are made for different uses, they all feature a structure that is certainly different from a standard ATV.

Which Is Best for You?

Now that you know the differences between the two, how can you decide which one is right for you?

Well, there are a few factors to consider, but it's mainly up to personal preference. Whether you're talking about an ATV or a UTV, both offer a wide range of customization options to personalize it for yourself. The best thing to consider is the actual use you need it for.


Using street-legal vehicles as an example, it wouldn't be ideal to buy a Ford F-350 dually if you're intention is to commute daily to your office job, and you wouldn't want to purchase a Chevy Corvette if you work at a construction site. Think about what's practical for your individual situation.

The larger size of UTVs makes these machines ideal for bringing others along with you on the adventure. They also have more payload and towing capability, making them a solid work vehicle. That's not to say an ATV can't do some work, but a UTV would likely get it done much easier.

Alternatively, the smaller size of an ATV may actually be more beneficial if you're looking to head into some narrow trails, or if you like the performance aspect of a more maneuverable and lightweight off-road vehicle. Also keep in mind that an ATV can fit into a pickup bed, whereas a UTV would require a trailer to haul around in most cases.

That said, a major deciding factor is going to be your budget. ATVs are significantly more affordable. I urge you to check out the MSRP on a brand-new UTV. It's almost comparable to buying a street-legal passenger vehicle, which has potential to drastically change someone's opinion on whether it's worth it or not.


At the end of the day, both an ATV and a UTV will grant you with an unforgettable powersports experience. Consider the differences in price and functionality, as well as the reality of transporting it around, and you'll land on the perfect model for yourself in no time.

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