ATV Vs UTV - What's the Difference?

Updated on April 26, 2020
Harry Sheen profile image

As an avid fan of four-wheelers, I'd like to share my knowledge on dirt bikes and ATVs.

ATV on Trail
ATV on Trail | Source

"All Terrain Vehicle" Vs. "Utility Vehicle"

Anyone who wants to buy a vehicle has so many options. You could buy a scooter, a bike, a motorbike, a car, or a van. But if you want to drive off the road as well as on it, what do you do? Some kinds of vehicle leave you stuck on roads, and with others you are not allowed on the road. At the same time, you might want to get something that you could use for work as well as for pleasure.

With these kinds of choices you might look at an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) or a Utility Vehicle (UTV). Since they can't always be used for the same things, we recommend that you learn the difference between an ATV and a UTV.

They differ in their origins. An ATV is basically a greatly modified bike, even though it may have three or four wheels instead of two. It has low-pressure tires and steers with handlebars. A Utility Terrain Vehicle, often called a side-by-side, is a carlike vehicle with 2-6 seats and 4-wheel drive, designed for off-road use.

This buying guide breaks down the important features of both styles of vehicle.

Some Practical Differences Between an ATV and a UTV


When it comes to overall storage, what you can actually fit on the vehicle, the side-by-side UTV is the way to go. A lot of models come with built-in beds, with some even possessing a dumping feature. That said, you can get ATVs with separate dump trailers too, and more recent models are coming with better options for on-hand storage as well.


Side-by-sides are able to tow higher weights and generally a lot more stable due to their width. ATV manufacturers have come a long way in making towing easier though, and often create specialized receivers to allow attaching an array of attachments such as trailers, spreaders and more.


The ATV is much smaller than your typical UTV, which can be good and bad. The side-by-side allows you to fit a number of passengers, with some even fitting six in reasonable comfort. Of course, the downside of this is that UTVs take up more storage area and can be more difficult when you are out on the trail (especially when you take into account their width). Plus, a UTV is more work to transport on the road.


An ATV offers little to no protection, apart from the odd windshield. A UTV, on the other hand, may offer roll cages, full-on doors, and windscreens. Some even offer air conditioning and a whole range of comforts that you would expect from an actual car. Plus, you will get a seat belt.


Driving a UTV is something that you're already familiar with; it comes with a steering wheel, front pedal, and brake. Operating an ATV involves a new learning curve.


Not surprisingly, in view of the advantages above, your typical UTV is going to cost several thousand more dollars than your typical ATV.

All-Terrain Vehicles for Maneuverability

Are you looking to buy a vehicle that allows you to get around corners without much notice? Then an ATV is for you. For dirt racing and trying to get around tight and uncompromising natural paths, ATVs are just much better than UTVs. They are suited to quick and natural turns, and so are better for things like wooded area driving. They can also carry a small amount of cargo, perhaps a bit more if you install some add-ons to give it more weight.

However, an ATV is a more demanding vehicle to drive; you will need to be in good physical condition. While small and easy enough to throw around, they do become quite hard to control if you pick up any kind of consistent speed. If you are not looking for the sports riding experience and aren't sure you have the physical capacity to handle a vehicle, you should avoid buying an ATV. They are more suited to athletic people who don’t mind taking risks.

ATVs Aren't Just for Daredevils

However, don’t let the above make you think that you must have a risk-taking streak to enjoy driving an ATV. Many people use them for things like farm work.

They are a good option for farmers and others who need a utility help around the place but have a budget; they are normally much cheaper than an UTV. However, they have less power and less storage capacity.

If you are okay with an ATV that isn’t super powerful, though, you can easily go down the CC count and get something more suited for work. Anything in the 200-500cc range would be excellent for use on things like farms.

Utility Terrain Vehicles for Work

UTVs are intended for an entirely different audience than those looking for something fast and sporty. If you are looking to get something purely for work, then a UTV is the unanimous choice. Why? Mainly because they have more storage capacity. With a UTV, you can fit more or less anything that you need on the back (within reason). In fact, most have space for either you and a pet, or you and another person, and can still fit cargo on the rear of the vehicle.

UTVs are 100% the best choice for professionals in the landscaping niche. You can easily bring tools and equipment to the job, or even haul large amounts of supplies on a trailer, with a UTV.

Similarly, UTVs are the perfect choice for many specialist jobs. Specialty trades often need specialty tools, tools that an ATV doesn't have space for. The UTV trades speed and sportiness for the ability to haul items back and forth.

But UTV's Aren't Just for Hauling

So ATVs are often seen as the "fun" option, while UTVs are seen as the ‘adult’ option. But is that fair? Not really. UTVs are ridiculously customizable, and the right amount of planning could easily see you turn your UTV into something totally different.

You can spend quite a few bucks adding more speed, more grip, and more race-ready performance to a UTV. Since they cost so much more than an ATV to begin with, if you want speed and sportiness you might be better just buying an ATV in the first place. However, you can easily give a UTV more raw ferocity and power than an ATV. Given their naturally larger size and bulk, you can find that a good quality UTV will give you the kind of power difference that you were expecting.

So, don’t discount a UTV just because you see them as "work only." Instead, invest in a UTV if you want something stronger, more spacious, and more durable than an ATV. Just don’t expect to be flying around corners like a professional rally driver!

What Do You Want to Buy? An ATV or a UTV?

If you are someone who is going to be working a lot, then a UTV might be more suited to you. ATVs are great for rural work, but they are mostly going to be suited to transport and travel.

There are many exceptions; take into account things like engine power, top speed, and handling.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Harry Sheen


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