ATV vs. UTV: What’s the Difference?

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Off-road vehicles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From dirt bikes to ATVs and UTVs, there’s pretty much something for every rider and application. 

This page will cover the basics of ATVs and UTVs, which can consist of quads, 4x4s, utility vehicles, sand rails, dune buggies, and more. 

Other pages in this section will cover topics like ATV riding tips, regulations, maintenance, and more. 

What Does ATV Stand For? 

ATV stands for All-Terrain Vehicle.

An ATV typically describes quads, 4x4s, sport ATVs, and utility ATVs.

What Does UTV Stand For? 

UTV stands for Utility Terrain Vehicle or Utility Task Vehicle.

UTV typically describes a side-by-side “ATV”, SxS, and off-road vehicles designed for specific tasks and use-cases.  

What is an ATV?

An ATV, or All Terrain Vehicle, is defined as a motorized off-road vehicle that rides on 4 tires with a saddle and handlebars for the rider. 

Compared to on-road vehicles and UTVs, ATVs typically feature low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires. 

These off-road vehicles are designed to handle a wide variety of difficult terrain and are popular for hunting, exploring, camping, trail riding, and other off-road recreation. 

Some ATVs are designed to carry just the rider, while others are designed to accommodate a passenger behind the driver like a motorcycle. 

ATVs come in a variety of different sizes, which are designed for riders of different sizes and ages, as well as different types of terrain. 

Most ATVs feature a thumb throttle rather than a twist throttle. Braking is done with hand levers and/or foot pedals. 

They’re designed to be quick, maneuverable, and able to tackle off-road terrain that other vehicles cannot. However, in most cases, they should never be ridden on paved roads. 

What is a UTV?

A UTV, or Utility Terrain Vehicle, is typically designed with specific tasks in mind rather than purely recreation. 

UTVs are generally larger and more powerful than ATVs. 

A UTV will have a faster top speed than an ATV, but will not have a quick, versatile handling. 

They feature:

  • 4 or more wheels. 
  • A steering wheel. 
  • Side-by-side seats for the driver and passengers. 
  • Foot pedals for the gas and brakes. 
  • Seatbelts, roll bars, roofs and/or enclosed cabins, and other safety features. 
  • Room for storage and hauling. 
  • Towing capabilities.

UTVs are popular for sporting events, farm work, hauling, and other types of jobs. 

However, some UTVs are geared more towards specialized recreational activities.

UTVs look much more like suped-up, off-road golf carts than they do ATVs. 

Differences Between an ATV and UTV

Off-road capabilities and features are pretty much where the similarities between ATVs and UTVs end. 

From there, they are completely different machines with different riding styles, purposes, and price points. 

ATVs are ridden and controlled similar to a two-wheel motorcycle. They feature a saddle, handlebars, and open-air design. 

UTVs are operated similar to a car or golf cart with a steering wheel, foot pedals, seats, and safety features for the occupants. 

UTVs are also typically much faster and more powerful than ATVs, but ATVs excel at difficult off-road terrain and nimble handling. 

ATVs are less expensive than UTVs, but in many cases people are using their UTV to get work done. 

ATVs will feature 2 to 3 wheels with room for no more than 2 riders. 

UTVs can feature anywhere from 4 to 8 wheels, with room for multiple passengers and cargo.

An ATV is smaller in size and much easier to transport around than a UTV. UTVs will typically need to be loaded on larger trailers to get them from place to place. 

Certain off-road trails may restrict the size of off-road vehicles that can be ridden there. In some places, ATVs are able to be ridden where a larger UTV is prohibited. 

Types of ATVs & UTVs

Within the broader categories of ATVs and UTVs, there are some different types and classes of each vehicle. 

Broad categories of ATVs include:

  • Sport ATVs, which are designed for performance and recreation.
  • Utility ATVs, which are typically designed for hunting or light hauling. 
  • Youth ATVs, which are smaller and slower and designed for younger operators. Youth ATVs include minimum age limits that should be obeyed at all times. 

The main types of UTVs include:

  • Utility Side-by-Sides, which are designed for farm work, hauling, and moving loads.
  • Sport/Performance Side-by-Sides, which are designed for recreation with better suspension and handling features. 
  • Sport Utility UTVs, which are designed for a bit of both. These are great for activities like hunting and camping. 

Some states group all off-road vehicles into Classes in order to regulate registration requirements and where they are permitted to ride. 

For example, Oregon defines ATVs as 2-to-8 wheel vehicles with a motor that are designed to ride on unpaved surfaces. The classes include:

  • Class I: ATVs with a maximum width of 50”, a maximum weight of 1,200 lbs, 3 or more tires, handlebars, and a saddle seat (quads, 3-wheelers, 4x4s).
  • Class II: 4x4s that don’t fit into Class I or IV including off-road trucks, Jeeps, SUVs, dune buggies, and sand rails. 
  • Class III: Two-wheel off-road motorcycles.
  • Class IV: ATVs with a maximum width of 65” and a maximum weight of 1,800 lbs, 4+ tires, a steering wheel, and bucket seats (SxS, side-by-side, UTV).

Other states may have different classes and definitions for off-road vehicles.