What You Should Know Before Buying an ATV

by Gabrielle DeSantis

All-terrain vehicles, more commonly known as ATVs, encompass several types of small four-wheeled machines designed to travel on terrains rougher than roads or trails. Sometimes, people lump utility terrain vehicles, or UTVs, into the same category as ATVs, but there are some key differences between these two vehicle classes. If you’re considering buying an all-terrain vehicle, there are a few things you should know first.

What is an ATV?

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As defined by the ATV Safety Institute, ATVs have four low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires, have a seat the rider must straddle, and handlebars that control steering. Type I ATVs carry one person — the driver — but Type II vehicles allow a passenger seated behind the driver. Passengers should never ride on Type I vehicles. 

Besides the two types, there are also ATVs for specific activities, ranging from racing to ranching.

Selecting an ATV for a specific use

An entire culture surrounds racing ATVs, also known as quads. Racing them takes every form imaginable but primarily takes place on dirt tracks or forest trails. The Yamaha Raptor 700, with a starting MSRP of $8,299, often races on ATV courses. These types of vehicles are fast and agile, and racing them takes special protective equipment and skill. It’s a dangerous sport with frequent rider injuries.

An example of an ATV built to work is the Honda Fourtrax Rancher, starting at $5,499. These working-class models often feature front and rear racks for hauling gear and tools to get the job done or equipment for recreation.

As with most things in life, more money opens more options when buying an ATV. Larger machines with more powerful engines, four-wheel drive, winches, and myriad add-ons for carrying gear are all available for a price.

If you’re not a racer or a rancher but still want to feel the thrill of riding an ATV, don’t despair. These machines will take you almost anywhere you want to go, whether it’s a high mountain camping trip, down to the family fishing pond, or an Oklahoma desert.

Manufacturers also design models for various experience levels and youth riders. It’s important to note that riding an ATV is a learned skill that benefits from professional formal training from the ATV Safety Institute. Riders should also wear all suggested protective gear at all times and obey all applicable laws surrounding the use of ATVs on public and private property.

UTVs, also known as side-by-sides, have a seating arrangement where the driver and passenger sit next to each other. These machines often have a four-wheel drivetrain and a windshield, and they operate similar to an automobile, with a steering wheel and foot pedals for brake and gas. Some have four seats, while others offer a truck-like bed for hauling whatever you need. Most models have enough towing capacity for a small trailer or boat.

Safely operating an all-terrain vehicle

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People are often in one of two camps concerning ATV safety. The first camp thinks these vehicles are inherently unsafe and bent on human destruction. The second camp sees the four wheels and wide stance and thinks nothing could go wrong. Experienced riders know that both camps are wrong. Riding all-terrain vehicles can be as safe as any other outdoor activity as long as you take the proper precautions. That includes wearing the proper protective gear. The ATV Safety Institute recommends riders always wear the following:

  • Over-the-ankle boots
  • Long sleeves
  • Long pants
  • Goggles
  • DOT-compliant helmet
  • Goggles
  • Gloves

Experts also strongly recommend all riders take safety courses. They’re available in person nationwide or online through the ATV Safety Institute. The online courses are available for adults, teens, and youths. The institute also has an online course for adults who intend to coach younger riders.

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