What is a UTV?

Exactly what is a UTV? A UTV is a type of heavy-duty off-road vehicle. UTV stands for Utility Terrain Vehicle and is also sometimes referred to as a Utility Task Vehicle.

You might also have heard of them being referred to as side-by-sides, as the passenger and rider are seated next to each other rather than behind. Just to add to the confusion, if someone mentions an ROV (or Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle), they are also referring to the same thing.

These terms are pretty interchangeable.

Most UTV’s have been designed for hauling heavy objects and cargo as well as additional passengers, so generally have a dedicated bed in the back for carrying cargo. As a workhorse, you can usually tow a great deal with UTVs too. A UTV is a natural fit if you want the thrills of outdoor riding with a bit more security and ease of use than ATVs, especially if you love the fun of trail riding with others!

Read on to find out more about these powerful little machines, the difference between side-by-sides and ATVs, and more frequently asked questions.


Types of Utility Terrain Vehicle

There are three main categories of UTV models or side by sides- Sport, Utility, and Sport-Utility. Sport UTVs are probably what you think of when you want to go down high-speed trails, racing, or dunes. ‘Utility’ UTVs would be your workhorses for farming, hunting, or job sites. And newer model Sport-Utility UTVs are exactly that- a bridge between the two that are hardy enough for hardcore work but light enough for adventure riding.

Is A Golf Cart A UTV?

A golf cart isn’t considered a UTV; it is designed for recreational use and cannot go over 20mph or over rough terrain.

What Is An ATV?

ATV stands for All-Terrain Vehicle. These are usually what you’d associate a quad bike with- a fun, one-man machine that you can zip down tracks with. A UTV is generally larger than ATVs that typically seat one rider, operate by a steering wheel, and have gas and brake pedals. Most utility models are also fitted with a cage or roll bar, unlike an ATV. ATVs are usually more physically demanding, which can put some people off.

What Is The Difference Between A Utility Task Vehicle And An All-Terrain Vehicle?

Here, we have broken down some of the main differences between ATVs and UTV models as the terms can sometimes be confusing, so you can get a sense of what’s what. 

  • Size– An ATV is generally intended for one passenger (though larger models can accommodate another passenger) whereas a UTV is typically designed with a seat to carry two passengers, and some models also have a rear seat to carry up to four people. Great fun for trail riding with friends!
  • Space-A utility vehicle is typically capable of providing more cargo space. A UTV is normally purpose-built for labor so usually comes equipped with an inbuilt bed like a flatbed truck, but even if they don’t- they usually come with at least some form of inbuilt carry space or tow ability. ATVs in comparison, will normally not have any additional space other than an inbuilt rack of some sort (be aware though that you can add rear cargo to certain models if needed). 
  • Customization– A UTV is usually a pretty customizable bit of kit- you usually have the option to customize wheels, lighting, suspensions, designs, seating, and much more so it’s pretty easy to get the perfect model for your needs. ATVs have much more limited options when it comes to making your riding experience more personal to you. 
  • Steering– An ATV is controlled by handlebars as opposed to a steering wheel. UTV’s are therefore much easier to maneuver and don’t handle too differently from a car. 
  • Gas and brakes– Much like a car, UTV’s have gas and brake pedals, whereas an ATV and most quads use a brake lever and throttle to control speed and braking. This is another aspect that makes driving a UTV easier to navigate if you are more used to driving a car. 
  • Safety– UTV’s almost always have an inbuilt cage or roll bars which are invaluable if the vehicle rolls. An ATV and other quads’ most dangerous feature is its ability to roll with no protection. This can lead to serious injury or fatality if the driver gets stuck underneath an ATV. Having seats to carry more passengers also means UTVs tend to be typically designed with seat belts for a safer ride. That’s exactly what you want if you have kids as your other riders.
  • Work capabilities– ATVs are capable of carrying a smaller payload, and with the addition of towing equipment or rear cargo can usually carry a weight of 125 to 400lbs of additional weight if needed. A UTV on the other hand is usually purpose-built to handle more- usually running from 800lbs to 1350lbs depending on the model. This means most UTVs can be reliable machines so you can tow heavy loads such as farming equipment or flatbeds full of gear. Of course, this varies greatly over the models available so it’s always worth checking out the specs of whatever ATV or UTV you’re planning on purchasing so you know they can handle the workload you need it for. 

Who Should Buy A UTV?

UTV’s are for everyone, and since they are so highly customizable, you can decide what you want to use them for. You can get super lightweight models for racing and all-terrain driving, heavier duty models for haulage to utilize their power. They are also great if you’re less experienced and don’t want to go for a more manual and physically demanding drive that an ATV provides- because of an ATV’s quad structure, it requires the driver to be balanced, have the strength to control the vehicle, and this is always going to be more physically jarring for your body than the seated experience of a UTV.

This, of course, can be great fun, and having a quad can be an awesome experience, especially if you’re looking for a big adrenaline hit and don’t mind getting a little battered in the process. A side-by-side, however, can provide you with a more cushy and comfortable experience while still providing for the thrill-seekers. They are the perfect partner if you need a ride that can handle the pressures of being a work vehicle. The clues in the name- UTV’s are the way to go if you want a utilitarian vehicle with both more storage space and much higher payload capabilities. 

Can I Customize A UTV?

As mentioned before, a side by side is highly customizable- this means as your interest grows or budget allows, you can add loads of cool additions to your UTV, such as lighting to your roll cage and bars, left kits for ultra-durability on rough terrain, cabin heaters for a super toasty drive and stereo systems to be the life of any outdoor party you can think of.

This and so many other options are available so you can personalize and create your dream vehicle. If you’re not a big fan of all the added gizmos and gadgets, you can still have a wild ride without compromising by getting a standard model. 

Are UTVs Good For Families?

As with all vehicles, of course, there will always be safety concerns, but with a side-by-side versus an ATV, you know you’re going to be safer and more secure. Having seats for more than one means you can take kids and partners out on your wild adventures and have fun on and off-road. Because UTVs have proper inbuilt seats, they also have seatbelts so you can be sure your family is strapped in tight for the bumpy road ahead!

Not only are ATVs more dangerous if you want to go down rougher roads or at higher speeds, but getting three or four starts getting mighty expensive. With a side by side, you can potentially fit the whole family in for a trip on the rougher trails to share the experience. In terms of family-friendliness, a UTV stands ahead of the pack.

How Much Does A UTV Cost?

 As it’s so highly customizable and can perform on several different levels, the price of a UTV reflects this. They vary widely in price, and starting models usually set you back around $8000 for a base model.

However, a high-performance model or newer style of UTV will be more expensive- roughly between $10,000 to $30,000 and with additional features and add-ons, the prices can go up even more. 

Are UTVs Allowed On The Road?

Whether a UTV is street legal depends on your state. The road requirements differ from state to state, and it depends on what your side by side has, both in terms of features and performance ability. Don’t get caught out -make sure you research the requirements.

There are a couple of bits you should purchase if you plan on using your side-by-side on the roads. In most of the states where UTVs are street legal, you will need to purchase insurance, make sure it is registered, and make sure to add these to your vehicle: 

  • Lighted license plate
  • Speedometer
  • Street legal steering wheel
  • Brake and headlights
  • Turn signals
  • Horn
  • Street legal tires
  • Mirrors
  • Windshield

Again, make sure you know your state’s requirements for side-by-sides so you can prepare in advance and make sure you have all the additions necessary to be street legal. 

What Gear Do I Need To Drive A UTV?

In terms of preparedness, the essentials are as follows -a helmet, goggles, or another form of protective eyewear (or a windshield if you prefer), a tire repair kit and tool kit for fixing up minor issues on the go, a battery charger, cables, a spare gas tank, and some form of overnight equipment or warmth is always handy in case of an emergency when you’re exploring out-of-the-way trails.

Frequently Asked Questions?

Patrick Johnson