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ATV Vs. UTV: Which Off-road Vehicle Is Right For Your Next Adventure?

So you want to enter the world of all-terrain off-roading. Sometimes this is the best way to see the natural sights and cover a lot of ground, without being limited to the pavement. But which off-road vehicle is right for your next adventure?

With so many options available on the market, it can get a little overwhelming when it’s time to buy. Here we uncover the main differences between ATVs and UTVs, plus break down which off-road vehicle is perfect for your lifestyle.

ATV: All-Terrain Vehicle

An ATV is an “all-terrain vehicle,” also known as a “four-wheeler” or “quad.” Think motorcycle with four (to six) wheels. While most ATVs are intended for a single rider, there are some models that allow for two. Known for being nimble, ATVs are great for racing and fitting into smaller spaces. Due to their smaller size and lighter weight, they are also a more cost-efficient option for those who are new to the off-roading life (and don’t want to break the bank). 

atv at sunset in snowPhoto credit: @polarisorv / ATV: Polaris Sportsman

UTV: Utility Task Vehicle

A UTV is a “utility task vehicle,” also known as a “side-by-side” or “SXS.” Think adventure golf cart. These vehicles allow for more people, two to six passengers depending on the model. Some even have the option of an enclosed cab, if you prefer a more temperature-controlled environment. Due to their larger size, they are more expensive and may be limited in some smaller spaces, but they have more hauling capacity than an ATV. Plus their advanced suspension allows for more intense rock crawling… and since they feature a roll cage around the passengers, they are a little safer when attempting riskier feats.

Photo credit: @ouroverlandlife / UTV: Polaris RZR Trail S

So now that you know the technical differences between the two, which is right for you? That all depends on you and your next adventure.

Sand Dune Adventure

While both vehicles can handle sand dunes, many prefer UTVs on this kind of terrain because of the more powerful engine and unmatched suspension that allows you to go the extra (vertical) mile. Here are some tips on how to tackle sand dunes in your new UTV.

utv off road vehicle riding through sand dunesPhoto credit: @canamoffroad / UTV: Can-Am Maverick X3

Winter Wonderland

Riding through the snow? We recommend an ATV for this kind of adventure. Between their lighter weight and excellent traction, ATVs are great for playtime in the snow and ensure you won’t get stuck out in the wild. 

atv in snowPhoto credit: @canamoffroad / ATV: Can-Am Outlander 

Gone Crawling

Prefer some rocky terrain? While both off-road vehicles can make your rock crawling dreams come true, a UTV is a great option that comes with more power and versatility. The added benefit of a built-in roll cage ensures a little extra safety in case things get hairy.

utv going rock crawlingPhoto credit: @utvguide / UTV: Can-Am Defender

A Little Mud Never Hurt Anyone

So you want to go blazing through some mud, but you’re not sure which vehicle to take with you? Similar to playtime in the snow, the lighter weight and amazing traction on an ATV means an unbeatable mudding experience. Plus, riding solo means you get to race your buddies through the muck, and who doesn’t love that?

atv off road vehicle in the mudPhoto credit: @honda_powersports_us / ATV: Honda Rubicon

Trail Riders

This one is a toss-up. Both ATVs and UTVs are great for hitting the trail and enjoying nature. It’s really a question of whether you prefer to ride solo (ATV) or if you want the whole gange to ride along (UTV). 

atv on trailPhoto credit: @cfmoto_usa / ATV: CFMOTO CFORCE Series ATV

If you like to trail ride with your family or prefer a more secured space around you, then a UTV might be worth the investment as your off-road vehicle. Plus you can pack more gear if you’re planning an overnighter under the stars. 

utv on desert trailPhoto credit: @ouroverlandlife / UTV: Polaris RZR Trail S

Play Hard? Gotta Work Hard Too

The answer to which off-road vehicle is better for working: both! ATVs and UTVs are perfect for utility work. Which one you buy depends on your work needs. If your work requires a lot of hauling around a large property, then we recommend a UTV so you have more powerful capabilities to transport heavy things. 

utv off road vehicle hauling materials Photo credit: @canamoffroad / UTV: Can-Am Commander

If heavy-duty hauling isn’t a necessity for your work and you just need to get around quickly from project to project, then an ATV is the perfect off-road work vehicle for you. 

farmer loading up an atvPhoto credit: @polarisorv / ATV: Polaris Sportsman

At the end of the day, your budget, passenger needs, and adventure/work preferences will dictate whether you go with an ATV or UTV. Regardless if you want to go mudding, crawling,  or just take a nice ride on a dusty trail, both of these off-road vehicles will be perfect for your time on the (dirt) road. 

Taking your ATV or UTV on a long road trip and need it shipped? Be sure to read our checklist about preparing your off-road vehicle for transport.

As with any time spent outside, please leave no trace. Pack up what you bring with you and respect the rules of the areas you are occupying. Make sure to leave it better than you found it so everyone can enjoy these beautiful off-roading spaces for years to come.

utv off road vehicle on a big jump over sand dunesPhoto credit: @canamoffroad / UTV: Can-Am Maverick X3

ATVs vs UTVs Infographic 

Need a quick refresher? Here’s your ATV versus UTV cheat sheet: 

ATV versus UTV infographic

Found your perfect off-road vehicle and need it shipped directly to your door? uShip can connect you to professional transporters with competitive rates who specialize in ATV, UTV, or motorcycle shipping. Click below to get a free estimate.