UTVs, also known as utility terrain vehicles or side-by-sides, are off-road vehicles with four or more wheels designed for utility and recreation purposes. UTVs have become immensely popular over the last two decades, offering great versatility and capability for work and play.
This comprehensive guide will provide an in-depth overview of UTVs, covering their key features, major manufacturers, uses, accessories, maintenance, safety considerations and much more. Whether you’re looking to purchase your first UTV or are a seasoned veteran, this guide will help you master everything you need to know about these incredibly capable machines.
Table of Contents
Key Features of UTVs
UTVs have a number of defining features that set them apart from other off-road vehicles:
- Seating: Designed for 1-6 people depending on the model. Side-by-side 2-seater configurations are the most common, allowing a passenger to ride next to the driver. There are also models with backseats for additional passengers.
- Engines: UTVs are typically powered by internal combustion gasoline engines in the 500cc-1000cc range. These engines offer plenty of torque and horsepower for hauling cargo, climbing inclines and powerful acceleration. Larger displacement engines provide more power while smaller ones offer improved fuel efficiency.
- Drivetrain: Most UTVs offer a choice between 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive and options of manual or automatic transmission. This versatility allows buyers to choose the best drivetrain for their particular needs based on the terrain they tackle most. 4WD provides extra traction and handling on loose surfaces like dirt, mud and snow.
- Cargo/Hauling: UTVs are equipped with cargo beds or dump beds in the rear that allow them to haul equipment, tools, camping gear and more. Capacities range from 300 lbs up to 1,000 lbs or more. Towing capacities typically range from 1,500 lbs up to 3,500+ lbs depending on the model. This gives them utility for worksite and farm use.
- Suspension: UTVs feature independent suspension that allows each wheel to move separately and adapt to uneven terrain. This provides better handling, a smoother ride and more control compared to a solid rear axle. They also have greater suspension travel and higher ground clearance than all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
- Safety: UTVs have a number of safety features including seat belts, side nets or doors, rollover protection bars, and skid plates to protect occupants and components from damage. Most also have speed limiters to prevent dangerous speeds.
- Accessories: One of the benefits of UTVs is how customizable they are to tailor them for specialized uses. There is a massive range of accessories available including winches, snow plows, roofs, cargo boxes, upgraded tires and wheels, trailers, and much more.
Major UTV Manufacturers
The UTV marketplace is dominated by a handful of major competing brands:
- Polaris: Founded in 1954, Polaris is one of the most recognizable names in powersports vehicles. Their RZR and Ranger model lines of UTVs are extremely popular choices known for high performance, capabilities and accessories. Models range from trail-focused sport machines to rugged utility workhorses.
- Can-Am: Can-Am off-road vehicles are produced by Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP). They are positioned as a premium sporty brand focused on speed, power and aggressive styling. The Maverick line of UTVs exemplifies this with models like the 172 hp turbocharged Maverick X3.
- John Deere: Best known for their iconic green and yellow tractors, John Deere has applied that heavy duty reputation to their Gator series of UTVs. They are marketed as reliable, durable work vehicles with good payload capacities.
- Kawasaki: With both the Mule and Teryx lines, Kawasaki covers both the utility and recreation segments. Their UTVs offer good value by delivering solid performance and reliability at reasonable prices.
- Honda: Renowned for their engineering and build quality, Honda UTVs like the Pioneer series offer quiet operation and capable performance for work applications ranging from farming to construction sites.
- Yamaha: With sporty Viking models and the rugged Wolverine series, Yamaha UTVs are known for precise handling, comfort and trail-tackling abilities. Unique features like an ultra-quiet Teryx 750 make them stand out.
- Arctic Cat: This Minnesota company produces a full range of outdoor recreational vehicles including the Wildcat line of high performance sport UTVs. With 125+ hp turbo options, these focus on providing thrilling speed and adrenaline.
Common Uses for UTVs
The versatility of UTVs allow them to be used in a very diverse range of applications for both work and recreation:
- Recreation: UTV trail riding on backroads and wilderness trails is a fast growing activity. They offer an exciting way to explore the outdoors. Purpose built sport models are also popular for racing, dune riding and more extreme challenges.
- Hunting/Fishing: Hunters and anglers are a major UTV market thanks to their ability to access remote areas while hauling ample gear and equipment. Quieter UTV models also aid in not startling wildlife.
- Farming/Ranching: On farms and ranches, UTVs are highly valued workhorses used for hauling feed and fencing supplies, towing equipment, checking fields and fences, and tending to livestock. Durability and cargo capacity are essential.
- Construction/Contracting: On worksites, UTVs efficiently transport tools, materials and workers around job sites. Available power take-offs can also operate hydraulic implements like augers, raising versatility.
- Grounds Maintenance: Commercial-grade UTVs equipped with dump beds, power take-offs and attachments like mowers or snow plows are ideal machines for maintaining large acreages and properties.
- Emergency Services: First responders including EMTs use UTVs to rapidly access remote areas while carrying medical equipment and stretchers. Police and park rangers also find UTVs helpful for patrols.
- Military Use: The military utilizes UTVs for quick personnel and supply transport in the field. They are also employed on military airfields and bases where their durability and off-road capabilities are beneficial.
- Resorts/Tourism: Many resorts, ecotourism ranches, guided adventure tours and similar businesses use UTVs to offer guests trail rides, wildlife viewing and unique experiences.
Key UTV Accessories and Attachments
One of the appeals of UTVs for many owners is how customizable they are to tailor the vehicle to their specialized needs with the huge range of accessories:
- Windshields and Doors: Adding windshields and doors provides protection from the elements like rain and snow as well as blocking mud, dirt and trail debris from hitting occupants while driving. This helps keep riders clean and dry.
- Winches: Winches are a popular accessory for recovering stuck vehicles and pulling or hoisting heavy loads. They give vital additional capability when traversing muddy terrain or crossing fallen trees.
- Roofs: Roof panels block the sun, allowing UTV riders to avoid getting overheated and sunburned on hot days. Some roofs are fixed while others are removable for open air riding. Roof racks for added storage are also common.
- Tires: One of the most impactful upgrades is replacing stock tires with more aggressive treaded tires designed for muddy, snowy and rocky conditions. Special sand tires provide crucial flotation when riding dunes.
- Lift Kits: A suspension lift kit raises the UTV’s ride height allowing larger diameter tires to be installed without rubbing. This provides extra ground clearance which is great for extreme rocky and uneven trails.
- Light Bars: Auxiliary LED light bars produce huge amounts of light that greatly improve visibility when riding at night or in fog and dust. Versatile mounting options allow optimal positioning.
- Trailers: Small utility trailers towed behind the UTV are a simple way to multiply cargo and hauling abilities for activities like camping trips or hunting excursions.
- Plows: Adding a plow blade to the front allows you to clear snow from long driveways and trails or grade dirt and gravel roads. Invaluable for properties in colder climates.
- Winch Pullers: These stationary winching accessories provide immense pulling power from a securely mounted winch when you need to pull stumps, hoist engines or perform other jobs requiring steady heavy force.
- Audio: Bluetooth speaker systems and sound bars allow riders to listen to music from their phones while on the trails. Helps pass the time on long rides.
Regular Maintenance Checklist
Performing proper routine maintenance is crucial to keep your UTV running reliably and avoid mechanical issues or failures down the road:
- Engine Oil and Filter: Regular oil changes at the intervals suggested in your owner’s manual helps flush out internal engine contaminants and prevent premature wear. Replace the oil filter at the same time.
- Transmission Fluid: Keep transmission fluid clean and topped up to prevent premature wear of gears and ensuring smooth shifting performance.
- Air Filter: A clogged air filter restricts airflow to the engine, resulting in power loss. Inspect frequently if riding in very dusty conditions and replace when dirty.
- Spark Plugs: Replace spark plugs at the intervals specified by the manufacturer, generally every few thousand miles or hundred hours of use. Helps optimize combustion efficiency.
- Tires: Maintain proper tire pressure and routinely check for adequate tread depth. Rotate tires occasionally to promote more even wear across their surface.
- Brake Pads and Fluid: Inspect brake pads for wear and change fluid as recommended. This ensures maximum stopping power and braking control.
- Batteries: Clean any corroded connections, check water/fluid levels if applicable and load test batteries occasionally. Weak or old batteries should be replaced.
- Control Cables: Check throttle, shifting and brake cables for signs of wear. Lubricate and replace if necessary to prevent binding, sticking or loss of smooth operation.
- Steering/Suspension: Inspect all steering and suspension components including ball joints, tie rods and bushings for tightness. Ensure stable, predictable steering and handling.
- Lights: Test headlights, brake lights and turn signals regularly to find any bulbs burnt out and replace them promptly for safety.
UTV Safety Tips
While exciting and fun, UTVs can also be dangerous if not operated in a safe, responsible manner. Keep these important safety practices in mind:
- Always wear safety gear such as helmets, goggles, gloves and protective jackets, pants and shoes. These items greatly help prevent injury in the case of accidents.
- Avoid excessive speed and reckless maneuvers. UTVs have a higher center of gravity than cars, making them more prone to rollovers at high speeds.
- Take an ATV or UTV safety training course, especially for new operators. This teaches proper riding techniques, judgment and risk avoidance.
- Pay close attention to weight distribution in the cargo area and vehicle. Poor weight balance affects stability and handling. Secure loads firmly.
- Closely follow the UTV owner’s manual guidance and warning decals. Never overload the vehicle beyond its rated passenger or cargo capacities.
- When traversing rough, unfamiliar terrain, drive slowly and be cautious. Hidden ruts, stumps and rocks increase chances of rollovers.
- Avoid driving UTVs on paved roads and highways other than to cross or access trailheads. They are not designed for high speed roadway use.
- Use additional lights and beeping alerts so others on mixed use trails can see and hear you coming around corners or over hills. Avoid speeding.
- Never operate a UTV under the influence of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs. Impaired riding vastly increases the likelihood of accidents.
- Ensure tires are properly inflated with adequate tread depth. Underinflated, worn tires are more prone to sliding in loose dirt, mud, gravel and snow.
- Always fasten seat belts and doors, wear eye protection and avoid standing up during operation. This helps contain occupants in the event of a rollover.
Follow this guidance when researching and evaluating your prospective UTV purchase:
- Carefully consider how you plan to use the vehicle. More recreational trail riding or utility hauling and work? This helps determine the ideal features and capabilities you should look for.
- Compare engine sizes, towing/cargo capacities, suspension travel and components to choose a UTV matched to your typical needs. More extreme use requires greater capabilities.
- Test drive different models of UTVs from the major brands before deciding. Assess the comfort, performance, ride quality and ease of operation.
- Research the reliability reputation of the major manufacturers and common issues with specific models online. Warranty terms can also reflect expected reliability.
- For used UTVs, try to bring along someone knowledgeable to inspect condition and test performance. Look for evidence of damage or abuse. Ask about maintenance history.
- While UTVs hold their value very well, expect to pay a premium for late model, low mileage examples. Older models with more hours and wear offer big discounts.
- Calculate total cost of ownership including insurance, registration, accessories, maintenance and repairs. UTVs have higher ownership costs than typical cars.
- Buy from reputable dealers who thoroughly inspect, service and prep the UTV before purchase. Avoid “as-is” private party purchases without inspections.
- Examine costs of common accessories like windshields and roofs to understand how much customizing your UTV after purchase may cost.
UTVs deliver an unparalleled combination of utility and recreation abilities that make them incredibly appealing and versatile machines. This comprehensive 5000 word guide provided an in-depth overview of UTV features, major manufacturers, uses, accessories, maintenance requirements, safety, and key considerations when researching purchases.
While representing a sizable investment, the right UTV matched to your needs will provide many years of enjoyment, adventure and satisfying capability for both work and play. With responsible use and diligent care, your UTV will reward you with reliable performance on the trails, fields and worksites for years to come.