ATVs as we know them are a somewhat recent invention. The first ATV-like vehicles were designed in the 1960s. Among the first vehicles to be labeled as an ATV was the Jiger designed by a company called Versatrek.
The Jiger was a strange, 6-wheeled contraption that looked like a life-size version of the toy boats we played with when we were three. ATV’s did eventually start looking less ridiculous, but it took a while.
In addition to the ATV, there’s also the UTV, which can stand for Utility Task Vehicle or Utility Terrain Vehicle. The UTV came out in the 1980s and was inspired by other types of off-road vehicles.
Either vehicle can provide hours of entertainment but buying ATVs and UTVs can be confusing. However, it doesn’t have to be. We’ll offer help in the paragraphs below.
The first question we should probably answer is what is an ATV. We’ve all seen pictures of ATVs, and we know it stands for all-terrain vehicle, but what is an all-terrain vehicle? What’s stopping someone from calling their minivan and ATV and entering a Motocross event?
Three features qualify a vehicle as an ATV. The first is that it has to have straddle seating, so the minivan in our example is right out.
ATVs must also be steered with a handlebar rather than a steering wheel. Finally, they have to be able to handle multiple types of terrain. The major exception for this last rule is water, though there are amphibious ATVs.
As long as these three standards are met, the vehicle could be considered an ATV. Whether it’s a legal ATV is a different issue. We’ll talk more about that later.
UTVs are somewhat similar to ATVs, but some key differences set them apart. UTVs are larger and have more storage space. UTVs are designed this way because they’re often used in professional settings.
UTVs operate like a car, using steering wheels and gas pedals instead of handlebars. This is also a practical modification that makes the vehicle more suited for work environments. Most adults are already familiar with driving a car, so having a UTV function similarly cuts down on the learning curve.
UTVs also have more safety features than ATVs. Among these are roll protection and the addition of seatbelts. After all, most employers would prefer to avoid employee injury and the lawsuits that so often accompany it.
Finally, UTVs, often called side-by-sides, are capable of carrying passengers. This might be a good choice if you’re looking for something your family can do together.
3. The Rise and Fall of the ATC90
ATVs have a very interesting history. We’ve already talked about the Jiger, which was a precursor to the first ATV. Jigers only fit one of the criteria for modern ATVs, which is that they can steer on multiple terrains.
The first true ATVs looked almost nothing like the Jiger, nor did they resemble their modern counterparts. In 1970, Honda released the ATC90, the vehicle that would set the standard for ATVs for the next decade.
Part of the reason for the ATC90’s surge in popularity was the release of the 1971 movie Diamonds are Forever, which featured a chase scene involving the vehicle. One thing becomes abundantly clear looking back on that scene–nobody looks cool riding an ATC90.
This vehicle looked like the result of trying to supe up a big wheel. It was cartoonishly small so you looked and felt like you were riding a children’s toy.
It also had three massive wheels and no suspension. Instead, Honda fitted it with balloon tires in hopes that they would make up for the lack of suspension. They did not.
More modern-looking ATVs started overshadowing three-wheelers on the market during the 1980s. This is probably a good thing because three-wheelers are not that easy to control. They were officially banned in 1988 because they had contributed to too many deaths, particularly of children.
In 1984, there were nearly 67,000 injuries involving three-wheelers. Nearly one-third of those injured were believed to be children under 14.
4. History of UTVs
The history of UTVs begins long before the first UTV was even an idea. While ATVs were influenced by motorcycles, as their appearance reflects, UTVs have several influences.
The first influence takes us back to World War II. The first jeeps were created in 1940 for use by the armed forces. When the US entered the Second World War at the end of 1941, the production of Jeeps and other war materiel increased substantially.
The massive industrial power of the United States was one of the factors that eventually brought the Axis powers to their knees. That advantage turned into a problem after the war ended, though.
Suddenly, the army had a surplus of Jeeps and wasn’t sure what to do with them. Their solution was to turn the vehicles into surplus goods and introduce them to the public. A lot of beloved products have come to us this way, including bug spray and duct tape.
Another influence was ATVs, possibly in a few different ways. The idea of a vehicle that could travel reliably in several environments inspired many, and some of them went on to develop UTVs.
However, UTVs may have also been influenced by the negative aspects of ATVs. The dangers of driving an ATV in the 1970s may have made people realize that there was a market for a much safer off-road vehicle. Perhaps this was the reason seatbelts and roll protection were added to these new vehicles.
The final inspiration was the Dune Buggy, the common man’s do-it-yourself offroader. These cars were the result of reducing smaller vehicles to their bare minimum components, and then altering them to run on sandy terrains.
Dune buggies are fast, versatile cars, but they could be dangerous and hard to control. Part of this has to do with the fact that Dune buggies were built to drive on sand, but aren’t great in other conditions.
5. ATV vs. UTV: Which Should I Buy
If you’re in the market for an off-road vehicle, you might be wondering if you should get an ATV or a UTV. The answer tends to vary from person to person.
For instance, someone who puts safety at the top of their priority list should get a UTV. Meanwhile, those looking for a solo hobby with a bit of a thrill, the ATV is probably for you.
There’s also the question of why you’re buying the vehicle. If you need the vehicle for work, it’s best to go with a UTV. They were originally designed for professional purposes and can still be a great hobby when you’re off the clock.
The UTV is also the best option if you’re looking for a family hobby since it has multiple seats, storage space, and more safety features.
6. New or Used
We all wish we could buy something new when shopping for a new vehicle, but that’s not always practical. New vehicles are often expensive, and one of the biggest reasons we want something new is status. You could negotiate on the price, but you’ll never get it down to the price of a used vehicle.
Buying ATVs or UTVs is not the same as buying a new car. The price of a new off-road vehicle is often much lower than for a new car. You might want to find your nearest Kawasaki dealer because you could end up driving off with a new one for about $10,000.
However, there are some advantages when buying something new. For instance, since you’re the first owner, you don’t need to worry about how others treated it. You don’t have that tiny fear in the back of your mind that somebody broke something that the mechanics either couldn’t fix or couldn’t find.
You will also need to consider upkeep. A new model won’t need nearly as much of it, except in the rare case of a factory defect. That being said, what are the chances that you’ll spend enough in upkeep and repairs that it’ll surpass the cost of a new ATV or UTV?
7. Finding the Money
While ATVs and UTVs aren’t as expensive as cars, $10,000 is still quite a bit of money. If you don’t have that much money, or have it but can’t access it, some people are willing to help you out.
You can find loans for an off-road vehicle at a bank or credit union. Some people that sell ATVs and UTVs also offer loans.
Before you apply for a loan, though, it’s important to sure that you’re getting the best deal and that you can pay it back. Examine your financial situation and look around at your options before committing to anything.
8. Requirements for Driving
Once you’ve decided on a vehicle, it’s important to learn the requirements. If you already know the laws surrounding ATVs and UTVs, feel free to ignore this section.
Each state is allowed to make regulations regarding where and how an off-road vehicle can be driven. Some laws exist in most states.
Registering an off-road vehicle is necessary for most states. You also can’t use public roads in most states unless necessary.
There are also the basic laws that cover things most of us would assume are wrong but needed to be written down anyways. One example of this is that you can’t drive an off-road vehicle in any manner that endangers people, animals, nature, or property. You also can’t drive your off-road vehicle on private property without the permission of the property owner.
Naturally, some laws would be unnecessary in a world where we all had common sense. In California, it is illegal for any child under 14 years old to operate an off-road vehicle if they can’t reach the controls. It doesn’t matter if they have permission from an adult.
8. The Question of Insurance
With any major investment, it’s best to get insurance. In some states, you need insurance to legally operate an ATV or UTV.
Many companies offer ATV insurance specifically. This type of insurance covers two key issues that might occur from driving an off-road vehicle.
The first issue is bodily injury liability. This means that if anybody suffers any harm from your off-road vehicle, your insurance will pay for it. There’s also property damage liability, which covers damage done to other people’s belongings.
If you want more protection than this, you can add some optional packages that cover even more. Among these is collision insurance, which helps pay for any damage to your off-road vehicle caused by an accident.
Comprehensive is an add-on that covers most other types of damage, such as hail damage, theft, or random trees falling onto your vehicle.
There’s also a medical payment add-on that helps pay medical bills for any injury that occurs while you were on your off-road vehicle. Finally, if you were unlucky enough to crash into someone who doesn’t have that much insurance or even none at all, you can get an under-insured motorist add-on that will pay for whatever damage they can’t.
What to Know When Buying ATVs and UTVs
As with any major purchase, it’s important to put a lot of thought into buying ATVs or UTVs. We’ve talked about some things to consider in this article, but ATV laws alone could fill up entire books. We’d suggest doing even more research just to be safe.
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