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What to Know Before Shopping for ATVs & UTVs

What to Know Before Shopping for ATVs & UTVs

So you’ve decided to join the rip-roaring fun of the off-roading community by purchasing your own ATV or UTV — welcome, and we hope you’re ready to get a little dirty! There are lots of reasons to want to buy a four-wheeler or side-by-side, from casual recreation, to sport competition, to using the unit on your jobsite. No matter why you want an off-road vehicle, ATV Trader is here to help you throughout the research and purchase process. But even before you jump into actively shopping, there are three early and important steps to take:

1. Build Your Wishlist

This part is always a lot of fun, because it’s all about imagining your ideal ATV and UTV experiences, whether it’s exploring the wilderness with your kids, speeding down trails with your friends, racing competitively, or even using your unit for work like forestry, ranching, surveying, or more.

Think about all the features you’d want in order to have the best adventure or to get your work done. To get started, we commonly tell new riders to ask themselves questions like: 

  • Will I ride alone or do I want to be able to take a second rider?
  • What type of terrain will I be riding through?
  • How fast do I want to go?
  • What distances do I plan on riding?
  • How much maneuverability do I want?
  • Do I want to learn how to do competitive tricks?
  • Will I be navigating through narrow or open spaces?
  • How easy-going or physically-demanding do I want the ride to be? 
  • What storage space do I want?
  • What payload capacity do I need?
  • Do I want to haul a trailer behind my unit?
  • What towing capacity do I need?
  • Do I have space to store an ATV or UTV?
  • Do I prefer one particular brand, and what do they offer?

You’ll also need to find out if there are any federal, state, or local regulations regarding off-road vehicle titling, licensing, and/or operation (check both recreational and vocational use).

2. Determine Your Budget

We’re pumped that you want to buy an ATV, but we want to make sure you’re smart about your finances too! To help you figure out your budget, you need to know more than just the sticker price — you need to factor in the total cost of ownership of the ATV or UTV. Here are three costs to keep in mind: 

  • The down-payment: Either you’re paying the entire sticker price up-front, or you’ll be putting down a certain percentage of the price as a down payment. Talk to your local dealer to get a good idea of what up-front cost you might expect.
  • Recurring expenses: After an initial down payment, you’ll have monthly payments until you cover the full cost of the off-road vehicle, plus any additional interest that may be accruing. You’ll also have recurring expenses like insurance, fuel, trail fees, and possibly storage.
  • Maintenance and repairs: These costs won’t come monthly — we hope! — but from time-to-time you’ll need to pay for preventive maintenance to keep your ATV or UTV safe and functional. And every owner gets hit with an unexpected repair at some point. Be ready for these expenses and account for them when considering your budget.

If, after factoring the total cost of ownership, your budget is starting to look a little thin, consider buying a used unit! Previously used ATVs and UTVs might have a little wear and tear, and could have a shorter working life remaining, but they’ll be much cheaper than a new unit and are often perfect for first-time buyers.

3. Choose Your Off-Road Vehicle Type

One last step before browsing real for-sale listings: choosing your off-road vehicle type. There are lots of different choices out there for recreational and working riders alike. Here’s a quick breakdown of the various off-road options:

Four-Wheelers: Four-wheelers are single-rider ATVs that are perfect for recreational fun, like riding down trails or to your deer stand. They can also be used for work, like inspecting a jobsite or herding livestock.

 Side-by-Sides: Side-by-sides (SxS) have two seats and rollover protection, or even a fully enclosed cab. Also known as utility task vehicles (UTVs), these units are primarily used for work, but can also be driven for fun.

 Sport Vehicles: Sport four-wheelers are designed for competitive riding, such as motocross, cross-country, and desert racing, as well as jump and trick competitions. You can also find sport side-by-sides.

 Youth Four-Wheelers: Youth four-wheelers are smaller recreational ATVs intended to be ridden by kids between the ages of 6 and 16, under the close supervision of an adult.

 Golf Carts: Golf carts are low-speed vehicles designed to carry two passengers and their golf clubs and other supplies. They’re also sometimes used for other professional work like groundskeeping.

 Trailers: Trailers are commonly used for transporting off-road vehicles to and from trails. However you can also find trailers that are towed by your ATV itself in order to transport supplies.

Once you have built your wishlist, determined your budget, and chosen your ideal off-road vehicle type, you’re ready to begin actually shopping for your next ATV or UTV!  For tips on comparing listings and inspecting units, you can check out our companion article about researching and buying off-road vehicles.


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Ethan Smith
Ethan Smith
is the Marketing Manager at Trader Interactive, overseeing marketing campaigns for ATV Trader, Boatline, Commercial Truck Trader, Cycle Trader, Equipment Trader, RV Trader, and more. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to marketplace buyers and sellers.

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