You may have heard that ATVs are prone to tipping over and want to learn what can cause this type of accident and what you can do to prevent it from happening. I’m happy to tell you that just by being aware of this issue and actively seeking information about it, you are already ahead of the game.

An ATV can flip if not operated correctly due to its design with a relatively high center of gravity, short wheelbase, and narrow wheel stance. Depending on the specific riding situation, it can flip backward, forward, or to either side.

Flipping is one of the leading causes of ATV accidents worldwide. Beginners typically flip due to inexperience and not knowing how to operate an ATV properly. More experienced riders may get a bit too confident, causing them to take chances, punching their bike to the verge of what it can handle before it flips. 

This post covers some of the most common causes why an ATV may flip and how to operate the bike in a way that minimizes the risk of flipping. 

An ATV Is More Prone for Tipping Than Other Off-Road Vehicles

The way ATVs are designed and built makes them somewhat more prone to tipping over than other off-road vehicles such as jeeps and UTVs. 

An ATV has a relatively narrow wheel stance of about 45 to 50 inches to fit between trees in the woods and through narrow trail gates. It also has a relatively short wheelbase to remain agile and maneuverable. This compact vehicle design makes an ATV less stable than vehicles with a longer wheelbase and a wider wheel stance. 

Furthermore, you sit on top of the ATV in a straddled seating position, whereas on a car, Jeep, or UTV, you sit in a seat placed down inside the vehicle. Any cargo is placed on top of the vehicle on front and rear cargo racks. With the weight of the rider, any passengers, and cargo placed on top, the center of gravity shifts upwards, making the vehicle more top-heavy. 

The vehicle geometry combined with a higher center of gravity makes for a vehicle that requires more from the rider in terms of skills and experience to prevent flipping. While not entirely the same, riding an ATV is more like riding a motorcycle than riding a car regarding rider input and how it affects vehicle stability. 

When discussing some of the most common causes for flipping an ATV, it is crucial to keep in mind that it’s usually a combination of the rider not understanding, or exceeding, the fundamental driving characteristics and limitations this type of vehicle has. 

What Causes an ATV to Flip and How to Avoid It

Here is a list of some of the most common riding scenarios where an ATV might flip if not operated properly. 

PS: The tips and general guidelines presented in this post do not replace proper training and adequate riding experience. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, and make sure to read your specific ATVs user manual as it contains tips and advice specific to your vehicle. 

1. When Turning Sharply at Excessive Speeds

Moving objects tend to want to continue in a straight line. When you turn your ATV at speed to change direction, you generate momentum outwards in the opposite direction of where you are turning. 

As speed increases, so does the momentum and the likelihood of flipping the ATV. A sharp turn increases the momentum and flipping hazard further. 

One way to better understand how this happens is by imagining yourself pushing sideways at the top of a glass of water, gradually increasing the pressure until the glass eventually tips over. 

The glass here represents your ATV, while the force of your finger pushing on the glass brim represents the outwards momentum generated from cornering the ATV at speed. The glass will remain level until the pressure from your finger reaches a certain point where gravity can no longer keep the glass from flipping.

How Not to Flip an ATV When Cornering:

  • Do not make sharp turns at excessive speeds.
  • Practice making turns at slow speeds until you get a feel of how the ATV behaves before increasing the speed gradually, remaining within your comfort level.

2. When Driving Up Steep Hills

The relatively short wheelbase and relatively high center of gravity of an ATV make it prone to tipping over backward or even sideways if you go up a hill that is too steep. Manufacturers typically don’t recommend ascending hills that are steeper than about 15°. 

Several incidents may cause an ATV to flip when going up a steep hill:

  • When going up hills that are steeper than the ATVs rated limit.
  • When applying more throttle to accelerate or maintain speed halfway up the hill, causing the ATV to wheelie and flip backward.
  • The rear wheels suddenly regain traction in a wheel-spin on a slippery hill, causing the front wheels to lift off the ground, initiating a flip.
  • When hitting an object like a rock or a branch, causing the front wheels to lift off the ground so that the ATV flips backward.
  • When hitting an object or losing traction due to a slippery surface, causing the ATV to shift to either side, flipping sideways, and may roll downhill. 

How Not to Flip an ATV When Going Up a Hill:

  • Avoid hills that are steeper than 15° incline.
  • Plan ahead and scout a route straight up the hill, where there are no obstacles such as roots, stumps, or rocks
  • Always drive in 4×4 (if available) when ascending a hill.
  • Avoid hills with slippery or loose surfaces such as wet rocks, loose gravel, or piles of leaves.
  • Keep both feet on the footrests with both hands with a firm grip on the handlebars.
  • Sit or stand with your body weight shifted forward (uphill). The same applies to the passenger if you’re riding a 2-up model.
  • Accelerate to your desired speed before reaching the bottom of the hill and continue all the way up at a steady rate. 
  • Do not open the throttle suddenly to accelerate or change gears mid-hill. 
  • Let off the throttle gradually as you approach the top of the hill, so you don’t go over the top at high speed. 
  • In an emergency where flipping cannot be avoided, you may need to quickly dismount the ATV to either side, preferable in the opposite direction to where the ATV flips. 

How Not to Flip if You Lose All Forward Speed or Begin to Roll Downhill:

  • Keep leaning forward (uphill). The same applies to the passenger if you’re riding a 2-up model.
  • Gradually apply the brakes until a complete stop.
  • Apply the parking brakes.
  • Dismount the ATV on the uphill side, depending on the vehicle’s orientation in relation to the hill. If riding with a passenger, the passenger should dismount the vehicle before the rider. 
  • Do not attempt to back down the hill. 
  • One option to recover the ATV is performing what is known as a K-turn if that’s a procedure you’re familiar with and have practiced. 
  • Another option is to find a solid anchoring point to attach your winch (if available) and use it to descend or ascend the hill at a controlled pace.

3. When Driving on a Sidehill (Sidehilling)

Sidehilling is when you ride across the side of a hill. If you ride on a sidehill that is too steep, the ATV may flip on its side (downhill) with little to no warning in advance. If possible, avoid crossing the side of a hill altogether.  If crossing a sidehill is unavoidable, apply these precautions:

How Not to Flip an ATV When Driving on a Sidehill:

  • Never attempt crossing a hill that is too steep for your comfort level and previous riding experience.
  • If riding with a passenger, have the passenger dismount the ATV before crossing the hill with only the rider onboard. The passenger should walk across the hill.
  • Avoid hills with slippery or loose surfaces such as wet rocks, loose gravel, or piles of leaves. 
  • Keep both feet on the footrests with both hands with a firm grip on the handlebars.
  • Sit or stand with your body weight shifted to the side (uphill).
  • Drive across the entire length of the hill at a slow and steady pace.
  • If the ATV begins to tip to the side, you have two main options:
    • If the hill and the terrain below it allow it, instantly turn the wheels downhill and drive down the hill at a controlled pace. When performed correctly and before the ATV tips too far to the side, this maneuver will balance the weight back to the center of the ATV.
    • If the above maneuver is not possible or you’ve not practiced it in advance on level ground, you need to dismount the ATV on the uphill side as soon as you feel the ATV begins to tip to the side. 

4. When Driving Down a Steep Hill

Just as with driving up hills, most manufacturers recommend not driving down hills that are steeper than about 15°. Going down hills that are too steep will cause the ATV to flip forward (downhill).

How Not to Flip an ATV When Going Down a Hill:

  • Avoid hills that are steeper than 15° decline.
  • Always drive in 4×4 (if available) when descending a hill.
  • If your ATV has a system like the Polaris ADC (Active Descend Control) or similar, you should switch it on.
  • Avoid hills with slippery or loose surfaces such as wet rocks, loose gravel, or piles of leaves.
  • Keep both feet on the footrests with both hands with a firm grip on the handlebars.
  • Sit or stand with your body weight shifted backward (uphill). The same applies to the passenger if you’re riding a 2-up model.
  • Drive straight down the hill at a slow and steady pace. 
  • Use a combination of engine braking and lightly applying the brakes to avoid picking up speed. An active descend system will do this job for you but always practice in advance on a less steep hill to get a feel of how the system works and how the ATV behaves. In any case, you should be ready to apply brakes if necessary. 
  • Do not descend the hill at an angle, as this may cause the ATV to flip to the side.

5. When Driving With a Passenger

Driving with a passenger adds more weight on top of the ATV, which raises the center of gravity and effectively increases the risk of flipping the vehicle in almost any riding situation. 

You, as the operator, need to keep in mind that the added weight of a passenger may leave you unable to ride places in terrains that you may handle when riding alone. 

How Not to Flip an ATV When Riding With a Passenger:

  • Understand that the added weight of a passenger leaves the ATV more top-heavy.
  • Never ride with a passenger on a 1-up model. Dedicated 2-up models, typically referred to as touring ATVs, are designed with a longer wheelbase, stiffer suspension, and an extra seat with dedicated passenger handles to keep you and the passenger safe and comfortable.
  • Riding with a passenger requires experience, both as a rider and a passenger. 
    • Make sure you as a rider have at least a couple of hours of previous riding experience before allowing a passenger. 
    • The passenger needs to understand how shifting its bodyweight correctly in various situations is crucial for keeping the vehicle stable and preventing tipping over.
    • When riding with an inexperienced passenger, ride at slow speeds on level grounds without making any sharp corners before the passenger understands how to utilize its body weight to keep the vehicle stable. 

Related: This is why ATVs have Large Seats (Hint: Not for Passengers)

6. When Riding in Rough Terrain

While long-travel suspension designed for bumpy terrains is one of the characteristic features of ATVs, it does have its limitations. 

When riding in particularly bumpy and uneven terrain, crossing a ditch or a hole in the ground, the ATV may flip if a wheel falls in.

Preventing this from happening requires riding experience and being alert, paying attention to the terrain ahead. 

7. Poor Cargo-Weight Distribution or Overloading

Many ATVs have front and rear cargo racks to bring your cargo. But if you don’t distribute the weight correctly, the bike may become unstable and more likely to tip when cornering or going up and down hills. 

A common error is placing all cargo at the rear racks with no weight at the front. This may cause the ATV to wheelie and tipping backward when going up hills or from hard acceleration. 

How Not to Flip an ATV Due to Poor Cargo Weight Distribution or Overload:

  • Dispense any cargo according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. The typical weight distribution on ATVs is 33/66, meaning the weight on the front rack should be about half of what you have on the rear. This ratio may vary tho, depending on brand and model.
  • Do not exceed your ATVs rated cargo capacity. It is better to go two turns or bring a trailer.

Related: How Much Weight Can an ATV Carry? (Cargo and Rider)

8. From Uncontrolled Acceleration on a Grippy Surface

Applying full throttle on a grippy surface such as asphalt or concrete may cause even medium-powered ATVs to wheelie and flip over backward.

This type of accident typically happens when inexperienced riders underestimate the power and acceleration of ATVs. 

How Not to Flip an ATV From Uncontrolled Acceleration:

  • As an ATV owner, make sure not to lend your ATV to someone with no previous riding experience without proper guidance and training.
  • Use the learning key offered with some ATV models limiting acceleration and top speed if available. 

9. When Loading the ATV on a Truckbed

You’ve probably seen several videos online of failed attempts at loading an ATV onto a truck bed. 

How Not to Flip an ATV When Loading It Onto a Truckbed:

  • Use a set of quality loading ramps with the proper weight rating.
  • Make sure the ramps are stable and won’t slide in any direction.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Maintain a slow and steady speed as you drive up the ramps. Do not accelerate halfway.
  • As soon as you feel you don’t have enough speed to make it, it is better to abort, go back down at a controlled pace, and try once more at a slightly higher speed.

Related: 10 Effective Tips to Prevent ATV Accidents

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I'm an ATV and offroad-enthusiast, an engineer, a farmer, and an avid home-mechanic. I'm also the owner and editor of BoostATV.com. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this article, please feel free to contact me.