Can an ATV Flip? Common Causes and How to Avoid It

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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 overly confident, causing them to take chances, punching their bike to the verge of what it can handle before it flips. 

This article explains the typical reasons why an ATV might flip over. It also provides guidance on how to ride your ATV safely to reduce the chance of it flipping.

Related: Safety Tips: 17 Things Not to Do With an ATV

ATVs Are More Prone to Tipping

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. 

Additionally, the seating position on an ATV involves straddling the top of the vehicle, unlike sitting inside a seat in a car, Jeep, or UTV, where you are seated lower and enclosed within the vehicle. And any cargo is placed on top of the vehicle on front and rear cargo racks.

With the weight of the rider, 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 remember that it’s usually a combination of the rider not understanding or exceeding the fundamental driving characteristics and limitations of this type of vehicle. 

What Causes an ATV to Flip and How to Avoid It

Here is a list of common riding scenarios where an ATV might flip if improperly operated. 

PS: The tips and guidelines in this post do not replace proper training and adequate riding experience. Please don’t take any unnecessary risks, and read your specific ATV’s user manual, as it contains tips and advice specific to your vehicle. 

1. When Turning Sharply at Excessive Speeds

ATV high speed cornering

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

ATV up hill

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

Multiple factors can lead to an ATV flipping over while ascending a steep hill:

  • When going up hills that are steeper than the ATV’s 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, flip sideways, and may roll downhill. 

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

  • Avoid hills that are steeper than a 15° incline.
  • Plan ahead and scout a route straight up the hill without 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 up to the top at a steady pace. 
  • 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, preferably 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 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)

ATV sidehill

Sidehilling is when you ride across the side of a hill. If you ride on a too steep sidehill, 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 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 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

ATV down hill

Like driving up hills, most manufacturers recommend not driving down hills steeper than about 15°. Going down too steep hills 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 apply 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.

5. When Driving With a Passenger

Riding with a passenger on an ATV increases the vehicle’s weight and raises its center of gravity. This heightened center of gravity makes the ATV more prone to flipping in various riding situations.

As the operator, you need to keep in mind that the added weight of a passenger may leave you unable to ride places on 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 as a rider and a passenger.
    • Ensure you have at least a few hours of riding experience before allowing a passenger. 
    • The passenger must understand how shifting their body weight 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 ground without making any sharp corners before the passenger understands how to utilize their 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

Although ATVs are known for their long-travel suspension, which is ideal for rough terrains, this feature 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, being alert, and 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 typical error is placing all cargo at the rear racks with no weight at the front. This may cause the ATV to wheelie and tip 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 ATV’s 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 without 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.
  • If you sense that you’re lacking the necessary speed to complete a climb, it’s safer to stop, descend carefully, and then attempt the climb again with a slightly increased speed.

The Bottom Line

This article highlights that the distinctive design of ATVs, including a high center of gravity, makes them prone to flipping in situations like sharp turns and steep ascents.

By learning about these risks and following the safe riding practices outlined, you can greatly decrease the likelihood of ATV accidents.

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

Welcome to Boost ATV

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