Safe and effective ATV operation requires skills that are different from driving most other vehicles. But with some practice, most people can learn how to ride. Out of all ATV types, automatic ATVs are considered the easiest to operate and the best alternative for a beginner.
This quick and simple guide covers the basics of preparing, starting, and operating an automatic ATV.
What Are the Benefits of Riding an Automatic ATV?
ATVs Come in three main transmission configurations:
Each category has minor variations between different makes and models.
Unlike manual ATVs, automatic ATVs feature a transmission that shifts gears automatically, making them easier for beginners and more convenient for experienced riders.
ATV riding in rugged terrain requires your complete focus on vehicle handling, and it can be beneficial not having to deal with shifting gears.
Most Automatic ATVs use a CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission) due to advantages such as tunability, ease of use, simplicity, and performance advantages.
Honda is the only brand that still has not gone the CVT route and offers a range of clutch-based transmissions that operate slightly differently from CVT transmissions.
Please refer to this post to learn more about different types of automatic transmissions.
Preparing to Ride
Before you begin riding for the first time, there are a few things you should consider
- ATV safety training. ATV riding can be dangerous, and it’s essential for your safety that you receive the proper training before you ride. This guide does not replace an ATV safety training course or guidance from an experienced rider. Also, read the owner’s manual, which includes many useful tips on safe and effective riding.
- Wear proper safety gear. Never ride an ATV without the appropriate safety gear. At a minimum, you should wear a helmet suitable for ATV riding, goggles, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and over-the-ankle boots. Consider wearing a chest protector and knee and hip pads pants for improved safety.
- Pre-ride vehicle inspection. To ensure your ATV is in good condition and ready to go, you should perform a quick check each time you ride. I recommend keeping this pre-ride checklist at hand to ensure you don’t miss a critical part.
How to Start an Automatic ATV
Starting an automatic ATV is relatively straightforward, but modern ATVs have a few safety features to help prevent accidental starting.
Before starting an ATV, you should sit in the riding position on top of the bike.
Activate the Parking Brake
Inside the brake lever, a small safety switch ensures the ATV can only start when the brakes are on.
Turn on the Fuel Valve and Ignition Switch
If your ATV has a fuel valve, usually located at the bottom of the fuel tank, ensure it’s in the ON or position.
Turn the ignition switch to ON or RUN to activate the ignition system.
Ensure the Gear Shifter Is in Park or Neutral
Most automatic ATVs have a gear shifter lever that needs to be in Neutral (N) or Park (P) for the vehicle to start.
If you struggle to get the shifter to move, try shifting your weight back and forth to wiggle the ATV while maintaining pressure on the lever.
Put the Engine Stop Switch in the Run or on Position
Typically located on the left-hand side of the handlebars, you’ll find an emergency kill switch that needs to be in the ON or RUN position for the engine to start.
Use the Choke When The Engine Is Cold
Most modern ATVs have an automatic choke, but if your ATV has a manual choke, turning it on helps the ATV start in cold weather. Look for a lever at the handlebar or near the carburetor.
With the choke on, activate the electric starter to start the engine.
On some ATVs, you activate the starter by turning the ignition switch to the “START position, while others have a separate push-starter button.
Do not activate the starter for more than 5 seconds at a time.
After the ATV has started, allow the engine to warm up before revving or hard pulling.
To make remembering proper ATV starting techniques easier, I recommend learning the BONE-C checklist: Brakes, On, Neutral, Engine and Choke.
You can learn more about how to start an ATV in our complete ATV starting guide.
Automatic ATV Basic Driving Procedure
Now that you have the proper riding gear and know how to perform a pre-ride inspection, it is time to begin riding the ATV.
- Seating position. Sit upright with your feet on the footrests and both hands on the handlebars.
- Start the engine. Allow the engine to warm up.
- Apply the Brakes. With your left hand, apply the brakes to ensure the vehicle does not begin moving until you are ready.
- Shift transmission into gear. With your right hand, shift the gear shifter from park (P) or neutral (N) into gear: low range (L), high range (H), or reverse (R), depending on your choice.
- Check your surroundings. Always ensure your path of travel is free and safe before moving.
- Release the brakes. When starting off on a slope, the ATV will begin moving downhill.
- Gently apply the throttle to drive. The throttle is located on the right-hand side of the handlebars. Slowly squeeze the thumb throttle until the engine speeds up and the ATV begins moving. Press the throttle against the handlebars to increase speed and release it to slow down.
- Use the handlebars to steer. Pull the right-hand side of the handlebars towards you to steer to the right or the left-hand side to go to the left.
- Apply the brakes to stop. Apply the brakes and release the throttle until the ATV has completely stopped.
- Shift transmission into park. When the ATV has stopped moving, you may move the gear lever into park.
- Apply the parking brake. Squeeze the brake lever against the handlebars and apply the parking brake lock. Using the parking brake reduces the strain on the transmission and makes it easier to shift into gear the next time you ride.
- Stop the engine. Turn the ignition switch to the OFF position to stop the engine.
When to Use the Different Gears of an Automatic ATV
Youth ATVs with an automatic transmission typically have these gears to choose from:
- Forward (F). Use this gear any time you want to ride forward.
- Neutral (N). When in neutral, the gearbox is disengaged, and the ATV will only rev up if you apply throttle. The neutral gear does not prevent the wheels from turning. Use the parking brake when stopping the ATV.
- Reverse (R). Use this gear when you want to back up. Not all youth ATVs come with a reverse.
Full-size automatic ATVs typically have a larger range of gears to choose from:
- Park (P). It locks the transmission and prevents the wheels from turning. Never attempt to out the ATV into (P) when the wheels are moving.
- Reverse (R). Allow you to reverse the ATV. Most ATVs have a reverse speed limiter as a safety feature.
- Neutral (N). Use this gear for short stops while riding or pushing the ATV inside your garage.
- Low gear range (L). Use this gear when operating at low speeds (below 7 mph), towing heavy loads, or driving in rough terrain.
- High gear range (H). Use this gear when riding at speeds greater than 7 mph.
Basic ATV Riding Techniques
Acceleration. Always practice slow and controlled throttle operation. Pressing the throttle too fast can cause the ATV to flip or accelerate out of control.
Braking. Apply the brake lever on the left handlebar or foot brake on the right footrest to slow down or stop the ATV.
On most ATVs, booth levers operate both front and rear wheels, but on some models, the foot lever might only work the rear wheel brakes. Learning how the brakes operate is crucial because over 90% of the ATVs stopping power is in the front wheel brakes.
Shifting Gears. Always ensure your automatic ATV is not moving when shifting gears, or you might damage the transmission internals.
Occasionally, you might struggle to get the ATV in or out of gear. This happens because the gears are under tension. When this happens, do not apply excessive force to the gear shifter, which might cause it to break. Use your body weight to back and forth the ATV until the shifter moves in or out of gear.
Preventing the ATV from flipping. Many ATV accidents happen because the rider doesn’t know how to use their body weight to maintain vehicle stability.
- When cornering to the left, shift your body weight over to the left side of the ATV.
- When cornering to the right, move your body weight over to the right side of the ATV.
- When accelerating or riding up a hill, learn or shift your body weight towards the handlebars.
- When driving down a hill, lean or shift your body weight to the back.
- When riding across a slope, shift your body weight to the uphill side of the ATV.
Please refer to this guide to learn more about how the different ATV controls operate.
The Bottom Line
While the basic controls of an automatic ATV are relatively simple to learn, I highly encourage you to practice at level grounds and slow speeds before attempting more difficult trails or terrain.
Doing starts, stops, and riding in circles on a level field is one thing, but maintaining control of the vehicle at speed or in rough terrain requires practice and experience.
Begin by learning basic safe ATV operation, and gradually increase the difficulty level as you get more comfortable and gain more riding experience.
Do I Need to Shift Gears on an Automatic ATV?
You do not need to shift gears on an automatic ATV. The transmission automatically adjusts to the terrain and speed. Attempting to shift gears in speed on an automatic ATV may damage the transmission.
How Do I Control the Speed of an Automatic ATV?
The speed of an automatic ATV is controlled by a throttle lever on the right handlebar. Select the low gear range while riding below 7 mph and the high gear range when riding faster than 7 mph. Squeeze the throttle to accelerate and release it to slow down.