ATVs are great for pulling heavy cargo out to places where you do not have proper access by road. You’ll find that each ATV model has a rated towing capacity, but you must also know that those numbers only apply under ideal towing conditions.
So how much can ATVs tow? Full-size ATVs can tow from 500 lb to 1650 lb (227 kg to 750 kg) with an average of about 1200 lb (544 kg). The rated towing capacity is for rolling cargo only. When towing in wet mud or up and down hills, you may tow significantly less than the rating suggests.
You can find the answer in this post if you’re wondering how much cargo an ATV can carry.
Towing Capacity of Different ATV Brands and Models
To create this post, I’ve collected the official data on rated towing capacity for the most popular utility and recreational ATVs.
ATVs’ towing capacity varies quite a bit, so if pulling heavy cargo is essential, you must choose a suitable model.
Can-Am is currently the manufacturer offering ATVs with the highest towing capacity rating. Their larger Outlander models may tow as much as 1650 lb. Polaris comes in a close second, with their Sportsman with a rated hitch towing capacity of 1500 lb.
To better visualize the variations between brands and models, I made this simple comparison chart:
From this data, we can make a few interesting observations:
• Engine size and rated towing capacity do not always correlate. You can’t know how much an ATV can pull, judging only by its engine size.
• Many brands offer a range of engine sizes with the same towing capacity rating.
The Listed Ratings Are for Rolling Cargo
An ATVs rated towing capacity tells you how much rolling cargo weight you can safely pull behind it, connected to its trailer hitch. The combined weight of the trailer and all of the cargo should never exceed this number.
Exceeding the rated towing capacity may damage the frame, suspension and increase the risk of an accident.
By rolling cargo, we mean ATV cargo trailers, logging trailers, wheeled utility tools, or any other trailer where the entire weight is placed on the trailer wheels and the ATV hitch.
The cargo should not be dragging, and the wheels should be rolling freely on a hard, smooth surface such as gravel or hard dirt.
Since most of the weight will be resting on the trailer wheels, the rated towing capacity of an ATV is usually a lot higher than its payload capacity. More about payload capacity in this post.
It’s important to remember that you cannot use the listed towing capacities to determine how much non-wheeled weight you can pull. It all comes down to friction between the cargo and the ground.
For example, it is much harder to pull a 1000 lb log when you pull it behind the ATV with a rope rather than towing it on a logging trailer.
It’s also much harder to pull a wheeled cargo over softer grounds such as wet mud than over hard surfaces where the wheels do not sink in as much.
Using a logging arch, you can pull quite a bit heavier logs than dragging them on the ground. But some of the weight of the log will still be placed on the ground, creating friction. This friction will reduce the overall towing capacity.
Logging arches are my favorite logging equipment for ATVs. I’ve included them in this list among 23 other cool logging gear.
Why do many brands have bikes with different engine size but still has the same rated towing capacity?
To answer this question, we must look at what factors determine how much an ATV can safely tow.
How Much Does Engine Size Matter for Towing Capacity?
Engine size does matter, but probably not as much as you think.
Most ATVs have enough engine power to pull almost any cargo — the engine’s weight contributes more to the towing capacity than its horsepower.
How Important is ATV Weight and Traction for Towing?
With a heavier ATV, you get better traction. And with better traction, you can pull heavier loads safely.
The weight and traction aspect is particularly crucial with ATVs, where you rely solely on the vehicle to brake the trailer, as most ATV trailers do not have brakes.
The lack of brakes on an ATV trailer is an essential difference that separates them from car trailers.
Car trailers over a specific capacity are required by law to have brakes. The trailer brakes help stop the trailer and its load, often even better than what the car’s brakes can do.
How the Frame, Hitch, and Suspension Affect Towing Capacity
The hitch needs to be strong enough to withstand the load being hauled. There is no guarantee that the hitch will have the same strength across ATVs with the same size engine.
The same goes for the bike’s frame construction and suspension. These components are not necessarily designed and built the same way on a sports ATV as on a utility machine.
Just have a look at the stats provided in this post. The 1000cc Outlander is rated for pulling much more than what the 1000cc Renegade can tow. Both bikes are from Can-Am, and both have 1000cc engines.
Can You Tow the Rated Towing Capacity Anywhere?
No, you can not. Once again, it’s essential to know that the listed numbers are recommendations for towing in optimal situations.
We have already discussed how the actual towing capacity decreases if you pull the cargo on the ground or drag a trailer through the mud.
Hauling Cargo Downhill
Another critical aspect is how much weight you can safely hold back when driving downhills. 1650 lb is a lot. Most ATVs weigh nowhere near as much and won’t be able to hold back such a heavy load down a steep hill.
The brakes on the bike are usually strong enough for shorter declines, but the wheels will likely not have enough traction. Most ATV trailers do not have brakes; only a few logging trailers doo.
Anyone that has experienced the feeling of a massive cargo pushing you down a hill will agree that it is not very pleasant.
If you are unsure how much weight you can manage, start with a small load and increase in small incremental steps. You have found your limit as soon as you feel any sign of the wheels slipping. Step down to a lighter load on the next haul.
To give you an example, I’ve included a photo of a small log cabin I helped haul in pieces.
This amount of wood was pushing the limit of what my ATV could safely handle. I could feel the back end of the ATV wanting to slide when going downhill.
Hauling Cargo Uphill
It’s not only when hauling downhill where things can go – downhill.
4X4 ATVs have a lot of traction. In fact, you have more traction when you’re moving forward than what the ATV can hold back when standing still on a slope.
This means that if you attempt a steep hill, you must be confident that you will make your way to the top on your first attempt.
If you lose traction halfway, there is a chance you will start sliding backward as soon as you stop. Things will go downhill, and it will go downhill fast.
Once again, it would be best to start with small loads and moderate hills first until you get a feel of your vehicle’s limits.
If you cannot reduce your load’s weight, consider using your winch to maintain control of the incline.
In the photo below, I was helping a forest owner haul a heavy tin roof to a remote logging cabin. As I approached the hill, I became too brave and tried to ascend without assistance.
I lost traction only a few feet from the top before starting to slide back down again. Luckily I managed to stop before anything terrible happened. But it was a close call.
On the second attempt, I used the winch and could pull myself up the hill without issues.
Lesson learned. I should have used the winch on the first attempt.
Maintaining control in inclines or declines is one of the many ways you can utilize your ATV winch. Here are 28 more ideas on getting the most out of your winch.
Understanding that the surface you’re driving on is significant for how much weight you can tow up or down a hill is crucial.
On dry gravel, you can tow much more than on wet mud and rocks. On snow and ice, you need tire chains to haul any cargo safely.
Even when using chains, towing cargo on ice is not something beginners should attempt.
What is ATV towing capacity?
ATV towing capacity is the maximum weight that an ATV can safely tow behind it, including the weight of the trailer and its cargo.
Why is the rated towing capacity different from the actual towing capacity?
Rated towing capacity is determined under ideal conditions. Actual capacity can decrease due to factors like terrain, weather, or ATV condition.
Does the engine size of an ATV affect its towing capacity?
Engine size can influence towing capacity, but it’s just one factor. ATV weight, traction, and hitch strength are also important.
How much can a 500cc ATV tow? On average, ATVs in the 500cc range (450 cc- 570cc) can tow about 1130 lb (512 kg). Honda has the only actual 500cc ATV, which can tow 848 lb (385kg).
In conclusion, understanding the towing capacity of your ATV is fundamental for both the efficient operation and the safety of your vehicle.
This capacity can vary widely between different models and brands and is greatly influenced by factors like ATV weight, traction, engine size, frame strength, hitch, and suspension.
Always remember that the listed towing capacities are designed for ideal conditions and can significantly decrease under challenging terrains or unfavorable weather.