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.
If you’re wondering how much cargo an ATV can carry, you can find the answer in this post.
How much can different ATV brands and models tow?
To create this post, I’ve collected the official data on rated towing capacity for the most popular utility and recreational ATVs on the market. The numbers I collected vary quite a bit.
If being able to pull heavy cargo is essential, you need to make sure you get the right machine.
Can-Am is currently the manufacturer that offers ATVs that has 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 that has 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 does not always correlate. You can’t know for sure how much an ATV can pull, judging only by its engine size.
• Many brands offer a range of engine sizes that all have the same towing capacity rating.
The listed ratings are for rolling cargo only
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 will 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 full weight of the load is being placed on wheels and the ATV trailer 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 the majority 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.
If you use a logging arch, you will be able to pull quite a bit heavier logs than if you’re 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 that may be of interest.
Why do many brands have bikes with different engine size, but still has the same rated towing capacity?
To answer this question, we need to look at what factors actually determine how much an ATV safely can 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 weight of the engine matter more to the towing capacity than its horsepower.
How much does ATV weight and traction matter?
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 solely rely on the bike itself to brake the trailer, as most ATV trailers do not have brakes of their own.
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 helps to stop the trailer and its load, often even better than what the brakes on the car can do.
How do 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 has the same strength on the same size engine ATVs.
The same goes for the bikes frame construction and suspension. These components are not necessarily designed and built in the same way on a sports ATV as they are 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 talked about how the actual towing capacity decreases if you pull the cargo on the ground, or if you drag a trailer through the mud.
Hauling cargo downhill
Another critical aspect to consider is how much weight you safely can 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 not sure how much weight you can manage, start with a small load and increase in steps. As soon as you feel any sign of the wheels slipping, you have found your limit. 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 really pushing the limit of what my ATV bike could safely manage. 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 decide to attempt a steep hill, you need to be confident that you will make your way to the top in 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, you should start with small loads and moderate hills first until you get a feel of your bike’s limits.
If you cannot reduce the weight of your load, consider using your winch to maintain the control of the incline.
In the photo below, I was helping a forest owner haul a heavy tin roof for a remote logging cabin. When I was approaching the hill, I grew a bit too brave and tried going up without any assistance.
On the second attempt, I used the winch and was able to pull myself up the hill with no issues.
Lesson learned. I should have used the winch on the first attempt.
Keeping control on inclines or declines is just one of the many ways you can utilize your ATV winch. Here are 28 more ideas on how you can get the most out of your winch.
It’s crucial to understand that the surface you’re driving on is significant for how much weight you can tow up or down a hill.
On dry gravel, you can tow a lot more than you can on wet mud and rocks. On snow and ice, you need tire chains to be able to haul any amount of cargo safely.
Even when using chains, towing cargo on ice is not something beginners should get themselves into.
How much can a 500cc ATV tow? ATVs in the 500cc range (450 cc- 570cc) can tow about 1130 lb (512 kg) on average. Honda has the only true 500cc ATV, and it can tow 848 lb (385kg).