An ATV is designed with a unique combination of specific features to provide performance and capabilities unlike any other type of vehicle. In this post, we’ll provide an overview of what features you’ll typically find on an ATV.
Some of them are characteristic features that, when combined, define what type of vehicle an ATV is. At the same time, other specialized features are offered by various ATV manufacturers to enhance your riding experience further.
What Features Do All ATVs Have in Common?
What basic features should a vehicle possess for it to be defined as an ATV?
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has provided the following definition:
An ATV (all-terrain vehicle) is “a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires, having a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.”
This definition alone can tell us quite a bit about what features you should expect to find on an ATV:
All ATVs have features such as an engine for vehicle movement, four low-pressure tires for off-road capabilities, a seat designed to be straddled by the operator, and handlebars for steering.
We’ll refer to the ANSI definition as we go through each basic feature in detail below.
Other features we’ll cover are features that have grown to become the norm as ATVs have developed over the years due to ever-increasing demands regarding safety, performance, ride comfort, and user-friendliness.
The Most Typical ATV Features Explained
According to the definition, an ATV should be motorized. This basic feature leaves out any vehicle that cannot move forward without rider efforts, such as pedaling on a bicycle or paddling in a canoe, for that matter.
The majority of ATVs rely on a two-two stroke or four-stroke gasoline engine for vehicle movement. A very few ATVs with diesel engines have been made, but diesel engines are more common in utility UTVs.
Electric ATVs for adults are not yet readily available with the major brands, but some smaller companies like DRR USA already offer fully electric ATVs to purchase. Electric ATVs for small children have existed for a couple of decades already.
Four Low-Pressure Tires
According to the current version of the definition of an ATV, it needs to have four Low-Pressure Tiresor Non-Pneumatic (Airless) tires. Earlier ATVs came with only three tires, but they eventually got banned due to poor stability with a high risk of flipping.
The tires are kept at low pressure for better buoyancy on softer grounds and usually come with an aggressive tread pattern for optimal off-road abilities.
Car tires and the tires on any other on-road vehicle are typically kept at a higher pressure than ATV tires for better mileage, better high-speed performance, and reduced wear.
UTVs find themselves somewhere in between a car and an ATV. They are not as commonly used in wet mud as an ATV and often ridden at higher speeds on more firm surfaces like gravel trails and desert ground. They are also used in rock-climbing, where a low-pressure tire would be more prone to punctures.
UTVs also use four tires, but they are typically kept at higher air pressure and have a somewhat less aggressive thread pattern than ATV tires.
Did you notice most ATVs have smaller front tires? Here is why.
Straddle Seat With No Seatbelt
According to the definition, an ATV should have a Seat Designed to Be Straddled by the operator.
A straddled seat design allows the rider to move freely from side to side and back to forth while riding off-road.
Due to the lack of a protective cabin or roll cage, ATV seats do not feature seat belts as you will find on a car or UTV. When a vehicle with a protected cabin flips, the driver and passengers are less likely to suffer an injury if they remain seated within the cabin.
However, when a vehicle with an open cabin like an ATV or motorcycle flips, the vehicle does not offer any protection. The rider and any passengers are likely better off being thrown away from the vehicle reducing the risk of getting hit by the vehicle.
An ATV should have handlebars for steering input. According to the ANSI definition, it is not an ATV if it has a steering wheel like a car or UTV or joysticks like a trail grooming machine.
Handlebars have been shown as the most practical mechanism of steering a vehicle like an ATV or motorcycle where the rider needs to shift its weight while riding.
A motorcycle, however, has, as you know, only two wheels, so the straddle seat and handlebars alone are not enough to make it an ATV.
Now we’re advancing into features typically found on most ATVs but are not mandatory regarding the official definition.
All ATVs come with a handlebar-mounted thumb lever for throttle control like the one you’ll find on a snowmobile. It does not have a foot pedal like a car or UTV, and it does not have a twist throttle as you would find on a motorcycle.
While it is possible to install a twist throttle on an ATV, it is not recommended for most riders. The main reason why ATVs come with a thumb throttle is that it has shown to be the most practical and safe alternative on a direct steering vehicle where the rider may need to shift its weight due to difficult end unpredictable terrain.
If you want to know more about why ATVs come with a thumb throttle, I recommend checking out this post.
Seating Capacity for One or Two People
ATVs are subdivided into two types as designated by the manufacturer:
- Type I ATVs are intended by the manufacturer for use by a single operator and no passenger.
- Type II ATVs are intended by the manufacturer for use by an operator and a passenger. They are equipped with a designated seating position behind the operator.
Riding with a passenger on a Type I ATV is a common cause of ATV accidents. The additional weight will make the ATV less stable and more likely to flip during hard acceleration or riding up a hill. All ATVs should have warning stickers indicating whether you can bring a passenger or not. Refer to the user manual or ask the dealer if you are not sure.
ATVs come with relatively large seats, even on models that are intended for only one person. Some believe the large seat is to make room for a passenger, but that is not the case.
Check out this post if you want to learn more about why ATVs have large seats.
Fast and Nimble Handling
The relatively lightweight and compact body of an ATV combined with a powerful engine provides a fast and nimble means of transportation off-road and on narrow forest trails.
With an average ATV weight of about 700lb, the rider can use its body weight to affect ride stability in rough terrain. However, failing to utilize its bodyweight correctly can lead to tipping due to the ATV narrow wheel stance and a short wheelbase.
Most ATVs are 45 to 50 inches wide to fit through narrow obstacles and are about 80 to 85 inches long.
Note that these numbers do vary quite a bit. The size and weight of the ATV must match that of the rider. One size does not fit all.
When a light rider attempt to ride a heavy ATV, they will lack the weight and strength to keep the bike stable on uneven terrain or during fast cornering. That’s why a child should never ride a full-size ATV, even though it may seem like it’s in control when riding in less challenging terrain.
High Ground Clearance
Most utility and recreational ATVs offer excellent ground clearance in the range of 9-12 inches. The ground clearance is the measured space between the lowest part of the vehicle, typically the frame and the ground.
The high ground clearance helps prevent getting caught on stumps and rocks and riding in rutted off-road trails without getting high centered.
Electric Power Steering (EPS)
Most ATV brands offer ATVs with electric power steering that assists in turning the wheels and helps dampen impacts from hitting rocks and bumps when riding off-road, also known as a kickback.
Power steering does come at a cost, but most riders will agree it is one of those features you should consider carefully before opting out.
To better help you decide whether power steering is the right choice for you wi made this post with the pros and cons to consider.
Manual, Semi-Automatic, or Automatic Transmission
ATVs come with one of three main types of transmissions.
Manual transmissions are typical on youth models and some cheaper adult-size ATVs. They feature a foot lever as a gear shifter and a manual hand lever clutch mounted on the handlebar.
With a semi-automatic transmission, you can change gears with the push of a button without manually operating the clutch, as clutching happens automatically.
Most modern ATVs come with a fully automatic transmission allowing you to accelerate from a standstill up to top speed only by increasing the throttle. The CVT style of transmission is by far the most common type of automatic transmission. At the same time, some brands such as Honda offer systems that use a combination of traditional gears and automatic clutches more similar to the type of transmission you’ll find on a car.
Automatic transmissions do, however, come with various gear ranges you’ll need to choose from manually, where the most common being:
- P: Park
- N: Neutral
- L: Low gear range
- H: High gear range
- R: Reverse
Check out this post to learn what ATVs offer the different types of transmissions.
Disc Brakes or Drum Brakes
With fast acceleration, you’ll need adequate stopping power. Most high-power ATVs come with highly effective disc brakes, both front, and rear. Some older and budget models with smaller engines still use drum brakes, but those are becoming less common.
Some ATVs offer brake wear indicators as a safety feature to tell you when to replace the brakes.
Independent and Adjustable Long Travel Suspension
To handle uneven and bumpy terrain, a modern ATV needs high-quality, long-travel suspension. While some utility and youth models have a solid rear axle due to cost and durability, most higher-end ATVs offer fully independent suspension. Each wheel moves up end down freely and separately from each other.
Many ATVs offer a suspension that is adjustable in stiffness and spring rebound speed for optimal performance for the tiding you’ll be doing.
Front and Rear Cargo Rack
Heavy-duty cargo racks allow you to carry gear and supplies without having to bring a trailer.
Be aware that you need to distribute the weight properly, or the ATV may become front or back heavy with an increased risk of tipping over. Most ATVs can carry about twice more weight on the rear cargo rack than the front racks.
Check out this post to learn how much weight you can carry on your cargo racks.
Most ATVs come with one or more storage compartments where you can keep things like googles, a tow strap, tire plugs, and other gear you may find yourself needing when out in the woods.
Look for a compartment that features a heavy-duty locking mechanism as well as a seal to keep water out.
If you need additional storage capacity, a wide range of storage boxes and bags are available that installs on the cargo racks.
Most utility and recreational ATVs come with a trailer hitch that allows you to haul cargo out to remote locations otherwise inaccessible with a vehicle.
Keep in mind that an ATV is relatively lightweight and therefore offers a limited pulling capacity. You do not want to find yourself on your way down a steep hill where a heavy trailer suddenly starts pushing your rear wheels sideways. If in doubt, split your cargo into smaller loads and take several trips rather than risking it all with one heavy haul.
The ATV industry has embraced the revolution of LED lighting because of its durability, incredibly bright light, and low power consumption compared with traditional halogen lights.
ATVs don’t have an alternator like a car, and electricity is a scarce resource. Any new technology that helps prevent draining the battery is welcomed with open hands by most riders.
Related: How to Choose the Best ATV LED Light Bar – 10 Step Guide
Some ATVs come with fully digital instrument panels, while others still rely on analog gauges or both. This dashboard helps the operator keep track of critical parameters such as speed, fuel level, engine temperature, and warnings when the ATV sensors register an issue that needs to be addressed.
Not all ATVs have one, but all utility and recreational ATVs should come with a winch, if you ask me. While it’s possible to install a winch on almost any ATV, your best option is to find an ATV that at least comes with a dedicated winch mount for easy and safe winch install.
Self-recovery when stuck in mud is only only one of many uses for a winch; here are 28 more cool uses for an ATV winch.