18 Typical ATV Features Explained

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Learn More

An ATV is designed with a unique combination of specific features to provide performance and capabilities, unlike any other type of vehicle. This post will provide an overview of 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, various ATV manufacturers offer other specialized features to enhance your riding experience further.

What Features Do All ATVs Have in Common?

What essential features should a vehicle possess 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 review each essential feature below.

We’ll also cover features that have become the norm as ATVs have developed over the years due to ever-increasing demands regarding safety, performance, ride comfort, and user-friendliness.

Key ATV Features Explained

These are some of the most characteristic features of an ATV.


According to the definition, an ATV should be motorized. This essential 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.

Most ATVs rely on a two-two stroke or four-stroke gasoline engine for vehicle movement. Only a 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

As per the latest ATV definition, these vehicles must have four low-pressure or non-pneumatic (airless) tires. Earlier ATVs came with only three tires, but they eventually got banned due to poor stability and 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, 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 ATVs and are 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 are typically kept at higher air pressure and have a less aggressive tread 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 and 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 must be equipped with handlebars for steering. Per the ANSI definition, a vehicle cannot be classified as an ATV if it features a steering wheel, similar to those in cars or UTVs, or is operated with joysticks, like a trail-grooming machine.

Handlebars are proven to be the most practical method for steering vehicles such as ATVs and motorcycles, where the rider needs to shift their weight during operation.

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. 

Thumb Throttle

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 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 installing a twist throttle on an ATV is possible, it is not recommended for most riders. The main reason why ATVs come with a thumb throttle is that it is the most practical and safe alternative on a direct steering vehicle where the rider may need to shift their weight due to rugged or 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 designed for use by a single operator with no passengers.
  • Type II ATVs are designed for use by both an operator and a passenger and come with a designated seating area 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. Refer to the user manual or ask the dealer if you are unsure. 

ATVs have relatively large seats, even on models 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 to learn more about why ATVs have large seats

Fast and Nimble Handling

With their lightweight, compact design and robust engines, ATVs offer agile and speedy transportation in off-road conditions and 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 body weight correctly can lead to tipping due to the ATV’s narrow wheel stance and 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 attempts 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 in control when riding in less challenging terrain. 

High Ground Clearance 

Most utility and recreational ATVs offer excellent ground clearance in the 9-12 inches range. 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 electric power steering that helps turn the wheels and 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, I wrote 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 have a fully automatic transmission, allowing you to accelerate from a standstill to top speed only by increasing the throttle. The CVT transmission style is the most common type of automatic transmission. At the same time, some brands, such as Honda, offer systems that combine traditional gears and automatic clutches more similar to the type of transmission you’ll find in a car. 

Automatic transmissions do, however, come with various gear ranges you’ll need to choose from manually, 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 various transmissions.

Disc Brakes or Drum Brakes

With fast acceleration, you’ll need adequate stopping power. Most high-power ATVs come with highly effective front and rear disc brakes. 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.

Related: How Do ATV Brakes Work? Learn the Basics

Independent and Adjustable Long Travel Suspension

A modern ATV needs high-quality, long-travel suspension to handle uneven, bumpy terrain. 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 and down freely and separately from each other.

Many ATVs feature adjustable suspension, allowing you to fine-tune the stiffness and spring rebound speed for optimal performance based on your riding needs.

Front and Rear Cargo Rack

Heavy-duty cargo racks allow you to carry gear and supplies without bringing a trailer. 

Be aware that you must 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 as much 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.

Storage Compartments

Most ATVs come with one or more storage compartments to keep things like goggles, a tow strap, tire plugs, and other gear you may need when out in the woods. 

Look for a compartment with a heavy-duty locking mechanism and a seal to keep water out. 

If you need additional storage capacity, a wide range of storage boxes and bags that mount to the cargo racks are available. 

Trailer Hitch

Most utility and recreational ATVs come with a trailer hitch that allows you to haul cargo to remote locations otherwise inaccessible with a vehicle. 

Remember that an ATV is relatively lightweight and, therefore, offers a limited towing 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. 

LED lighting

The ATV industry has embraced the LED lighting revolution 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 scarce. 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

Multi-Functional Dashboard

Some ATVs come with fully digital instrument panels, while others 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. 

Electric Winch

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 installation. 

Self-recovery is only one of many uses for a winch; here are 28 more cool uses for an ATV winch.

The Bottom Line

ATVs are engineered with various features tailored for versatile off-road performance, from their robust engine and unique tire design to their adaptable suspension and practical cargo solutions. Understanding these features helps riders maximize their ATV’s capabilities and ensures a safer, more efficient off-road experience.

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 BoostATV.com, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

Welcome to Boost ATV

Hi, I’m Haavard, the guy behind Boost ATV.  I made this site to share what I have learned as an avid ATV owner and enthusiast. I hope it can help boost your ATV experience! About Me