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What Exactly is a UTV?

Posted July 12, 2021

If you want to get your start in trail riding, off-roading, or racing, then you may have heard the terms ATV and UTV being thrown around. While both types of vehicles are similar, there are some key characteristics of UTVs that you need to understand. 

The more you know about this vehicle, the better you’ll be able to choose the type of vehicle that’s right for you and to get started in off-road racing

The ATV Versus the UTV

An ATV, or all-terrain vehicle, and a UTV, sometimes called a utility task vehicle or utility terrain vehicle, are often confused. These four-wheeler vehicles have similar designs, but they’re intended for different uses. 

ATVs are recreational off-highway vehicles that typically have seating for just a single rider. The driver straddles the seat and operates the four-wheel vehicle using the handlebars.

#428 Quad Rider Bill Pierson at the 2020 Best In The Desert Parker 250. Photo Credit: Harlen Foley.
#428 Quad Rider Bill Pierson at the 2020 Best In The Desert Parker 250. Photo Credit: Harlen Foley.

In comparison, the UTV is a larger vehicle with a side-by-side design that allows for a passenger. Its four-wheel design maximizes traction in all terrain, making the UTV a popular choice for towing and hauling. You’ll find UTVs made specifically for trail riding, while others are larger and feature heavy-duty construction that makes them beefier choices for farm work and rock crawling. 

A UTV tends to be a more comfortable ride when compared to an ATV, since you don’t have to straddle the vehicle as you drive. The UTV is designed to haul and has a higher payload than an ATV. In comparison, ATVs tend to be speedier and more agile. 

The UTV is a more versatile vehicle than the ATV, but that versatility comes at a price – UTVs are typically more expensive than ATVs. 

The Details on UTVs

This off-road vehicle is designed to handle more like a car than an ATV. It features a steering wheel instead of handlebars, and it can reach speeds between 25 and 50 miles per hour. 

Most UTVs can accommodate two to four passengers, and safety features like seat belts come standard. You can often add a windshield and roll cage to a UTV, and many have a cabin that’s either partially or fully enclosed. 

Additional modifications like the addition of power steering or specialty lighting can help you to further customize your UTV for the performance you want. 

#1903 Seth Quintero driving his RZR Polaris UTV at a Best In The Desert race. Photo Credit: Harlen Foley
#1903 Seth Quintero driving his RZR Polaris UTV at a Best In The Desert race. Photo Credit: Harlen Foley

You’ll also find that UTVs tend to have plenty of storage space in the back. Many are used on farms, but they’re sometimes used for school sports facilities and festivals, too. 

UTVs are also increasingly used in powersports. You’ll find them involved in off-road racing, especially in desert racing. These vehicles pack plenty of power, and driving them around a race course or on longer point-to-point competitions is a thrill. 

Finding the Right UTV

Choosing the best UTV starts with determining how you’ll use the vehicle. If you’re looking for a UTV for use around the farm, then your needs will be very different than if you’re looking for a vehicle for off-road racing. 

To start, consider your budget. There are some very nice UTVs that you can buy new, and you’ll know that they’re been maintained and that they’re ready to drive right off the lot. Models like the Kawasaki Mule, the Polaris RZR, and the Arctic Cat UTV are all popular and make a great investment. 

If you’re working on a tighter budget, you may have better luck buying a used UTV. This can also leave you with more money to make enhancements and additions, particularly if you’ll be racing your vehicle. Don’t forget to also budget for safety gear, like the addition of roll bars and protective clothing, which are a must-have for racing.

T974 Randy Romo in his Polaris RZR UTV.  Photo Credit: Harlen Foley
T974 Randy Romo in his Polaris RZR UTV. Photo Credit: Harlen Foley

Best In The Desert | UTV Racing

Don’t forget to do some research into what’s doing well on the tracks now if you’re buying a UTV to race. Check out the Best In The Desert events lineup and sign up for our newsletter for important updates. Then, come out to some events, perhaps volunteer, watch the UTVs, and check out what’s doing well and what models you like. This information can help you to narrow down your choices and buy the UTV that’s best for your needs, goals, and race classes

Want to get even deeper into the world of off-road racing in a UTV? Read The Official Magazine of Best In The Desert Racing Association, DirtVenture. You’ll get an insider’s perspective on the industry and familiarize yourself with terms, events, and competitors. 

Finally, follow Best In The Desert’s social media handles to truly join the community and check out some awesome UTV racing

Who’s ready to race a UTV? Come join us in the desert!

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