a blue and black vehicle

Image credit: ATV Rider.

Alphabet Soup: Buying ATVs and Navigating Acronyms

By Valerie Farabee

The rain has stopped, the air is clear, and you’re ready to get out of the house and onto the trails! Or maybe it has cleared up just enough for you to do some much needed work around the house. Whatever the case may be, you have caught the ATV bug and the only cure is going out and buying one right now. In appreciation for your enthusiasm, Priceonomics has put together a few tips on what to look for when buying your first off-roader.

Quad did you say?

An ATV, or All Terrain Vehicle, also known as a “quad”, is any motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure tires, with handlebars for steering control, and a seat designed to be straddled by the operator. Single rider ATVs are not intended for passengers, but there are ATVs are designed for an operator and an additional passenger. ATVs are used for everything from racing, recreational riding and hunting, manual labor like farming, and household chores such as hauling, plowing snow, and cutting grass. Their small size and capacious power make for a utilitarian vehicle capable of an unlimited number of duties.

What will you be using your ATV for? Your needs will determine the type of ATV you eventually buy, and figuring them out ahead of time is extraordinarily helpful in narrowing down the selection for your pre-purchase research.

Sport or Utility Vehicle?

A utility quad is what it sounds like, an ATV oriented for work (i.e. “utility”) rather than play. These quads are great for chores around the farm, towing trailers, or hauling your gear for some trail camping. Designed for work purposes, these ATVs are heavier and more durable than the sport ATVs, but are generally easier to learn, and first-time riders will feel right at home! Utility ATVs make up about 80% of the market. A sports quad is an ATV used for recreational purposes. These are smaller and lighter than utility quads and take a little longer to learn how to ride. They have highly tuned two- or four-stroke engines that offer maximum performance, an array of gears, and responsive steering. These are what you want if you like fast riding and big air – experienced riders, only!

Once you’ve sussed out whether you’ll use your ATV for work or play, you have a few more options to consider before choosing the right one.

Stroke your Ego

A two-stroke engine is an internal combustion engine that completes a power-cycle in only one crankshaft revolution with two strokes of the piston. These engines provide a high power-to-weight ratio. A four-stroke engine completes four different strokes during two revolutions of the crankshaft cycle. Which is cool, but what you really need to know about that as far as it pertains to ATV buying is that you will commonly find 4-stroke engines in utility ATVs and two-stroke engines in sports ATVs. Why is this? Two-stroke engines, because they fire more often, produce more power – exactly what you want for a sporty good time!

2WD or 4WD? That is the question.

Unless you are buying an ATV for sport-specific purposes, I highly recommend going with four-wheel drive (4WD), it’s much more versatile. 4WD ATVs can be used year round; they can travel in as much as 12’ of snow, whereas a 2WD sport quad can’t move at all at that depth. 4WD is also useful if you live in a swampy, muddy area. If you can afford it, spring for 4WD! If you live in an area with moderate terrain and you only ride for a limited amount of time, a 2WD is just fine and you will enjoy its pep!

Protective Measures for Your Corporeal Self

Yeah, yeah, helmets are no fun. You know what else isn’t fun? Brain surgery. So let’s talk about the minimum gear you will need once you purchase your fantastically speedy – or useful – ATV:

Helmet. Yes, you need a helmet. Brain-ground contact is highly discouraged. If you do nothing else, BUY A HELMET! You can find these for between $99 – $100 and you should consider it part of the total ATV purchase price.

Gloves. Gloves protect your hands – those things you use for almost everything every day – from flying rocks, branches from trees you brush by, and our frenemy, the ground, should you happen to fall – or be thrown – off your ATV. They also reduce calluses, blisters, and general soreness in your hands. Find these for between $10 – $100.

Boots. Boots give your feet better grip and support while you ride, as well as helping to absorb shock and protect you in case that whole brain-body-ground thing happens in your travels. Boots also protect you from the heat that comes off the motor near your legs and feet. These can be found for as low as $100 or as high as $600.

Goggles. I want you to protect your most important features, and your eyes are right up there. Debris is almost always flying around when you are out riding, not to mention wayward branches snapping into your face! Goggles are $15 on the low end and as much as $400 on the high end.

How much should I spend on my ATV?

That’s really up to you! A new ATV will run you anywhere between $3,000 and up to $10,000. Dedicated hobbyists will be able to find an awesome, new ATV for around, or slightly under, $5,000. Remember, an ATV is an investment that, if properly cared for and maintain, will last you years upon years, while providing years upon years of fun and utility! Buy the best that you can afford as long as it meets your needs.

Happy Trails, Everyone!