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ATV vs UTV vs RTV: What’s the Difference?

Off-road vehicles are undoubtedly worthy investments because they’re versatile and durable. But when it’s time for you to decide between four-wheeled off-road vehicles, you need to learn the differences between an ATV vs UTV vs RTV. This knowledge will help you pick the right one for you or your loved one.

What are the differences between ATVs, UTVs, and RTVs? ATVs are the most lightweight, affordable, and tight-space-friendly. However, UTVs and RTVs have higher seating and carrying capacities, roofs, and roll cages. The RTV is the most expensive of the three, as it’s the most powerful and durable.

To give you a better idea of these three off-road vehicles, allow me to introduce to you their standard features. After that, we’ll talk about their differences in more detail to ensure you make a more informed purchasing decision.

What Is an ATV?

Red Honda Rancher ATV Parked on Grass

Also known as quad bikes, quads, three-wheelers, and four-wheelers, All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) have a design that allows you to drive them on gravel and paved surfaces. They also come in different types, such as the youth ATV, to accommodate riders of different ages and body sizes.

ATVs are famous for recreational activities, but you can also utilize them for hunting, farming, and law enforcement operations.


ATV is one of the easiest to identify of the three vehicles, even when you place them right next to each other. And that’s all thanks to its motorcycle-like design!

The ATV comes with handlebars that you will use to steer or maneuver the vehicle. Meanwhile, its straddle seat can accommodate one person, the driver. That said, you can find newer, two-seater models where someone can sit behind the driver.

Another noticeable feature of the ATV is its open design. What does this mean, you may ask? It means the ATV lacks a roof, a door, and a roll cage. That said, you can always have your ATV customized to add any or all of the features mentioned above.

With this kind of design, ATVs are usually easy to use and handle, especially in tight spaces and if you have experience driving a motorcycle. Add that to the fact that it has a lightweight design.

However, those new to using handlebars will find it a bit challenging to maneuver the vehicle until they get the hang of it.

You’ll also find that most ATV models have thumb throttles that you need to press for acceleration and release for deceleration. Yet again, you can modify the ATV to use the handlebar as throttle control. Just note that the twist throttles make ATVs more challenging to control.

How about the ATVs’ brakes? They can come with a brake handle or a foot pedal. Speed-wise, ATVs have a maximum speed ranging from 60 to 80 mph (kph). But you can find newer models that can run faster than 80 mph.

One important thing you should note before choosing an ATV for your off-road adventure is it doesn’t have seatbelts. As mentioned, it also lacks a roof and a roll cage to protect you from flying rocks, dust, and other elements.

Ensuring you have a full-face helmet or a protective gear set that meets safety standards when driving is essential. That is even for recreational activities. It’s also a good idea to wear riding boots and suit.

Here’s a fun fact about ATVs: Did you know some ATVs had three wheels until 1988? But because of the increasing number of three-wheel ATV injuries, they were banned in the USA.

What Is a UTV?

Green UTV Off-Road in Wet Environment

From its name itself, a Utility Terrain (Task) Vehicle is initially designed for work purposes. That is especially for transporting or hauling hays, feeds, supplies, and more to and from areas inaccessible to trucks. In fact, you’ll find schools investing in UTVs to help them transport water jugs, sports equipment, and other large, heavy items.

That said, it isn’t uncommon for people to purchase a UTV for recreational purposes. After all, they’re vehicles designed to be driven on different terrains.


While the UTV has many other names, like ROV (Recreational Off-highway Vehicle) and buggy, it’s most commonly known as a side-by-side (SxS) vehicle. The main reason is that it accommodates passengers side by side. That’s all thanks to its bucket seats or bucket seats in front and bench-type seats at the back.

UTVs have factory-installed roll cages and seatbelts to ensure driver and passenger safety. They also come equipped with overhead cabins like those in a golf cart or fully enclosed ones.

Thus, some UTVs have windshields, while others don’t. That said, a UTV is also highly customizable like the ATV. You can have a windshield, roll bars, and roof installed.

With all the factory-installed features of a UTV, expect it to be heavier, bigger, and more powerful than the ATV. That’s why it comes with a steering wheel instead of handlebars to make maneuvering safer and more convenient.

For accelerating, decelerating, and braking, the UTV comes installed with foot pedals. Speed-wise, it’s also much faster than the ATV at a maximum of 85 mph (kph).

Pro Tip: UTVs with durable roofs are the best options if you also plan to use a UTV for hauling and transporting. That’s because you can use the roof to carry items. Just secure them with a net or ropes, or use a heavy-duty rooftop carrier bag with straps (view on Amazon).

You can attach a durable, universal hitch cargo carrier (view on Amazon) to your UTV to increase its carrying capacity.

What Is an RTV Vehicle?

Orange Kubota RTV

When you place an RTV (Rough Terrain Vehicle) side by side with a fully enclosed UTV, the untrained eyes might not notice the differences. Like UTVs, you can use the RTV for hauling and transporting, with the addition of towing capabilities. They act like mini trucks for your farms, construction sites, and more.


RTVs have side-by-side designs like UTVs, as they also have bucket seats. However, they only usually accommodate up to four persons.

The good news is that they have a more ergonomic design than UTVs. It means they’re the most comfortable to drive, even for long hours.

Considered workhorses, RTVs come equipped with a cargo bed much bigger than the one you’ll find in a UTV.

Four-seater RTVs have smaller cargo beds, but you can fold the back seats to increase the vehicle’s carrying capacity. Additionally, you can attach a hitch cargo carrier to increase its capacity and haul and transport more items at a time, like with the UTV.

If that’s not enough, you can use RTVs to tow heavy equipment, like lawnmowers, thanks to their durability and engine power. If it doesn’t arrive with one, simply install a durable trailer hitch on your RTV to make this extra functionality possible.

With a factory-installed enclosed cabin, you can use the RTV’s roof to carry additional items. Like UTVs, you can secure the items to the roof using a net or rope or place them in a carrier bag with straps.

Safety-wise, an RTV has heavy-duty tires, seatbelts, and an enclosed cabin. It also has an outer frame that enhances ruggedness and a windshield to protect you from environmental elements.

ATV vs UTV vs RTV: What Is the Difference?

Now that you’re more familiar with a UTV, an ATV, and an RTV, it’s easier to identify their differences. But to make it easier for you, allow me to sum them up for you.

Summary of the Main Differences

While these three four-wheeled vehicles have features that make them safe to use in rough terrains or off-road trails, they differ in their primary purposes, level of safety and convenience, and capacity.

ATVs are one- to two-person, motorcycle-like recreational off-roading trip and competition vehicles that are also a perfect transportation system when hunting and inspecting your farms, job sites, and more.

Meanwhile, UTVs and RTVs are bigger, heavier, more powerful, and more durable off-road vehicles with car-like features like a steering wheel, a roof, and seatbelts.

While both have higher seating and overall carrying capacities than ATVs, a UTV can usually accommodate up to six persons, while an RTV can typically seat up to four individuals. However, RTVs have more factory-installed safety features than the two and can safely haul, transport, and tow heavier items.

Table of the Main Differences

Below is a table of the discussed main differences that you can use as a quick reference when comparing ATV vs UTV vs RTV.

Use/sRecreational and competitive riding

It can be used for inspecting farms, job sites, and more
Transporting supplies and workers, hauling supplies, and other work-related activities

It can be used for recreational riding
Transporting workers and heavier items, hauling supplies and equipment, towing, and other work-related activities

It can be used for recreational riding
Usual Maximum Speed60 to 80 mph (kph)85 mph (kph)85 mph (kph)
BrakeHandle or Foot PedalFoot PedalFoot Pedal
Acceleration and DecelerationThumb ControlsFoot PedalFoot Pedal
Steering ControlHandlebarsSteering WheelSteering Wheel
Seating CapacityOne or TwoUp to 6Up to 4
Safety FeaturesAll-terrain tires and wheelsRough-terrain tires and wheels


Roll cage

Rough-terrain tires and wheels



Enclosed cabin

Durable outer frame
Initial CostMost AffordableMid-rangeMost Expensive

It’s Time To Choose the Right Off-Road Vehicle for You!

The differences in the three four-wheeled off-road vehicles’ features might seem minor, but you can’t ignore them. Why? Because they play a significant role in ensuring the vehicle you own does the job you require.

For instance, while you can attach an ATV cargo carrier (view on Amazon) to your vehicle where you can place your supplies and tools, it won’t hold enough weight. Not only does it have a lower carrying capacity, but the ATV isn’t as powerful as the UTV and RTV.

Therefore, evaluate why you need a four-wheel off-road vehicleWill you use it mostly for recreation or competitions? Or you’ll also often use it to do other tasks? If yes, what are these tasks?

The answers to these questions will help you decide which of the three is the best investment. You might even be surprised because, in some instances, you might need to buy two different units.