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Essential Tips for Buying an ATV: What You Need to Know

The allure and thrill of off-roading has made all-terrain vehicles a sought-after commodity for many enthusiasts. Whether seasoned or nouveau, riders deem purchasing an ATV a significant investment warranting careful consideration. In this article, let’s explore everything there is to know when buying an ATV — from common mistakes to a comprehensive checklist that will guide any rider’s purchasing decision.

When buying an ATV, it is essential to consider factors like the quad’s size, utility, safety, and upkeep. It is also necessary to gain insights into state regulations and pricing. This way, you can sidestep pitfalls, get the best value, and make a well-informed decision.

Purchasing an ATV entails so much more than just choosing a handsome four-wheeler. If anything, it’s about finding the right fit for your preferences and needs. So, without further ado, let’s delve into essential factors to consider when canvassing for your next adventure machine.

Red ATV Quad Bike Off-Road

Different Types of ATVs

In a recent post on the most reliable ATVs on the market, I covered the creme de la creme per sub-segment. Currently, there are seven main niches in the ATV landscape, namely:

  • Entry-Level — Features lower engine power and simpler controls; offers a user-friendly experience that helps develop a beginner’s off-roading skills.
  • Utility — Built with practicality and versatility in mind, equipped with ample cargo space, racks, and towing capabilities that make them suitable for utilitarian purposes
  • Sport — Engineered for agility and speed; sports a lighter frame and more powerful engine that enables steering through challenging terrains and high-speed trails
  • Sport-Utility — Combines the versatility of utility quads and the performance features of sport models
  • High-Performance — Designed for advanced/experienced riders who want top-tier performance out of their machines; excels in speed, durability, and handling.
  • Youth — Prioritizes safety as they target younger riders still learning to ride responsibly.
  • Side-by-Side — Provides seating for multiple passengers; equipped with a roll cage and features like enclosed cabs, advanced suspension, and power steering

There aren’t any fixed displacement numbers for each of these categories. However, there are limitations. For instance, an entry-level quad would typically be 450cc or less, allowing those new to the sport to still handle its heft and power. Similarly, youth ATVs are usually 50cc to 250cc machines with rev limiters (view on Amazon) and speed governors, specifically designed for children and slightly older teens.

The rest of the sub-segments can be anything from a 350cc to a near-liter-class brute. Meanwhile, side-by-sides and high-performance four-wheelers are usually on the higher end of the displacement spectrum at 700cc to 1,000cc (or even higher).

New vs. Used

Relative to the above, this is where deciding to get a brand-new ATV versus an older but reliable machine comes into play. There is no right or wrong answer here. However, your decision should be tempered by other factors (more on this in subsequent sections), including your mechanical savvy.

This isn’t to say that all new quads are hassle-free and all vintage models the opposite. As highlighted in my post on the most reliable ATVs, OEMs have a mix of brand-new and used/older offerings that all scream reliability and performance. But depending on where and how you procure your ATV — through a dealer, private seller, or trader site — your skills as a rider and an ATV caretaker (in addition to the age and condition of the machine) will greatly matter.

Common Mistakes When Buying an ATV

Yellow and Black Honda ATV

Now that you’re acquainted with the different types of ATVs, it would make sense to prioritize knowing common blunders when purchasing these machines next. I can’t overstate this enough — more often than not, buyers think the only determinant to getting their hands on a good quad is the amount of money they can spend — eventually regretting their first-time purchases.

And while nothing beats experiential learning, not everyone has cash to spare. Plus, you wouldn’t want to settle for second fiddle just because you didn’t know your choices — hence, the need to learn from others:

Ignoring Research

Failing to research the different types of ATVs, their features, and reputable brands can result in making an uninformed, haphazard decision. I can totally understand how tedious or extra researching can feel. But then again, buying a well-thought-of ATV that will outlast your kids’ teenage years (or your enthusiasm for the sport) more than compensates for those extra hours.

Impulse Buying

Let’s admit it — this can be a ‘happy’ problem for those with the luxury to spend and not worry about balancing the sheets by month’s end. But for most of us, this wouldn’t be the case.

While the practice can be thrilling, it’s often an indication that we’re just too lazy to research what’s available before surrendering our hard-earned bucks to the seller in the next town. It’s also not worth the headache — and the regret — when you finally see the ATV you’ve been looking for days or weeks later.

Overlooking Safety

It’s imperative to carefully assess an ATV’s safety mechanisms, such as effective braking systems, throttle limiters for beginners, and rollover protection (view on Amazon). Equally important is considering how well the machine aligns with your skill level and intended use. Overlooking these crucial aspects when purchasing an ATV can result in dire consequences or potential on-road accidents.

Neglecting Maintenance Costs

While anyone can easily overlook a quad’s upkeep needs, it’s often a greater propensity by nouveau collectors and hard-core enthusiasts. I get it — it’s difficult to pass up a rare limited-edition trim once you see it. Nonetheless, weigh the resale value versus impending repairs and maintenance costs, as your ‘now reasonable’ purchase can cost you so much more down the road.

Prospecting Checklist

Man Standing Up on an ATV

In another post on How to Drive an ATV: Comprehensive Guide for Beginners, I’ve provided some tips on selecting the right ATV. Some of the considerations I highlighted were durability, versatility, ingenuity, and performance. While these are noteworthy pointers, they could be too abstract for the beginner rider. That said, let’s break them down into simpler facets:

Size and Engine Capacity

Among the first things to consider when appraising all-terrain vehicles are these two — and for good reason. An ATV’s size and engine displacement are intertwined with several factors like rider skill, rider build, and power-to-weight ratio (to name a few).

Youth riders, for instance, are initially limited to 90cc quads due to their neophyte riding skills and control of the vehicle. Meanwhile, seasoned riders prefer higher-displacement power mills for improved top speed, acceleration, and overall capability. In like manner, enthusiasts with more heft would seek out an equally robust four-wheeler to match their prowess and character.


Following size and the capacity to generate power, the next most important determinant of an ATV is its intended use. It’s crucial not to overlook this aspect, as it has been the culprit behind many complaints and dissatisfied ATV owners. Whenever there’s an imbalance between rider skill level, terrain, and machine use, it almost always results in premature component wear/damage or, worse, catastrophic outcomes.

Safety Features

Safety shouldn’t only be a priority when canvassing for youth ATVs. Instead, it should be a top consideration for all sub-segments. That said, look for essential safety features like functional brake levers and throttle limiters for beginners, effective braking and suspension systems in sport quads, and protective features like roll cages and 5-point seatbelt harnesses (view on Amazon) in side-by-sides and UTVs.

Maintenance and Repairs

Paying mind to these two — whether you’re buying a new or used ATV — is another critical step when prospecting. They are, after all, among the most common mistakes buyers inadvertently commit when they arrive at the showroom or auction sites ill-prepared.

I cannot overemphasize the need to research maintenance requirements and potential repair costs of your chosen ATV and inquire about its riding history and the availability of aftermarket and spare parts from the seller.

Customization Options

If personalization matters to you, exploring the aftermarket options available for your chosen ATV — even before purchasing it — is imperative. The reason is that not all all-terrain vehicles are created equal. While age is an obvious upgradability-impacting factor, so is the actual build and quality of the machine itself.

Some ATV models, for instance, have rear subframes that may be constructed from less robust materials than those of top brands. In the same breath, others may not have provisions and mounts for safety features like a WARN 85330 1500AC 120V Electric Utility Winch (view on Amazon) or other modular attachments.

Dealer Selection

When opting to buy a brand-new ATV, dealer support becomes vital. And why not? It only makes sense to buy from a dealer with great customer service and warranty support, as you are bound to need those services in one way or another in the future. Even if you didn’t (being the meticulous, conscientious rider that you are), it is still better to have that kind of support and not need it than be in a rut and not have these services at your disposal.


Insurance requirements for ATVs can vary depending significantly on your location, local laws, and how you plan to use the machine. Nonetheless, here’s a general overview of the insurance considerations for each category:

Entry-level, Youth, and Utility ATVs: Depending on your location, insurance might not be legally required for these four-wheelers. However, it’s always a good idea to consider liability coverage to protect yourself in case of accidents.

Sport and Sport-Utility ATVs: Given their potential for higher speeds and more adventurous applications, many ATV owners opt for comprehensive insurance coverage for these quads. The package can include liability coverage, collision, and comprehensive coverage for protection against damage and theft.

High-Performance ATVs: Insurance is strongly recommended for high-performance ATVs due to their increased power and potential for risk. Full coverage, including liability, collision, and comprehensive package, is strongly recommended.

Side-by-Side or UTVs: Like high-performance ATVs, side-by-sides are often used for more diverse activities and load-bearing applications, requiring holistic insurance coverage, including liability, collision, and comprehensive.

Some states or countries may not mandate insurance for off-road vehicles (ORVs) used exclusively on private property, while others might require insurance for any ORV used in certain areas or on public roads. That said, check with your local insurance providers and regulatory authorities to understand the specific insurance requirements for the type of ATV you intend to own and your region or jurisdiction.

Budget Considerations

For inexperienced and seasoned riders alike, budget is one of the biggest influences on their ATV purchase. Depending on how deep one’s pockets are, a rider could end up with the ATV of their dreams, a reputable but slightly older quad, or a cheap knockoff. It doesn’t necessarily follow that all affordable offerings are class-A imitations. You can get top-brand offerings for cheap if you search hard enough — just make sure that these ‘diamonds in plain sight’ aren’t being sold for parts.

As for the best time of year to buy an ATV, that’s typically during the off-season or winter months. During this period, dealerships often offer discounts and promotions to attract buyers since fewer people are actively seeking outdoor recreational activities. Additionally, be on the lookout towards the end of the calendar year, as dealers usually clear out older inventory to make way for newer models — leading to dramatic price reductions and more favorable financing options.

How Much Do ATVs Cost?

Outside clearance sales and winter months, ATV prices vary widely based on brand, features, condition, and market demand. Below are estimated price ranges for each sub-segment:

Sub-SegmentPrice Range
Entry-Level$1,000 to $5,000
Utility$5,000 to $15,000
Sport$5,000 to $12,000
Sport-Utility$6,000 to $15,000
High-Performance$8,000 to $20,000+
Youth$1,000 to $4,000
Side-by-Side$8,000 to $25,000+

Note that these averages are based on brand-new or recent-year releases and do not include collectible, racing-oriented, and pre-loved ATV models.

Storage and Transport

Other critical considerations when purchasing an ATV include these two due to their impact on convenience, protection, and overall ownership experience. Adequate storage space at home or in a garage is a must before purchase to ensure that the machine remains secure and is sheltered from the elements.

Furthermore, considering how you plan to transport the ATV to different riding locations is essential, as it influences the type of trailer or vehicle needed, potential towing requirements, and the logistical aspects of enjoying your off-road adventures without unnecessary hassle or risk. On the flip side, you may have to make do with a smaller ATV than planned if your existing vehicle cannot accommodate heftier models.

Environmental Impact

Considering this facet is paramount when canvassing for an ATV, as off-road riding can have lasting consequences on natural habitats and ecosystems. While it mostly entails responsible ATV usage, keeping within designated trails, and minimizing noise pollution, a less-talked-about aspect is ensuring that your ATV has a catalytic converter for reduced emissions or isn’t too dilapidated.

By being aware of these factors, you can enjoy the outdoors without compromising the delicate balance of our ecosystems and further aggravating environmental pollution.

Resale Value

Buying ‘transient machines’ is not a foreign concept to ATV owners. In such a situation (where you intend to hold on to an ATV for several years but not forever), you’d want to buy a model that would keep its value well come time to pass it on to a new owner.

This is where choosing a brand-new versus older machine becomes a tad more difficult since older ATVs tend to depreciate with continued use — unless they’re in pristine condition, loaded with aftermarket add-ons, a special edition package, or a collectible.

Laws and Regulations Related to ATV Use

Man Riding ATV on the Beach During Sunset

Age restrictions, registration requirements, and other ATV-related legislation significantly influence riders’ decision to purchase an ATV. Age restrictions dictate who can operate the ATV, while registration requirements ensure adherence to local laws and provide a clear legal standing for your off-road vehicle. Knowing these legal parameters beforehand ensures a smoother buying experience — since you reduce the risk of owning an ATV you can’t use due to the legal framework of your region.

There isn’t any blanket prohibition as far as riding ATVs in certain countries is concerned. However, some U.S. states (for instance) enact laws restricting ATV usage in densely populated areas, on public roads, or in protected natural environments. That said, check with the specific state’s departments for natural resources, FMVSS, NHTSA, or equivalent agency to understand the local laws and regulations of ATVing and ensure that you don’t have to travel to another state to enjoy an outdoor adventure.

Test Riding

Once you can tick off all the boxes of the above checklist, you’d want to personally meet with the seller of your coveted four-wheeler and take it for a quick spin. Doing so will enable you to ascertain the working condition of the quad and catch subtle warning signs of previous abuse or neglect that the ATV may have been subjected to.

Veteran riders should know what to do at this point (it is one of the more enjoyable steps of canvassing for an ATV). But if you’re new to the sport, head over to one of my recent articles for top tips on driving an ATV — I’m confident that beginner and casual riders will especially benefit from the pointers in that guide.

Conclusion — Tips for Buying an ATV

Purchasing an all-terrain vehicle can be an exciting endeavor for anyone, as it can open the door to thrilling off-road adventures. By avoiding common mistakes and having a prospecting checklist, you should be better equipped to choose an ATV that not only aligns with your personal preferences and skill level but also boosts your confidence to the fullest.