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When people talk about their 4×4 rec vehicles, we often hear terms like ATV and UTV. But are these two acronyms representative of the same type of vehicle? What’s the difference between an ATV and a UTV?

a 2021 Polaris Sporstman XP 1000 ATV in the forest
2021 Polaris Sportsman XP 1000 | Polaris

What is an ATV?

An ATV, or quad, is a 4×4 typically designed for one passenger. However, there is a sub-class of ATV that allows for a driver and a passenger. But what exactly is an ATV? Here’s a definition provided by the ATV Safety Institute.

“An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is defined as 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.”

ATV Safety Institute
ATVs on a sandy trail | SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

So this definition is pretty cut and dry. Virtually anyone with any familiarity whatsoever with ATVs would likely define these vehicles similarly. It’s a 4×4 machine meant for a rider to straddle. ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle. This adds to the definition that these machines are designated for rougher terrain than a paved golf course pathway.

An ATV is created for work, play, or both. It should be able to handle challenging terrain. One rider straddles the seat, or two for the sub-class that provides space for two riders. So what is a UTV then? Aren’t they the same?

What is a UTV?

A UTV is not the same thing as an ATV, although an ATV and a UTV are similar. To most, a UTV is also called a side-by-side. This is a larger vehicle, generally designed for more passengers as well as a brawnier hauling and towing capacity. Here’s what says in terms of defining the UTV.

a 2021 Honda Pioneer UTV climbing a gravel embankment carrying two riders
2021 Honda Pioner UTV | Honda Powersports

“There is actually a little bit of disagreement when it comes to what UTV stands for. I’ve always been firmly in the “Utility Terrain Vehicle” camp, since ATV stands for “All Terrain Vehicle,” it just seemed like a natural fit. Others use “Utility Task Vehicle” or simply “Utility Vehicle.” Ultimately, all three are acceptable…”

So UTV can actually stand for more than one set of words––depending who you ask. We agree that it makes sense to go with Utility Terrain Vehicle. That said, it’s easy to see why people choose to call a UTV a Utility Task Vehicle or Utility Vehicle as well. Basically, an ATV is a four-wheeler or quad and a UTV is what we call a side-by-side.

ATV or UTV, which is better?

Deciding which of these is better will depend entirely on each specific buyer. If you know you’ll often want to bring along a passenger or two, a UTV will better accommodate that. Plus, the average UTV or side-by-side will have a stronger payload and towing capacity than a standard ATV.

a blue Yamaha Wolverine side-by-side UTV driving in deep mud
Yamaha Wolverine | Yamaha

Are GM and Cadillac the Same Manufacturer?

And, while ATVs and UTVs are different, they still boast models for two veins of necessity. Both ATV and UTV models offer designated vehicles for fun on the trail and models meant for hard work. Other than the seating arrangements, one of the biggest differences between the two is price.

ATV models generally run quite a bit less expensive than UTV models. Budget, intended use, and the number of passengers you plan to take along are all major factors in the decision-making process. All of these variables will ultimately decide whether an ATV or UTV is for you.