7 Things to Consider When Buying a UTV

The utility vehicle, or UTV, has benefits for work as well as recreation, but options vary widely by model. Here's what you need to know.

by Matt Fowler
PHOTO: Kubota

The ever-growing popularity of the utility vehicle is easy to grasp. These side-by-side, off-road vehicles are functional and versatile, and they’re fun in a recreational aspect. They have carved out a niche market because of their performance and durability, on the farm as well as on construction and mining sites, college campuses, hospitals, government facilities and any entity that spreads its operation over multiple locations or acres. Couple the vehicles’ functionality with the recreational aspects, and it’s no wonder the market continues to hold steady sales figures. However, not all off-road vehicles are the same. As with any machinery, the UTV market holds myriad choices and options. All the vehicles have a similar look with four-wheel, off-road capabilities and side-by-side seating, but the similarities might stop there. Before purchasing a UTV, ask yourself a few questions. The answers will help you narrow your search and spend your money wisely on a high-performance tool for the farm.

American Landmaster


What type of load do you plan to haul with a UTV? This is among the most sizeable differences in side-by-side utility vehicles. Do you need the vehicle to fit a full-size pallet in the bed? How much weight do you plan to haul in the cargo bed? The utility vehicle specifications vary widely in this area.

Many utility vehicles can’t accommodate a full-size pallet, but others can. Even if the vehicle can fit a full-size pallet, determine how much weight you normally have on a pallet or how much water you haul in your tank or whatever your typical cargo might be.

The weight specifications vary on utility vehicles from 300 pounds to more than 1,200 pounds. Several utility vehicles are in the middle area of around 600 pounds. If you won’t ever need to haul more than 600 pounds, you’ll have a greater number of options.

Knowing how much cargo you plan to carry is critical, but it’s equally critical to determine how you need to remove those loads in your cargo bed. Determine whether the cargo bed is fixed in place and require one to remove all items by the same means they were placed in the cargo bed, or the cargo bed tilts to dump the load. These dump beds come in manual as well as hydraulic configurations.

If you generally haul items on a pallet placed in the bed using a fork truck, you probably remove the items the same way. If you plan to haul heavy loads of dirt, compost, sticks and branches or any other material that might necessitate a dump bed, determine the weight of that cargo. Operating a manual dump bed with a 600 to 1,000 pounds of anything becomes very difficult to manually dump. Those times you will need a hydraulic dump bed.

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How much towing capacity do you need in a UTV? If you have trailers you plan to move with your utility vehicle, check the specification on towing capacity and power, then consider the wheelbase of the vehicle you want to purchase.

Most of the utility vehicles on the market come with a standard 2-inch receiver hitch and have a towing capacity between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds. The ability to tow a 1,500-pound load includes the ability to pull the load on uneven terrain and to slow and stop the load when breaking

Pulling a load on a hill or in loose material is more than a matter of power. If you need to tow a load on hilly terrain or in loose material such as gravel or sandy soils, determine the weight of the vehicle you are purchasing and the wheelbase. The weight of the vehicle and a longer wheelbase when the unit is in four-wheel drive offers more surefootedness and less spinning of the tires.

When breaking while pulling a heavy load you will want the engine to be able to handle much of the breaking. These are very powerful machines. Many of these machines have the ability to pull a 1,500-pound load and don’t even weigh 1,500 pounds themselves. Four-wheel disc brakes can’t control a load on their own without the loss off handling or the load pushing the utility vehicle. If the primary purpose of your UTV is towing heavy loads, make sure you purchase a heavier vehicle with an engine that will slow the load gently and evenly.

Ground Clearance

How much ground clearance do you need? Utility vehicles have stated ground clearances in their specs and they might speak to the travel distance of the wheels in their specs. These are important numbers if you plan to use your utility vehicle on trails or wooded areas, or cross creeks, traverse washed out areas or drive over fallen items. The ground clearance varies greatly on the machines.

If you don’t foresee the need to traverse rough terrain, owning a machine with lower ground clearance can be easier to enter and exit, and also have a shorter distance from the ground to the cargo bed when loading the machine. If you need to operate in rough terrain, pay attention to the ground clearance from the frame to the ground. A low ground-clearance vehicle used in rough terrain tends to bottom out or become high centered and get stuck.

The distance the wheels travel is how far the wheel will move up and down on uneven terrain. This allows the wheels to work at varying heights on rough terrain by climbing over individual obstacles that might be only on one side of the vehicle. The greater the travel distance, the greater the flexibility of the vehicle when navigating rough terrain.

Turning Radius

How tight of a turning radius do you need? Some UTVs come with power steering; some do not. Power steering is a nice feature, but it isn’t necessary if you don’t plan to use the vehicle in tight turning spaces or have lots of manipulation of the vehicle when moving slow or stopped. Most of the time this decision depends on where you plan to park the vehicle and how you plan to load it.

If you have plenty of space to store your vehicle or if the load will come to the utility vehicle, you probably don’t need power steering or a tight turning radius. If you plan to pull into a shed and negotiate how you back the vehicle into the shed, consider vehicles that have power steering and a tighter turning radius. If you don’t see the turning radius listed in the specification for a vehicle, remember that the longer the wheelbase, the greater the turning radius tends to be.

Seat Space


How many passengers will you need to accommodate while using your UTV on the farm? The UTV by definition is a side-by-side vehicle, meaning the driver can have a passenger beside him or her. Depending on the vehicle, the front seat is either a bucket seat or a bench seat.

Many manufacturers advertise bench seats that can accommodate three people. Bucket seats are made for a single person in each seat. Are two or three people all you need to transport?

Most manufacturers also offer the ability to have a second row of seating that accommodates two or three more people, so some vehicles set as many as six people with bench seating in the front and the back. In some models, the second row can fold down to make greater cargo room when you don’t have extra passengers. The ability to carry extra passengers can be a great feature, but you forfeit some of the performance of the vehicle for the second row of seating if you don’t need it.

New or Used?

If you’re considering purchasing a UTV for your farm, should you go new or preowned? Purchasing a new machine definitely has advantages. That includes a brand-new machine with a full warranty. Many of the UTVs have warranties for more than a single year and several thousand miles. When purchasing a new machine you can get exactly what you want rather than what someone else decided he or she didn’t want any longer.

When purchasing a used UTV, be careful and fully inspect the machine. You can’t determine some factors, such as whether the machine will start in the dead of winter after sitting for a week or if it can run for several hours of continuous use without problems. You can check a few key elements before committing to the purchase of a used machine, and these can make a difference.

Check the oil and the air filter. Are they really dirty? Overly dirty oil and air filters can be signs the machine was not maintained well or as it should have been.

Pop the seats out and look at the frame around the engine. UTVs are difficult to clean well. Looking critically under the seats and around the frame might help you determine whether it was at the bottom of a mud hole at some point or if it has received excellent care. Lastly, check the driveshaft boots to make sure they are not ripped and full of dirt.

Power Needs


How much power do you need? It seems like companies continue to put more power into these UTVs. We have seen gas-powered utility vehicles go from 400-cc to 1,000-cc models in the past five years. These machines continue to get more powerful and faster. The size of the engines in the diesel utility vehicles continues to grow as well, but these machines aren’t made to go as fast.

Do you need a diesel-powered machine to pull heavier loads and have greater torque, or do you crave the opportunity to utilize the machine for a recreational vehicle when the work is finished?

Some planning and forethought can help you purchase a machine that will save you time and energy on the homestead. A great number of new and used machines are on the market touting horsepower and performance. Horsepower is always an objective measure, but a utility vehicle’s performance is subjective and therefore based on your needs.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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