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ATV: How To Choose the Right One

Are you considering buying an ATV but feel overwhelmed by the options available? Choosing the perfect ATV can be challenging, especially if you’re new to off-roading. In this blog post, we’ll help you navigate the process and provide you with essential tips and factors to consider when selecting the right ATV that suits your needs and preferences. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to make an informed decision and take your off-road adventures to the next level.

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So, What is an ATV Really?

Man riding ATV vehicle on off road trail
Off-roading on an ATV trail

An ATV, aka All-Terrain-Vehicle, isn’t just a vehicle to get you from point A to point B. ATVs are also functional tools, and by this, I mean they can assist in pulling stuck objects/vehicles, hauling, plowing snow, carrying gear on hunting trips, etc. These machines can power through snow, rivers, mud, fields, and even roads so icy that you can barely walk on them. I can go on and on about the functionality and benefits of owning an ATV, but that’s not what this post is about. ATVs are a perfect companion to pretty much everything you do – within reason. 😉

ATV Basics – What to Consider

So, what do you look for when buying an ATV? Well, how about answering these questions first? Your answers will help narrow down your choices.

First off, what is the intent of the ATV? Are you planning on racing, using it for work, hitting the off-road trails or a bit of everything?

Another factor to consider is passengers. Do you plan on taking passengers? If so, you need to purchase a 2-up seat to be legal. Different machines may have different wheelbases, so this is something else to consider before making your ATV purchase.

Engine size is another factor to consider. Options generally range from 500cc to 1000cc. My ATV is 500cc and has more than enough power for general riding, though a bit more would be nice for towing a boat. Side-by-sides are typically 850cc and can handle the increased weight.

But before you go and decide on an engine size, double-check with your insurance company. Insurance premiums may be higher for anything over 500cc. Fuel-wise, larger engines aren’t an issue, as the cost of fuel for a 3-4 hour trip in the bush is about $8 – a worthwhile entertainment expense.

Further Reading: Un-Storing Your ATV: A 10 Step, How to Guide

What Brands to Look for When Buying an ATV

OK, what brand of ATV should I look for? Well, there are so many ATV brands out there, but out of all of them, these brands dominate the market: Can-Am, Yamaha, Honda, Polaris, Arctic Cat, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. On the trails, I see more of the first four. If you have buddies that ride, ask them what they think of their ride and try to recall if they ever complained about the problems they encountered with their machine. Asking a buddy is the best review you are ever going to get.

As for me, my ATV is a Can-Am Outlander XT, and the side-by-side is a Yamaha Wolverine X4. Both have been dependable rides with no major problems. Choosing between these popular brands will boil down to preference and availability.

Plus, if you choose a brand, ensure you have access to local dealerships, easy-to-find parts, and a community of fellow ATV riders for advice and support.

Different Types of ATVs

Off-roading in the sand dunes
Cross-country quad bike race, extreme sports

There are three main types of ATVs – Sport, Utility, and Sport Utility

  • Sport models feature robust suspension, handling, and performance power. The sport model ATVs are ideal for racing, jumping, and all-around fun. With these models, don’t expect storage compartments, gun racks or even a flat area to strap something down, as these are strictly for fun.
  • Utility model ATVs are versatile, working hard on the job and playing hard on the trails. These models are perfect for hunting, mudding, and more.
  • Sport utility models offer a limited version of the two above categories. 
Yamaha Raptor 90cc Youth
Yamaha Raptor 90cc Youth ATV

For the younger riders, there are even youth ATV models with capped speeds and power, the perfect introduction to take on the terrains and eventually grow into the more beastly models.

What to Look for When Choosing an ATV Model

With an ATV model in mind, look for features that will make your ride comfortable, versatile and packed with power. If you choose a sport ATV, consider its handling, suspension, speed and acceleration, and stance. Four-wheel drive ATVs are designed for serious trail performance, while rear-wheel models offer a more aggressive racing experience.

Pro Tip!

Unless you are racing or towing, speed and raw power aren’t always what you want! One of the most incredible ATV models we tried was a Honda Pioneer 1000 cc. It was insanely fast and snarly, so much so it was exhilarating. But, it’s not what you want for climbing/descending rocks or maneuvering over super rough terrain. The Wolverine we ended up with sits in that perfect torque band for demanding trails – those moments when the right amount of power and control is what you seek. It offers so much engine braking that you can often descend some of the nastiest and roughest hills without touching the brakes! It does it more gracefully and safely than braking. Never listen to your heart when buying – always consider your use first!!!

For utility ATVs, focus on ground clearance, independent rear suspension for a smoother ride, integrated hitches for towing, and racks and storage. Lastly, don’t forget to look at the tires. Most models come with standard all-around performance tires – pick more specialized tires if that suits your needs better. ATV tires come in various sizes, tread patterns, and depths for different conditions, such as all-terrain, sand, mud/water, rock climbing, snow/ice, hard packed and soft trails.

A SxS Adventure

That’s us crossing an old wooden bridge. While nerve racking, the view was well worth it!

Essential ATV Accessories

Whether a seasoned ATV rider or just getting started, investing in the right accessories can mean the difference between loving and hating your ATV. By splurging a few extra dollars on comfort, convenience, and even safety, it can vastly improve your ATV experience. This is a list of accessories to consider, each one tailored to help you get the most out of your riding experience:

Cold Weather Features

Sometimes simple features can make or break an experience, like hand and thumb warmers on an ATV or a flip-up windshield on an SxS. These cold weather features will help you stay warm and extend your riding/work season. For those who already have a used machine, don’t worry, you can always add these features later. A quick workaround is some heated gloves. With the right gear, cold weather and rain won’t slow you down.


Whether driving solo or with a group, keeping track of your surroundings while riding an ATV or SxS is essential. Mirrors offer the perfect solution. Both my machines come equipped with a mirror: While there are many ways to get side mirrors, ours on the ATV, for example, has a pole with a small circular mirror on the left handle.

When choosing ATV mirrors, avoid mirrors that have too much protrusion, as they can get easily damaged in brushy areas. SxS drivers can mount a centre rearview mirror.

Mirrors are quintessential on off-roading trails. Without turning your head, you can check on the rest of your group and make sure everyone is safe. Or reverse without putting yourself in a scary situation. Plus, if you notice a faster-moving group behind you, you can quickly signal them to pass or adjust your route to keep the ride enjoyable for everyone.


A winch is a must! Any ATV rider knows that having a winch is essential for tackling the toughest trails. When you encounter unexpected obstacles, such as deep water or overgrown trails, having a winch can give you the confidence to take them on and keep riding. For those unfamiliar with winches, opt for a synthetic line — it’s a much easier fix in the field and no harder to use than a basic knot. 

I have experience with winching in the craziest places, such as going uphill with half the machine off the ground. And I even learned to winch backwards! You can even winch when there is nothing around to attach to. Trust me, a winch can make all the difference when out ATVing.

Further Reading: Winching Off-Road: One Of The Most Helpful Do’s And Don’ts

Get a Hitch

If you plan on transporting or moving anything by ATV, you guessed it – get a hitch! A hitch is a phenomenal anchor point for rescue situations. The 3-in-1 hitch can also tow regular and riding lawnmower trailers, and it’s perfect for heavier items such as tractor carts. Not to mention, the 3-in-1 hitch is multi-use, giving you the most bang for your buck!

Other ATV accessories to consider purchasing are racks, extenders, storage, bumpers and brush guards, plows, lighting, audio and speakers, track kits and hunting accessories.

Further Reading: Can-Am Storage Box: Energize Your ATV With More Space!

Tips for After the Purchase

Investing in an ATV is an exciting experience, and driving one is even better, but before you go off into the sunset, there are some legal requirements. 

To start, you must have an ATV helmet: the ZOX Journey is a fantastic option for its flip-up visor and mouth area, which allows for sipping on coffee or water without removing it.

Additionally, insurance is mandatory when you leave your property. And don’t forget about ATV trail passes, which are necessary for many trails. Be sure to check the pass requirements before you ride, and never trespass on private property without permission from the landowner – trespassing and insurance violations can be serious offences.

If you plan on venturing off onto the trails, there are a few ATV gear essentials to consider carrying with you. These items: a grappling hooktree savers, plenty of rope, and a saw will help get you out of most situations that you may find yourself in.

Further Reading: Got Stuck on the ATV? Get a Grappling Hook Now!

Buy Smart – Tips for Making the Right ATV Purchase

Using an ATV to carry my hunting gear
Using an ATV to carry my hunting gear

Investing in a quality ATV is a great way to expand your outdoor pursuits, from recreational riding to farming and other land management activities. However, getting the right ATV for your needs is the key to a successful purchase. Here are a few tips to help you buy smart and find the perfect ATV for your needs without blowing your budget:

First, make sure you know how you plan on using your ATV, the terrain you’ll be operating on, machine size and engine size, as certain models are built for specific activities or conditions.

Next, research the type of ATV you are considering, its benefits and features, and the manufacturers that produce them. Check out customer reviews from third-party sources and ratings to understand which models consistently deliver a quality ride.

Finally, be sure to shop around for the best prices and financing options. Taking the time to compare prices and find the best deal for your needs can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Choosing the Right ATV

Choosing the right ATV doesn’t have to be daunting, especially now that you know the essential tips and factors to consider. You can now confidently navigate the process and select the perfect ATV that suits your needs and preferences. Remember to consider the intent, passengers, engine size, brands, model, and features that will make your ride comfortable, versatile, and packed with power. Whether you’re racing, using it for work, hitting the off-road trails, or a bit of everything, there’s a machine out there for you. So, take your off-road adventures to the next level with the perfect vehicle!

If you go with a used ATV, we offer some great techniques for putting the machine into service.

Let us know what you think about choosing the right ATV. Are there any other tips or advice you would give someone looking to buy an ATV?

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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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