Choosing ATVs and Other Off-Road Vehicles for the Farm
By Tim Nephew
It’s been about 18 years since my wife and I purchased 80 acres of rural land. I enjoy hunting and the outdoors, but we also shared an interest in clearing some fields for wildlife food plots, and we wanted to try our hand at growing grapes and planting a larger garden.
To accomplish some of our goals, I knew I’d need to add some equipment and implements to the toolshed. I already owned an old Ford tractor, a disc, and a spring tooth, but I convinced my wife that to be able to get to the hilly, hard-to-reach places on our land, we absolutely “needed” an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Of course, “needed” and “wanted” were probably somewhat interchangeable in my case, but I must have been convincing, because she gave me her blessing to go out and buy one.
Eighteen years ago, there weren’t as many decisions to make when it came to purchasing an ATV, and the first versions of the side-by-side utility task vehicle (UTV) were just starting to enter the market. At the time, I opted for a smaller 300cc ATV that had clutchless shifting with the standard front and rear racks for hauling additional gear. I mounted a ball-hitch receiver to the ATV, and I was able to attach a trailer to range far back into the woods to cut and haul firewood. The ATV also came in handy for carrying fencing supplies as I developed our land. I added a small front blade for plowing snow, and I also used the “4-wheeler” to pull an old drag to even out our gravel driveway.
During hunting season, the ATV was a great companion, and saved me backbreaking work when it came time to haul game. In later years, as I started to develop my wildlife food plots, I added a rotary fertilizer spreader that mounted to the ATV, and also a tow-behind sprayer to kill weeds in the fields and ditches. I don’t own any livestock, but I know many ranchers and farmers who depend on their ATVs to reach back pastures and cover large open range to check on cattle, sheep and other livestock in all types of weather conditions and terrain. Front-mounted mowers on ATVs also make mowing some hillsides less dangerous. Although I might have been able to get by without the ATV, it has proven to be a workhorse in both my leisure and work time.
If you are thinking about purchasing an ATV or UTV, you will find that there are a lot of considerations to think through. Do I purchase an ATV, or is a UTV the most practical for me? How much horsepower do I need? What kind of attachments should I look for, and if I have to haul it around, do I need a trailer? Read on, and I’ll try to address some of these questions for you.
ATVs are much more agile than a UTV, and are great for getting into tight places and narrow trails. ATVs require physical exertion when driving them, which means you have to control things like balance and maneuvering, although with some of the options today, ergonomics are improving that all the time. Some “4-wheeler” models today are even equipped with rollover protective structures and doors. ATVs are mainly designed for single-rider use, but can accommodate two people in some cases depending on the configuration. They are easily towed with a small trailer if you need to travel with them, and with the proper accessories, they can often be hauled in the back of a standard-size pickup truck.
ATVs come in a wide variety of engine sizes that you can and should match to your intended utility. The engine size can range from 125cc for young riders up to the 1000cc specialized models. If you are mainly using your ATV for recreational riding and light work such as pulling a trailer or light plowing, engines in the 300cc to 500cc range would be a good choice. If you plan to do a lot of heavy work such as plowing, pulling a disc or other implements for food plot work, and hauling heavy loads, opt for a larger engine displacement in the 500cc to 750cc range.
In selecting your engine, you will also need to consider whether to select a model that uses fuel injection as opposed to carburetion. Fuel injection is becoming more popular, especially on larger machines. Fuel injection differs from a carbureted system in that the fuel-to-air ratio is controlled by sensors as opposed to a carbureted system that requires choking to control the ratio. Fuel injected systems are great for easier startups and running in cold weather environments or operating in higher elevations, and are usually more fuel efficient and cleaner. Carbureted systems are the standard in the industry, are a less expensive option, and can perform nearly as well as fuel injected but require a little more maintenance to keep them operating efficiently.
The majority of ATVs have multiple options for the type of transmission that is used. The most popular design is an automatic transmission that operates much like the way your car operates, with a forward and reverse, with some models offering a Hi or Lo range in automatic. There are also manual options that allow for either electronic push button selection or manual assist such as foot shifting without the need for a clutch. For overall ease of operation and performance, the automatic wins out. If you want or need to be able to decide when to put more power or torque to the job at hand, you may opt for the more manual transmission option.
The ATV’s suspension determines how it functions or handles on various terrain. There are two main suspension types: independent rear suspension (IRS) or solid axel. IRS suspensions help to maintain traction with the ground for not only better traction but also a smoother ride over rough ground.
Solid-axel suspensions are usually a standard option that’s less expensive, but they work well on established trails and for most typical use. They can handle some rough terrain, but not to the extent of an IRS-equipped ATV. If you plan on forging your own trails across logs and boulders, the extra price of IRS may be a well-spent option.
Other options such as electronic power steering, the ability to switch between two- and four-wheel drive, and front and rear hydraulic disc brakes all make for additional consideration and cost when purchasing an ATV. Prices for ATVs are varied, but expect to pay from $6,000 up to $10,000 depending on engine size and options.
An entire industry has developed around the ATV market for accessories, and they can help you maximize your investment. If you are looking to use your unit to help with work around your home, there are snow plows, box blades, landscape rakes, aerators and dethatchers. You may also purchase sprayers to mount on your unit for weed control, or fertilizer spreaders that can also lay down salt for road deicer.
If you are a small-scale farmer or want to develop land for gardens or food plots, there are disc harrows, cultipackers, manure spreaders, chisel plows and cultivators. If you have large areas of lawn or trails to cut, you can buy self-powered rough-cut and finish mowers that can be pulled by ATVs. There are also an assortment of trailers and dump-box attachments for moving anything from hay bales to landscape materials.
ATV or UTV
If you are trying to decide between purchasing an ATV or a UTV, it really comes down to your individual intended use of the vehicle and personal preference. If you want to be able to get back into tight areas with little room for maneuvering, or you want something with a smaller footprint, the ATV shines.
On the other hand, if the ability to transport multiple people in one vehicle is important, or if added safety and comfort appeals to you, then perhaps the UTV is your best option.
Regardless of which you choose, either one will provide a great way to enjoy some outside recreation and double as a workhorse around the home or farm.
• Smaller footprint can get into tighter places
• Can be configured in many engine sizes and styles to meet any rider’s needs
• Cost is generally less than a UTV
• Less turf impact than the larger UTV – may operate in two- or four-wheel mode
• Requires less room to store
• Very easy to trailer – may also fit in pickup bed
• Has high performance features available like electronic fuel injection, electronic power steering, hydraulic disc brakes and independent rear suspension
• Wide variety of implements and accessories available for work or play
• Mostly designed for one passenger
• Limited cargo carrying capacity requires attaching a trailer for bigger loads or material moving
• Less comfort in seating for long rides
• Oftentimes no rollover protection
• Larger than ATV, can carry multiple passengers
• Excellent safety features such as rollover protection, seat belts, side webbing and doors
• Truck style dump bed for extra cargo hauling capacity
• Multiple options such as all-weather cab enclosure, heater, lighting and stereo
• Larger engine selections available than ATV for more power and functionality
• High performance features on most models are standard – paid options on ATVs
• Upright seating for comfortable all day riding – great for older riders
• Wide variety of implements and accessories available for work or play
• Costs more than ATV – high-end options can almost double cost of purchase
• Requires more room to store than ATV and can only be trailered
• Some states limit off road trail use because of size
Tim Nephew, a freelance writer living in Minnesota, loves the outdoors and manages his 80 acres for wildlife.
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