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Setting the Record Straight: ATVs and Side by Sides are Not the Same

Aug 29th 2020

It’s easy to get lost in semantics when you’re first diving into the jargon-rich world of ATV/side by side riding. Let us be the first to tell you that it’s much easier to navigate this tangled mass of terms than it looks—as long as you start with a top-down approach.

What we mean by that is, before you start researching the finer points of Polaris Ranger accessories, it’s best to get the “big picture” established first. And for many newbies, this means clarifying the difference between ATVs and Side by Sides. THEN you can start in on that Double Row LED Light Bar you’ve had your eye on. 

That’s right, ATVs and side by sides are not the same. Let’s break the differences down point by point:


You may have heard ATVs, which stands for all-terrain vehicles, referred to as “quads.” This is in reference to their four wheels, not the ability to accommodate four passengers. ATVs typically accommodate one passenger – they can be thought of as a four-wheeled motorcycle meant for offroad settings.

Side by sides and UTVs, on the other hand, typically allow two riders to ride – you guessed it – “side by side.” It’s not uncommon at all to see UTVs and side by sides that accommodate four people. Most UTVs don’t roll off the line this way, meaning you will need a high-quality roll cage kit to make the jump from two to four. 

Where an ATV is like a beefy motorcycle, UTVs and side by sides like the Polaris Ranger are more like super rugged two-seater (or 4) “mini jeeps.” 

Intended Use

It’s more common to see ATVs used for recreation. This is because they’re typically more agile than UTVs, handling more like motorcycles. Also, ATVs aren’t able to transport/tow as much as UTVs, though there are plenty of workarounds to at least boost your carrying capacity by a small margin.

UTVs and side by sides are designed not just to get you to the job site, but to actually do the job in many cases. They can be outfitted with winches, powerful lights, larger storage solutions, farming implements, snow plows, and more. 


ATVs utilize a handlebar setup for steering purposes, which is another element that makes them more like offroad motorcycles. Depending on the type of ATV, you may have a thumb throttle and/or various shifters accessible from your handlebars, as well as the brakes, of course.

UTVs use steering wheels, though you may find them to be a little bit of a departure from your car on the first couple uses. There are tons of aftermarket variations to enhance your offroad capabilities, give you an edge on race day, and/or free up some extra leg room.

Overall Experience

For a more “athletic” experience in terms of wrestling with your steering system, making quick decisions at higher speeds and pulling more aggressive maneuvers, it’s ATV all the way. You’re not working with a roll cage, either, making this a truly open-air experience – once again, just like a motorcycle. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of thrills to be had in the UTV/side by side category, however, because these even more muscular offroad adventurers were built for serious abuse, meaning you will experience plenty of thumping around. 

If You’re Stuck in the Middle, Just Remember This

Can’t decide between an ATV and a class-leading side by side like the Polaris Ranger? Now that you know how these two classes of trail-pounding vehicles stack up in different areas, it should hopefully be easier for you to make the call. ATVs are more for play, and UTVs are more for work. That said, if you love to play but also have plenty of work to do around your property, then there are plenty of UTVs with more than enough pep to blow your hair back.