What Are the Different Types of Off-Road Vehicles

different types of off-road vehicles

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Do you live for the great outdoors? Hiking is fabulous exercise, but sometimes, you have a lot of God’s country to see and only a short time to do it. What different types of off-road vehicles can you opt for when you have a need for speed? 

Various types have various uses, depending on your favorite activity and terrain. For example, someone with a permit to haul in an 800-pound elk needs a different off-road vehicle than someone looking for a fun weekend at the dunes or a weekend in Tahoe. The right ride keeps you safer on your outdoor adventures while increasing your overall enjoyment. 

If you’re considering investing in a new toy, it helps to know your choices. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of off-road vehicles. 

1. ATVs

The first type of off-road vehicle on our list is the most ubiquitous: the ATV or all-terrain vehicle. It refers to a ride with four non-pneumatic tires and a straddle seat. It also comes in multiple varieties and styles:

  • Utility ATVs: These are rugged and designed for working and hunting. They may have little to no suspension and a bumpy ride. Electric models have recently become popular because they’re quieter, making them popular among those seeking game. 
  • Sport ATVs: These are much faster than utility ATVs and have impressive suspensions, allowing riders to race over uneven terrain. 
  • Side-by-sides: Have the ability to carry a passenger. 

At one time, three-wheeler ATVs were also a thing. However, their design led to numerous accidents, and while you can occasionally find used ones today, most manufacturers voluntarily ceased production in 1998. 

What differentiates ATVs from UTVs is their design. Although they have four tires, you straddle and steer them like a bicycle. Many of them have no gears, simply a throttle. Lay on it when you want to accelerate and ease off to slow down or use the brake.

These vehicles are ideal for exploring the great outdoors and covering a lot of territory in one day. They can tackle uneven terrain and varied landscapes, from desert sand to mountain screes. 

Pro-tip: Most people refer to ATVs as “quads” or “4-wheelers.” 

2. UTVs 

UTVs are similar to ATVs. The primary difference is size, as UTVs can carry more than one passenger, sometimes as many as six, but typically two to four. They also drive more like a car instead of a bike, with a steering wheel and gearshift. 

UTVs are often more stable than ATVs. Over 10,000 people died in ATVs between 1982 and 2009, but numbers for UTVs are far smaller because of several features: 

  • Roll cage design: If you roll an ATV, you could fly off a cliff, down an embankment or into something hazardous, like oncoming. Roll cages on UTVs keep you safely inside the vehicle. 
  • Low, broad design: UTVs are lower to the ground and feature a wider base, making them less prone to rollovers. 

UTVs are often preferred by families and hunters. They’re equally great for taking the kiddos out to explore a new trail or hauling in a big buck without breaking your back. 

3. Enduro and Trail Bikes 

There are two types of motorized bikes designed for off-road use: 

  • Enduro bikes: These are designed for off-road use and built to go the distance, with big engines. 
  • Trail bikes: Lighter and smaller, designed to go around sharp curves. 

Both enduro and trail bikes are usually street-legal or capable of such a conversion, thanks to their headlights and other electronics that help them navigate in the dark. Therefore, you can go from the highway to the trail without an extra trailer. This feature differentiates them from motocross bikes, which aren’t designed for on-the-road use. 

5. Mountain Bikes 

You might not think of your mountain bike as an off-road vehicle — until you realize how much more ground you can cover with one. These devices get you a great workout while letting you see more of your favorite outdoor destination. 

You also have tons of options, making your ride infinitely customizable. Consider the following factors when selecting a mountain bike:

  • Suspension: A soft suspension makes it easier to descend and navigate rocks, while a hardtail gives you more speed and climbing ability. 
  • Wheel size: Some trail bikes have fat tires for navigating rocky trails. Additionally, the diameter impacts your ride’s comfort over distances versus how well it can jump. 
  • Brand: Well-known brands are easier to find parts for when it’s time for repair. 

6. Jeeps 

The Jeep is the original vehicle designed for both on and off-road driving. The brand arose from the military need for something that combined the off-road ability of horses with motorcycle maneuverability and general-purpose transportation needs. After WWII, Willys kept making these vehicles, which became increasingly popular until evolving into today’s brand. 

Older model Jeeps are a mechanic’s dream vehicle. Their easy-to-navigate engine makes it a snap even for novices to learn basic tasks. However, newer models can be too much of a status symbol to want to dirty on the trail — choose wisely. At the very least, consider add-ons like skid plates to protect your investment while you play. 

7. Other 4WD Street Vehicles 

Jeep doesn’t have a monopoly on highway-to-off-road design. Today, you can find scores of 4WD vehicles suitable for off-road driving, including some greener electric models like the following:

  • Ford F150 Lightning
  • Rivian R1T
  • Hummer EV
  • Chevrolet Silverado EV
  • GMC Sierra EV
  • Ram 1500 REV

8. Dune Buggies 

Rounding out the list of different types of off-road vehicles are two specialty rides. The first are those made for the sand

  • Dune buggies: Modified existing cars that are often street-legal. 
  • Sandrails: Custom-made frames that aren’t street-legal. 

These vehicles feature paddle tires and low centers of gravity that lets them climb dunes. People build entire industries around creating custom builds, although you can find kits if you aren’t too certain of your DIY skills. Some people design them for going the distance, while others prefer speed. 

9. Snowmobiles 

The final type of off-road vehicle is a snowmobile. These also come in various styles, some designed for a single rider, others for carrying passengers. There are long-range, utility snowmobiles and speedy racers. The one feature they share is their ability to travel over snow and ice where tires slip. Instead of wheels, they use a continuous Kevlar track. 

What Are the Different Types of Off-Road Vehicles 

If you’re in the market for a new toy, it helps to know what different types of off-road vehicles you have to choose from. Each one is slightly different in purpose and performance. 

Selecting the right type of off-road vehicle can significantly increase your enjoyment of the great outdoors. Invest in one of these toys today and elevate your next getaway. 

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