Skip to Content

What Is An ATV? Is It Different From A 4-Wheeler?

What Is An ATV? Is It Different From A 4-Wheeler?

The terms ATVs, Quads, 4-wheelers have confused many people. They find it difficult to differentiate between the three vehicles. Most people use them interchangeably, which has compounded the confusion. This blog post will clarify the differences between the vehicles.

An ATV, the abbreviation of All-Terrain Vehicle, is an off-road vehicle designed to travel on four non-pneumatic tires or low-pressure tires and has handlebars to steer control. ATVs are often three-wheeled or four-wheeled. ATVs are different from 4-wheelers.

There is no reason to be confused when you hear the terms ATVs and 4-wheelers. These are different vehicles, and you will enjoy learning how to differentiate them. So, relax and enjoy.

What Is An ATV?

All-terrain vehicles or ATVs are vehicles that can be three-wheeled, four-wheeled, or even six-wheeled. In Oregon, ATVs are referred to as any two-wheeled to eight-wheeled off-road vehicle with a motor designed for unpaved surfaces. The definition of ATVs varies from state to state.

An ATV is any vehicle with low-pressure tires, a seat straddled by the rider, and has handlebars for steering. There are sport ATVs, side-by-side ATVs, utility ATVs, and youth ATVs.

Types Of ATVs


ATVs are divided into class I or type I, class II or type II, class III or type III, and class IV or type IV. The manufacturer is the major determinant of the category an ATV falls into. Let us look at the four types of ATVs for better clarification.

Class I ATV

Class I ATVs are all-terrain vehicles with a width of fifty inches or less. Class I ATV has a maximum dry weight of 1200 pounds, three or more pneumatic tires with a width of six inches or more, a wheel with a rim diameter of fourteen inches, and handlebars for steering. Class I ATVs are designed to be used by only one operator. The seat is designed with the capacity for one person, the rider, no passenger.

Class II ATV

Class II ATVs weigh more than class I ATVs. They have a width greater than fifty inches but not more than sixty-five inches. Class II ATVs are also known as 4x4s, and it includes jeeps, SUVs, trucks, sand rails, and dune buggies. They have a dry weight of more than 1200 pounds and are designed to travel over water, snow, land, marsh, ice, and swampland.


Off-highway or off-road vehicles with two tires are class III ATVs, and they are two-wheeled vehicles. They have a dry weight of 600 pounds or less. Most people refer to Class III ATVs as dirt bikes.

Class IV ATV

These are also known as side-by-sides. They have a steering wheel, roll cage, and non-straddle seat. They have a width of at least eighty inches, a dry weight of 1800 pounds, and travel on four or more pneumatic tires with a width of six inches or more and a wheel diameter of fourteen inches or less. Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) and Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle (ROV) are Class IV ATVs.

What Makes A Vehicle Qualify As An ATV?


There are some features that differentiate an ATV from other off-road vehicles. Some of the features of all-terrain vehicles include:

  • Most ATVs are designed for a single rider; only a few can carry more. However, the maximum is two passengers.
  • ATVs can be two-wheeled, three-wheeled, or even four-wheeled.
  • The seats of ATVs can be straddled
  • ATVs use handlebars to steer.
  • ATVs have a dry weight that ranges from about 220 pounds to 1800 pounds.
  • Most ATVs have separate brake controls for both the front and rear tires.
  • ATVs have electric starters, pull starters, and kick-starters.
  • ATV transmissions have automatic clutches, foot-shifted clutches, hand-operated clutches, and hand-shifted clutches.
  • ATVs have either solid drive axles or differentials.
  • ATVs have either shaft/belt drives or chain drives.
  • The throttles of ATVs are either controlled by pushing a thumb lever next to the handgrip or twisting the handgrip.

Differences Between ATVs and 4-wheelers


Most people refer to four-wheeled ATVs as 4-wheelers. They are not. Nevertheless, all 4-wheelers are ATVs. Nevertheless, we will look at some of the differences between both vehicles.

  • ATVs are often smaller than 4-wheelers.
  • ATVs are designed for one rider and two in some cases; 4-wheelers are designed for two to six people.
  • ATVs usually weigh less than 4-wheelers.
  • ATVs have seats straddled by the rider, 4-wheelers have non-straddle seats.
  • ATVs are faster than 4-wheelers.
  • 4-wheelers can travel across more dangerous terrains than ATVs.
  • ATVs can either be two-wheeled, three-wheeled, or four-wheeled; 4-wheelers are always four-wheeled.
  • ATVs are designed for different age grades (including children ATVs, youth ATVs, and adult ATVs), 4-wheelers are designed for adults only.
  • ATVs have handlebars for steering, 4-wheelers have steering wheels.
  • ATVs do not come with safety equipment; 4-wheelers come with safety equipment, like seatbelts.
  • ATVs accelerate when the rider presses the thumb throttle and brakes with either the foot pedal or brake handle. Foot pedals control the brakes and acceleration of 4-wheelers.

Where Can You Operate An ATV?

All-terrain vehicles are designed for any terrain. They can travel through terrain a regular vehicle cannot go through. These are the places where you can legally operate an all-terrain vehicle:

  • Deserts
  • Muds
  • Dunes
  • Tracks
  • Off pavement
  • Rocks
  • Snow and ice
  • Wet roads
  • Cross-country
  • Steep grades.

Rules For Operating An All-Terrain Vehicle

To keep riders safe and maintain order, there are rules and laws enforced to regulate and control the operation of ATVs. Different states have different rules, and before you operate an ATV, you must know the state laws that regulate the operations. We will look at some states and their ATV laws.

California Laws

  • Children under 14 years of age cannot operate ATVs, even under the supervision of a parent or guardian.
  • No person can drive an ATV at a speed that poses a threat to the safety of other people or property.
  • No person can operate an ATV in a manner that can cause damage to land, vegetative resources, wildlife, or wildlife habitat.
  • ATVs must be equipped with at least one headlight before they can be driven at night.

New York Laws

  • It is illegal to operate an ATV on the highways, except on highways designated and posted as open to ATVs.
  • No person can operate an ATV on public lands or private property of another person.
  • No person must operate an ATV while in an intoxicated condition or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • No person can operate an ATV in a careless, negligent, or reckless manner and poses a threat to the safety of others.
  • All ATVs to be operated must have functional brakes, a muffler system, a spark arrester, and good tires.
  • No persons under the age of 16 can operate an ATV except on private lands. Furthermore, it must be under the supervision and guidance of an adult.

Florida Laws

  • No person below the age of 16 may operate an ATV without wearing a safety helmet and eye protection.
  • ATVs are prohibited from operating on highways, streets, and public roads, except it is permitted by a federal agency or the managing state.
  • ATVs may be operated during the daytime on an unpaved road where the speed limit is specified to be less than 35 mph.
  • No person below the age of 16 may operate an ATV without direct supervision from an adult.

Final Thoughts

If you have ridden an ATV, you will know how fun it can be. Riding an ATV should be an activity everyone should try out. However, many people can barely differentiate ATVs, quads, and 4-wheelers.

Here is something to take note of, all 4-wheelers are quads, but not all quads are 4-wheelers. All quads are ATVs, but not all ATVs are quads. With this in mind, you should find it easy to remember the differences.

Learn More:  ATVs For 8-Year-Olds: The Best 4-Wheelers You Can Get