How to choose a UTV: Buying the right Side-by-Side

If you are in the market for a Side-by-Side and begin looking at all the available models, the choice for what UTV to buy can be daunting.

At the time of writing this, there are 15 companies that manufacture UTVs/Side-by-Sides. Each company builds between 1-4 different models and some models have multiple trim levels.

As you can see in the manufacture and model list below, there are a lot of choices when it comes to buying a UTV. Undoubtedly most enthusiasts have heard of Yamaha, Polaris, Honda, Kawasaki, Can-Am and Arctic Cat but there are other companies making Side-by-Sides too.

When looking to buy a Side-by-Side there are a lot of options that make the buying process full of choices. These include choosing a brand, engine size, new vs used, trim levels and more.

Below I will detail some of the choices available when choosing a UTV to help eliminate the confusion that comes with buying your new vehicle.

Kawasaki Mule

Utility, Recreation, Sport or High Performance Models

The purpose of the UTV is the biggest consideration when choosing what model to buy. Will it be used on the farm or job site as a tool to haul materials and tow trailers around? Or are you looking for the fastest, most aggressively styled dune shredding Side-by-Side available? Maybe something in between?

Deciding what purpose the UTV will be used for most is the first choice in picking the right vehicle. Most UTVs are good at a variety of uses but most have specific purposes they excel at.


Utility UTVs are made primarily for work use. That’s not say they can’t be used for play but they aren’t built to be the fastest or best cornering vehicles. Utility models comes with a bed in the back for carrying loads of tools or farm and construction building materials. These models also come with a trailer hitch for towing small trailers.

The Kawasaki Mule and Yamaha Viking fall into this category. While they can certainly be used to have fun, their main purpose is functionality and utility, being used more as a tool than strictly for recreation.


Recreation type Side-by-Sides fall in the middle between Utility and Sport and Performance models. They are more slightly more focused on performance than utility function but are not as performance focused as Sport and High Performance models.

These UTVs are faster and have better suspension than Utility models. But they still come with a cargo bed like the Utility Side-by-Sides.

They are great for tight forest trails making them perfect for camping excursions and having fun in the mountains. When you want a vehicle can be used for both work and play Recreational models are the obvious choice.

SEE ALSO: 5 of Our Favorite SxS Accessories

Models included in this category include the Polaris General and Honda Pioneer among many others.

Sport & High Performance

The Sport and High Performance category is where big horsepower and high tech Fox Racing Suspension is the name of the game. These vehicles are faster, wider and more expensive than Utility or Recreation models.

Seeming endless suspension travel, high revving high-output engines and aggressive tires set this category of Side-by-Sides apart. When your goal is going very fast and handling jumps with easy these are the models you want.

The drawback to these machines is that they aren’t well suited for carrying heavy loads around the farm or venturing through narrow trails. Cargo beds don’t come on these vehicles, just a small storage area in the rear.

They do have low range so they can crawl over technical terrain and through tight areas but their wider stance can make it difficult.

Turbo or Non-Turbo

If you’ve decided to get a High Performance UVT an important decision is choosing a turbo or non-turbo model. A turbocharged UTV will have much more power and accelerate quicker than a non-turbo.

The downside of a having a turbo is the increased complexity of the engine. It’s one more thing to worry about failing and maintaining as the engine get more miles on it.

Brand new Side-by-Sides don’t have a problem with failing turbos but it’s something to be aware of when buying used.

The advantage of a turbo is the amazing acceleration and the feeling of never-ending power. Ride a RZR XP 1000 in the sand dunes then go ride in a RZR XP Turbo and you will be surprised how much better the turbo model pulls hills.

Engine Size

The size of the engine will effect how much power a UTV has. A larger engine will have more power than a smaller one but the larger engine will cost more.

If you want lightening fast acceleration or plan on hauling passengers and lots of gear go for a 900-1000cc engine. The extra power will be welcomed. The same goes for riding in the sand dunes and deep mud, aim for 900cc or larger.

For farm work, less aggressive trail riding or general outdoor exploration 800cc and smaller engines are a great choice.

Arctic Cat Wildcat

How many seats do you need?

Side-by-Sides come with multiple passenger options. You can get them with the following seating configurations:

  • 1 Seater – Driver only, no passengers
  • 2 Seater – Driver and 1 passenger, seated side by side
  • 3 Seater – Driver and 2 passengers, seated side by side
  • 4 Seater – Driver and 3 passengers, 2 rows of 2
  • 6 Seater – Driver and 5 passengers, 2 rows of 3

Determining the number of seats need is based on how many passengers will be riding with the driver. Something to consider when making this choice are the physical dimensions and weight. A Side-by-Side that carries more passengers will be larger and heavier than one made for fewer passengers.

Three and six seat models are generally utility oriented models. Ideal for farms and job sites these models are great for carrying people, tools and materials. Specific models include the Polaris Ranger Crew, Yamaha Viking VI, and Can-Am Defender Max.

One, two and four seat UTVs can be utility or sport / performance oriented.

Popular Brands vs Lesser Known Brands

Another consideration when purchasing a UTV is the brand. Should you go with popular brands like Polaris or Yamaha that have been in the power-sports industry for decades? What about a brand like CFMoto or Hinsun? These names may not be be as well known in the ATV and UTV market but still offer numerous models.

Does that mean they are not as good? Honestly I have never owned one so I can’t answer that. However, if I were in the market for a less expensive UTV or looking for an entry into the sport I would give them serious consideration.

Before buying one I would find out what kind of warranty these manufacturers offer and the availability of replacement parts.

How does the warranty compare to other companies?

How available are the parts? Can you buy them from, RockMountainATV/ or any other large online retailer. Or are they only available through the manufacturer.

How does the price of these parts compare to other UTV companies?

Talking to other owners is also a great way to get feedback from someone what has owned the brand and model you are looking at. If they would buy their Side-by-Side again that’s a good sign.

Transmission Type

Side-by-Sides comes have several options when it comes to the transmission. The type of transmission might not be a big consideration but it will dictate how much interaction the driver has with the vehicle.

The three main options are the CVT (continuously variable transmission), DCT (dual clutch transmission) and the sequential transmission.


CVT transmissions are by far the most popular option and are found in most Side-by-Sides. These use a belt and require no manual shifting from the driver. As you step on the accelerator pedal the engine speeds up and the primary and second clutches adjust accordingly via the belt connecting them.

The only shifting the driver does is between high, low, park, reverse and neutral. There is no clutch pedal or shifting gears once you put the transmission into high or low gear. To the driver a CVT works similarly to an automatic transmission in a car.

Practically every Side-by-Side uses a CVT except the Honda Talon and Pioneer and the Yamaha YXZ.

Sequential Transmission

The sequential transmission found in the Yamaha YXZ is similar to that of a motorcycle transmission. It has a gear shift lever that shifts down when pushed forward and shifts up when pulled back. It uses a clutch pedal like works similar to that of a car.

Yamaha also offers the YXZ with a Sport Shift transmission. It doesn’t have a clutch pedal and uses paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. The Sport Shift transmission allows for full throttle shifts (no letting off the gas) and automatic downshifting that engages when the vehicle comes to a stop without downshifting with the paddles.


Honda uses a DCT (dual clutch transmission) in the Talon and Pioneer. It’s a sophisticated, modern transmission similar to that found in sports cars.

Honda’s transmission has 3 modes: 2 fully automatic modes, Drive and Sport which automatically shifts the transmission as the UTV accelerates and decelerates. Then there is Manual mode that allows the driver to change manually gears using steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Factory Accessories and Creature Comforts

As UTVs become more common and are used for a wider variety or purposes factory accessories and creature comforts become increasingly common. No longer are the days of a UTV being just a sparsely equipped farm tool.

Below are some of the factory options and accessories available when buying a new Side-by-Side.

  • Heaters
  • GPS Units
  • Fully Enclosed Cabs
  • Stereo Systems
  • LED Light Bars
  • Storage Boxes
  • Performance Parts
  • Wheels and Tires
  • Bumpers and more.

New or Used

The decision to buy new or used usually depends how much you are willing to spend. Used Side-by-Sides can be had for much less than a brand new one. This is beneficial when getting into the sport and deciding if you like it or not.

A new Side-by-Side will come with a warranty and has the advantage of having never been used before. There are no surprises as far as maintenance or damage goes. You know the entire history of the machine because no one else has used it. The downside to this is obviously cost, a new Side-by-Side is more expensive than used, but can be financed.

Whereas used UTVs cost less, there is no guarantee what you are getting. Unless buying used from a dealer or close friend, maintenance or damage is uncertain. It’s not always visible if a vehicle was abused or has internal damage to the engine or transmission. Buying used can be somewhat of a gamble. That’s why it’s important to know what to look for when buying used.

What to look for in a used UTV

For someone new to the sport if can be difficult to know what to look for when buying a used UTV. Unless you are familiar with certain models you don’t know what potential problems to look for. The following points will give you an general idea of what to pay attention to and look out for.

Overall condition

First take a look at the general condition. If the UTV has mud caked everywhere and the body panels have cracks that is a potential sign the vehicle was driven hard. To be fair, these machines are meant to be driven and not just sit in a garage. But if it’s dirty and damaged it was probably abused.


Which brings up the next point, maintenance. Ask the owner what maintenance was done and when. Ask to inspect the air filter and take a look around the engine and differentials for oil leaks. Check the dipstick and look at the oil. The oil should be somewhat clean, not black or dirty.

Check for coolant leaks around the radiator and verify it is at the proper level.

Check the grease fittings. They should look like they have been used somewhat recently. You can tell if they have been used by looking for fresh grease on them or if it looks like a grease gun has been attached to the fittings.


Inspect the suspension components by looking for loose nuts and bolts. Look closely at the shocks for damage. Keep an eye out from hairline cracks in the suspension components, frame and roll cage.

Aftermarket parts

If it has aftermarket parts what is the installation quality? Does it look like it was installed by someone that knew what they were doing or is it a hack job? Improperly installed parts can turn into problems.

Test drive

The most important way to get a feel for a used UTV is to take it for a test drive. Listen for abnormal sounds (grinding, whining, clunking). Make sure the brakes work, it handles well and the engine is smooth. A test drive should alert you of any major problems. If you can, try to test the vehicle in as many driving situations as possible.

Final thought

There are numerous choices when it comes to buying a UTV. With so many options out there it can be difficult to make a decision. Choosing the right model is best done by determining how the vehicle will be used and what characteristics it needs.

By doing this you can be confident that your decision is the right one and you have chosen the best UTV for your needs.