Richard L. Parish | 12/13/2004 7:24:45 PM
In recent years, a new class of vehicle has become popular for sportsmen, rural homeowners, farmers and turf professionals.
These utility vehicles look like a cross between a 4-wheel ATV and a pickup truck (Figure 1). They are somewhat similar to the small vehicles used on golf courses for decades, but they use ATV components to provide more power and versatility. They are available from many companies in many different configurations.
Most utility vehicles have small air-cooled or water-cooled 4-stroke gasoline engines. Two-cylinder engines are common. While some vehicles use domestic lawn and garden engines, many models use engines developed for ATVs. Diesel engines are available on some more-expensive models. The diesel models are generally water-cooled and have two cylinders.
Most utility vehicles have four tires, but some models have tandem rear axles and six wheels. Some of the more-popular six-wheel machines use an exposed roller chain to drive the tandem axles; this is susceptible to dirt, wear and breakage. The six-wheel models can carry more weight in the bed and may be able to pull heavier trailers than four-wheel models.
Two-, Four-, or Six-wheel Drive
Utility vehicles are available with two- or four-wheel drive. The six-wheel models can have four- or six-wheel drive. Having all axles driving can be helpful for use in sand, mud or soft soil, but it is of little value for many homeowners or turf professionals. If you need all-wheel drive to avoid getting stuck, you will cut ruts. This is certainly not desirable in many situations.
The typical transmission is a variable-speed belt drive that acts much like an automatic transmission. As you depress the accelerator, the engine revs up and the drive ratio changes.
Some utility vehicles are equipped with roll bars, rollover protective structures (ROPS). These structures will help protect you in a rollover, but only if you wear a seatbelt. At least one brand of utility vehicle uses the roll bar frame as an air inlet duct for the engine and has the actual intake at the top of the roll bar and as far as possible from road dust (Figure 2).
Most utility vehicles have a bench seat or bucket seats that will seat two adults comfortably. Some newer machines have two rows of seats and can accommodate four people. In some cases, the rear seat can be folded up and the bed expanded when the additional seating is not needed.
There are major differences in ground clearance among brands and models. Some models offer fairly high ground clearance; these are aimed at hunters and sportsmen who use the vehicles in rough terrain. Other models have lower clearance and less suspension travel; they are well suited to driving on grass or moderate off-road conditions and are lower and easier to get into.
Utility vehicles have a small bed, similar to a pickup truck bed, that usually can be dumped manually (Figure 3). Some offer hydraulic or electric dumping. The load capacity of these beds is relatively low in most cases.
Most utility vehicles can tow a light trailer. Some are equipped with a class I receiver for a trailer hitch. You have to be careful to avoid overloading the transmission when towing a trailer. Since most of these machines use a variable-speed belt drive transmission, slippage and excessive wear will result from overloading.
Parts for utility vehicles can be quite expensive. Even common parts like oil filters can be difficult to find at an auto parts store, and filters from a dealer are much more expensive. You should expect to pay considerably more for utility vehicle parts than for comparable automotive parts.
Utility vehicles are popular and handy. They are making inroads on the use of ATVs for hunting and can also be used for many chores around a small acreage (or a large farm). They are comfortable and versatile. They can haul a load in the bed or pull a trailer while operating under off-road conditions. They aren’t cheap, but they are useful and fun to use.