Questions to ask when buying a side-by-side
So you went to the equipment dealer to pick up a filter or some oil. For years you’ve marched to the parts department with your head down, gaze focused only on the destination. But today, there’s a sharp-looking side-by-side UTV that catches your fancy. They look really useful with the cargo bed in the back, and easier to get in and out of than the pickup truck. And maybe a little bit fun, too.
And right there, you’ve opened a can of worms because they are useful, easy to access, more agile and convenient than your truck, and can be a hoot to operate.
But chances are, you have more questions to answer before you can write a check.
How much power is enough?
Your pickup truck likely has well over 200 hp, but UTVs are a fraction of that. How do you decide how much is enough? First, you need to envision how you’ll use your UTV.
“Power in a UTV is important since it’s likely you’ll be using your UTV to pull, tow, and haul,” says KIOTI Senior Product Manager Joel Hicks. “When shopping for a new vehicle, first consider features like payload, towing capacity, cargo bed capacity and engine type (diesel versus gas).”
Because UTVs are also used for recreation, says Arctic Cat’s Brian Dick, top-end speed is worth noting, but it’s different for work around the farm. “When cruising the trails for recreation or to get to that favorite hunting spot, the operator is rarely using the complete powerband. For work applications, low-end torque is more important than high-end speed.”
So in general, you’re looking for more low-end grunt than high-end excitement. According to Kubota’s Senior Product Manager-RTVs, Jacob Mendoza: “On most worksites and fields, customers generally recommended a max speed of 20 MPH, due to safety concerns.”
Do you need more than 2 seats?
Side-by-sides come in configurations from two to six passengers. This is easy: Do you have friends or family? How many would you like to have with you?
“If you find yourself running back and forth between fields with a group of people, multiple rows make transporting both workers and equipment easy,” says KIOTI’s Hicks. “On the recreational front, multi-row UTVs give the opportunity for the whole family to use the machine for fishing and hunting trips, or evening rides around your land.“
That said, pay attention to the features some manufacturers offer—in certain cases, you sacrifice a row of seating for cargo box capacity.
Why do they all talk about ground clearance?
UTVs are the just-as-practical older brothers of ATVs, All-Terrain Vehicles that came about decades ago. Longer, wider, and more stable, UTVs are made to get you through problematic terrain where a larger vehicle might get stuck. Most have clearance of 8-11 inches and while not as much as your pickup, they weigh a whole lot less.
You step up to your pickup truck, but step in to a UTV. Arctic Cat’s Brian Dick offers the following advice: “One thing to consider is as you increase ground clearance, it typically also makes climbing in and out of the vehicle a bit more work.”
Cargo capacity concerns
There are fun UTVs and there are functional UTVs. The fun ones go faster, have more ground clearance, and are made for recreation. Around the farm, we’re talking function and the main distinction between the two is cargo capacity—that bed in back.
Take a close look at the construction of UTV beds and they will very nearly stack up to that of your pickup (albeit most are physically smaller).
“For landscaping projects, hauling feed and collecting firewood for the occasional bonfire, a 500-pound capacity bed found on the Prowler 500 is sufficient,” says Arctic Cat’s Dick. “Bigger-capacity tasks such as carrying large game, gravel for driveway repairs and large weed sprayers require 1,000-pound beds.”
He notes that most beds tilt for easy offloading, so if that is important to you, be sure to look for that feature, as several offer only fixed beds. Kubota’s Mendoza advises also to look for convenience items, such as D-rings to lash down cargo, and for dumping controls from the operator’s seat.
“One of the most useful and versatile accessories for a UTV is a winch,” says Arctic Cat’s Dick. It’s a handy tool to use around the farm. You can use it for a wide variety of tasks, such as pulling out stumps and docks.
Lighting is important for nighttime use, and off-road versions can light up a trail or field like noontime. Other accessories to make your UTV life easier include a windshield or choice of open or closed cab—enclosed cabs give you the further choice to heat or air condition your environment—power steering, and attachments.
While some manufacturers design their UTVs in both cab and “cab-less” models, don’t feel like you are stuck with an open cab. Several companies can retrofit a cab as original equipment, and there are cab manufacturers that put their own unique spin on cab design.
Speaking of attachments, don’t overlook the opportunity to use your UTV like a tractor when you want. Some manufacturers like John Deere and Bobcat are well-regarded for the range of available attachments.
“When you have a lot of land, UTVs tend to be used for property maintenance tasks, such as hauling or spreading materials, clearing debris, or moving snow and other materials,” says John Deere Marketing Manager Mark Davey. “Popular attachments for these jobs include spreaders, winches, (and) blades.”
My dealer: important or no?
It’s not unimportant, if that helps. “Choosing a dealer can be just as important as choosing your next side-by-side,” says Arctic Cat’s Brian Dick. That’s because dealers want to hold your hand two ways, not only to help you decide during the sale, but to support you with parts, advice, and service afterward.
About his dealer network, Kubota’s John Mendoza says, "They will walk you through the benefits and features of each vehicle and will answer any questions you may have. Considering the service and support a dealer gives after buying a machine should also come into play.”
And let’s not forget financing. UTV manufacturers of all stripes are in the position to offer unique financing and sales offers.
“Not only can your dealer recommend the best machine for the jobs you want to get done, but dealers can also assist with finding finance options to fit your budget,” notes John Deere’s Mark Davey.
So, choose wisely and enjoy the ride.
Vines in the Valley
Napa Valley, California, is one of the most fertile pieces of land in the world and is home to the most renowned vineyards in the world, and a great place to work, by any standard.
Major League baseball catcher Chris Iannetta knows what a beautiful place Napa Valley is.
When he’s not holding down the infield, Iannetta is out in the field, using his UTV—a Gravely ATLAS JSV—to navigate the stunning surroundings of the Jack Winery vineyard, which he co-owns.
“It’s great to walk through the vineyard, see and touch the grapes, and revel in the breathtaking views,” he says. “Driving an off-road vehicle is really a unique way to see Napa Valley and the ATLAS meets our needs at the vineyard. It’s super quiet and we get around quickly and easily with it. I think some of my outdoor-enthusiast friends are more excited by the JSV than the beautiful surroundings.”
AriensCo’s family of products isn’t new to Iannetta. As a kid, he cleared his family’s driveways and walkways with an Ariens snow blower a”from the ‘60s or '70s,” which lasted for decades.
When it came time to purchase a new snow blower for his home a few years back, he again went with an Ariens.
“Ariens Company is also family-owned and -operated, and the equipment is so good that it’s passed down for generations. It was a no-brainer for us to help continue that tradition.”