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How Do ATVs Work?

What's in this article?
  1. The Defining Features Of An Atv
  2. Atv Engines- What You Need To Know
  3. Engine Sizes
  4. Fuel
  5. Engine Power
  6. Different Types Of Suspension Used In Atvs
  7. Two-Wheel Drive Vs Four Wheel Drive
  8. Two Wheel Drive
  9. Four Wheel Drive
  10. Changeable Features In An Atv
  11. Road Legal Requirements
  12. Enhanced Safety Features
  13. Storage
  14. Luxuries
  15. Atv Shipping You Can Trust
How Do ATVs Work?

Have you ever wondered how all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) work? These powerful machines are known for their ability to navigate rough terrains easily, but what makes them so capable? If you're curious about the inner workings of ATVs and want to learn more, you've come to the right place.

ATVs are not just ordinary vehicles; they are designed to tackle off-road adventures and provide an exhilarating riding experience. Every component plays a crucial role in their performance, from their engines and transmissions to their suspension systems and tires.

Understanding how ATVs work can help you appreciate their capabilities and make informed decisions regarding riding and maintaining them.


The Defining Features of an ATV

An ATV is a vehicle that can operate off-road and in diverse environments. However, an ATV must have specific features to qualify as this class vehicle under the law. Here are some of the features that must be present in a car for it to be an ATV-

  • Handlebars- An ATV will always have handlebars, similar to motorbikes. ATVs will never have a steering wheel like a car or truck.
  • Straddle seat- A straddle seat is likely the most distinguished feature of an ATV. This seat style requires you to put one leg on either side of the vehicle to sit on it, much like the saddle of a push bike.
  • Ability to move through rugged terrain- It can't be classified as an all-terrain vehicle if it does not move through all landscapes.

ATV Engines- What You Need to Know

ATV engines are internal combustion engines that typically run on either 2-stroke or 4-stroke fuel. Engines in ATVs come in various sizes depending on the size and intended use of the vehicle. See below for a rundown on ATV engines:

Engine Sizes

ATV engine sizes start at 50cc; these engines typically fit into small off-roading quads for children. A typical quad bike or ATV has an engine size between 250cc and 400cc. Any ATV with an engine size over 400cc is typically built for racing through trails and tracks or for a specific commercial purpose.

The most significant ATV engines reach about 2 liters or 2,000cc at most. An engine this size in a small ATV makes for a high-speed, nimble, but difficult-to-control vehicle.


Some ATVs run using a two-stroke engine, while others take 4-stroke. 2-stroke fuel goes through 2 stages to get a power output from the motor, while a four-stroke goes through 4 stages. 4-stroke engines are more energy efficient as less fuel is consumed to operate.

However, 2-stroke engines are more powerful and accelerate faster, especially in smaller engines.

Engine Power

Due to the differences in engine size and the different fuels used, the engine power can vary significantly between ATVs. Engine power is measured by horsepower (HP), and a small 50cc engine ATV has about 5 to 10HP, while a 750cc engine will output 50HP. Whereas a 2-liter ATV engine will produce about 90HP.

Different Types of Suspension Used in ATVs

Two types of suspension widely used in ATV are dependent and independent. Each type of suspension offers advantages and drawbacks, making them better suited to different purposes.

Dependent suspension (sometimes called fixed) is where the two wheels on the same axle are connected directly. So, when the wheel on one side hits a bump, it causes the wheel on the opposite end of the axle to move in response.

For example, the front left wheel hits a rock on a trail and raises into the air. Since the front right wheel is dependent (or fixed) on the left one, it, too, will move and shift accordingly.

This form of suspension makes for a durable, affordable vehicle capable of carrying a lot of weight, but it also means the ride is rougher and will be less capable as an ATV.

Independent suspension is when the wheel can move independently from one another. An independent suspension system can hit bumps with one wheel without the other wheels being affected. This vastly improves ride quality and allows ATVs to navigate rough and complex terrain.

To do this, the suspension system must become more complex and intricate, making it much more expensive to install and maintain. This is why you typically only find this suspension style in higher-end ATVs.


Two-Wheel Drive vs Four Wheel Drive

Another critical aspect of how ATVs operate is the drive systems that make the wheels turn. When an engine outputs power, that power is transferred to the wheels, making them turn. There are two main approaches to this system: two-wheel and four-wheel drive.

Two Wheel Drive

Two-wheel drive in an ATV means the engine transfers the power through two of the four wheels. As a result, a large amount of energy can transfer to two wheels, accelerating the ATV faster. However, since the power does not go directly through two of the wheels, the ATV will be less effective on low-grip surfaces.

Four Wheel Drive

Off-roading has a very strong association with four-wheel drive vehicles. Four-wheel drive offers superior grip to two-wheel drive, making it ideal for rugged terrain like wet mud or loose rocks.

As such, four-wheel drive is considered the better option for ATVs, though due to the complexities of manufacturing four-wheel drive vehicles, ATVs with this setup will cost you more money.

Changeable Features in an ATV

While an ATV is clearly defined as a vehicle with specific features that can perform on various terrains, there is still much room for difference between ATV models. See below for some ways that ATVs offer different advantages through unique features:

If you intend to use our ATV on the roads, you must comply with local driving rules and regulations. To comply with these rules and for an ATV to be deemed road-legal, some features like indicators, adequate brakes, and road-legal tires will be required.

These features do not have to be present in an ATV for off-roading, but they are essential for using vehicles on the road.

Enhanced Safety Features

ATVs can come with a number of enhanced safety features to protect the driver and the vehicle while racing down trails. One example of an extra safety feature is a roll cage, a steel frame that protects the driver should the car flip over.

ATVs can also be fitted with custom spotlights and tires with thicker threads to offer more grip while driving, reducing the risk of crashes or slips.


High-end ATV models usually contain storage compartments for fuel, first aid kits, and personal possessions. This is a handy feature to have when out in the wilderness. However, it's worth noting that most standard ATVs have little to no storage space.



A luxury on an ATV doesn't sound right; however, it's attributed to additional bells and whistles you can add to your ATV to make it easier to use, perform better, or improve your convenience. A great example of a luxury to add to an ATV is a satellite navigation device.

ATV Shipping You Can Trust

Looking to transport your ATV to your next off-road adventure? Contact A1 Auto Transport today. As one of the top vehicle transport companies in the US, we can safely and efficiently ship your ATV anywhere in the country.

Whether you need to transport a two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive model, or an ATV with optional safety features or luxuries, our experienced carriers are equipped to handle any vehicle.

Leave the driving to us so you can arrive rested and ready to hit the trails. Get a free quote now.

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Tamar Hela is one of our featured writers at A-1 Auto Transport, researching everything from AI auto shipments out of China to what paperwork is required to move long distance. We can safely say she's become well versed in all things shipping and logistics while making the information easy to digest and understandable. 

Tamar has been a copywriter for over 16 years and was trained in the 7-Figure Copywriting Accelerator course through American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). She's also an incredibly seasoned copyeditor, having previously been the Chief Editor and Publishing Director for Cosby Media Productions, based in Atlanta, Georgia. 

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