Choosing an ATV
Quads or ATV (All Terrain Vehicles) as they are officially known can be divided into three basic categories: Utility - Sports - Leisure.
All Quads are very capable off road vehicles in their own right regardless of which category they fall into, being light and agile, but all differ in their features and specification being designed to carry out very different duties. This guide is aimed primarily at the professional user to try and help you choose the correct Utility quad for your needs.

As the name suggests Utility ATVs are the work horses of industry. They are made to carry significant loads, tow trailers or machinery and operate on very rough terrain in adverse conditions. The emphasis here is on functionality and durability rather than style; good ground clearance, comfy riding positions and plenty of protective bodywork is the norm. With the exception of the lightweight models all Utility ATVs feature 4WD and many are capable of accepting winches or other accessories.
NQC TOP TIPS: Look under the skin for quality components like stainless steel exhausts which prevent corrosion and generous paintwork on frame welds etc. as this ATV is going to get used hard.
Utility models can be roughly divided into three categories defined by engine capacity;
  • LIGHTWEIGHT; up to 250cc
  • MIDDLEWEIGHT; 300-500cc
  • HEAVY DUTY; above 500cc  

See DEMO QUAD listing for full details.

These models represent the cutting edge of Quad technology and can often be found competing on a closed course racing circuit. Performance is the key here with parts made to be lightweight. Long travel suspension is able to cope with jumps while engines have “motorcycle type” gearboxes, rear wheel drive via chain and fast revving engines. These are specialist vehicles for serious fun use and racing only.

Looking like a slightly sporty version of a Utility ATV these are general purpose quads suited for trail riding and general riding. Like the Sports models they have little or no load carrying capacity or towing ability, although some do have 4WD. They do feature lights though and most share their chassis and engine designs with the Utility models. Designed primarily for general leisure use they are still capable of covering difficult terrain.
NQC TOP TIPS: The differences between some Leisure models and a proper Utility model can be quite small in some cases, so make sure you look carefully at the model information supplied by the manufacturer to confirm the intended use of each model.
All about Quads

A straightforward guide to the design and features you will find on most modern Utility quads and an insight on how these features will benefit you in the field.

Engine Types
 The single cylinder four-stroke engine is currently the most popular type of engine layout to be found on any ATV. This proven engine design is light weight, compact, simple to maintain and economical to run. All Utility quads feature electric start and most will also have a manual pull start in case the battery goes flat. Maintenance free CDI ignition and traditional proven SOHV engine layouts are also the norm. The small and medium models often utilise air cooled engines and a single carburettor for simplicity. The Heavy Duty models feature water cooled engines and EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) to reduce emissions and improve performance. NQC TOP TIPS: Look for simple lock nut and screw adjusters on the valve train to minimise service costs, instruments consoles that feature built in Engine Diagnostic capabilities, maintenance free shaft drives etc..

Utility quads have to perform a wide variety of duties, often on very difficult terrain. The most popular transmission type on the medium and large models is a CVT belt drive from the crankshaft powering the gearbox and giving a constantly varying ratio. This design is ideal for the different conditions Utility quads have to cope with and makes the machines easy to drive with power always available. The rider simply selects Forward or Reverse and then uses the thumb throttle to control the speed. In addition the larger machines will also have Hi and Low ratio gearbox options as well.
However not all V belt systems are identical and not all perform in quite the same way, especially in downhill situations where engine braking is required.
NQC TOP TIPS: Look for transmission layouts which feature two clutches and a one way bearing on the engine output to control downhill braking. And although many drive belts claim to be maintenance free, watch out for systems where the belt goes slack and loose at tick-over because it can easily wear on the drive pulleys. Also look for gear levers which are easy to reach and use rod linkages not cables. Make sure there are clear warning symbols on the instrument panels for gear selection.

2WD and 4WD
Quads use a “live” rear axle where the two rear wheels are permanently locked together and rotate at the same speed. This arrangement means there is no ”slip” between the rear wheels where the inner wheel wants to rotate more slowly in a turn. The slip in this case is provided by the loose surface you are riding on or by breaking traction with the back of the vehicle.
All 2WD drive quads power the rear wheels and for most conditions this is adequate as these small lightweight vehicles are inherently agile. However when the going gets tough 4WD is required. In most cases 4WD engagement is activated by pressing a button on the handlebar. This then engages the front wheels, which do have a differential built in because these are the steering wheels and need to rotate at different speeds in turns.
For very difficult conditions, or when towing etc., you may sometimes need to lock the front wheel differential to prevent the wheels spinning and provide extra traction. Again simple push button selection for Diff Lock is preferable and there should be a safety cover built in to prevent this being selected accidentally. Normally engaging Front Diff Lock will also activate a rev limiter that limits speed and well equipped models will also feature an Override to turn off this rev limiter if required.
NQC TOP TIPS: Look for simple handlebar 2WD/4WD selection controls that can be operated easily and safely in gloves, and look for both Diff Lock and Override features.

Sports quads will almost all have hydraulic disc brakes front and rear, with twin discs at the front and a single disc at the rear linked through the axle to the wheels.
Utility and Leisure quads tend to have a similar set up with twin brakes at the front for maximum stopping power and a single brake at the rear. There are some innovations however amongst the Utility models on the rear brake, because in many cases these brakes are often wet or covered in muck and could loose their stopping power.
Sealed rear drum brakes are common place in the smaller Utility classes and some Middleweight models even have a clever “sealed rear multi disc” system where a clutch type mechanism operates inside a water-tight casing to provide all weather stopping power even if fully immersed in water. Obviously this is easy to use and very predictable giving peace of mind that braking is always available.
The larger heavier Utility models though require double discs at the rear to cope with the extra performance available and extra weight especially when loaded or towing.
NQC TOP TIPS: Look for protective covers or springs on hydraulic hoses and proper cable end seals on brake cables.
Almost every quad is fitted with some type of twin wishbone A-arm suspension which controls the front wheels, linked to individual shock absorbers. This system copes well with hitting bumps and holes keeping wheels on the ground whilst allowing good steering control.
Rear suspension systems are often far less sophisticated utilising a single swinging axle coupled to a shock absorber. This of course means that both rear wheels move up and down together and can provide a “bumpy ride”.
High specification Utility quad models feature fully independent rear suspension similar to the front suspension allowing every wheel to individually track the surface. This obviously provides a better ride soaking up all but the worst bumps.
NQC TOP TIPS: Independent rear suspension is a great asset if you will be using the ATV on very uneven and demanding surfaces. Look for long travel suspension and dual rate springs with preload adjusters so the ATV can be properly set up for your use.

Special Features
You will find a multitude of innovative features on many of today’s Utility models, some of which may be of use and some not. Simple additions like 12v outputs can be useful to charge phones or power accessories. Sealed batteries are maintenance free while modern Multi function LCD instrument displays now feature a host of additional information making the quad easier to ride.
However the single biggest innovation in recent years in the Heavy Duty class has been the introduction of power assisted steering. Designated EPS (Electric Power Steering) this speed sensitive system makes controlling even the most powerful ATV exceptionally easy. More importantly though it greatly reduces the fatigue of driving these large quads especially where you might be in the saddle all day.
IMPORTANT: Finally we should mention that most quads are designed for off road use ONLY and are not able to be registered or have a number plate. There are of course circumstances where you may need to be "Road Legal". If this is one of your requirements look for models which are WVTA designated (Whole Vehicle Type Approved). These will be models that have been modified by the manufacturer to comply with the relevant legislation. Parts like exhausts and lights will be CE marked and they can be registered. Talk to your dealer about your requirements.
NQC TOP TIPS: Read the sales literature and decide if all the features will be of use to you and will really will make your life easier. Watch out for things that sound great but could easily break or require extra maintenance.

Buying Advice

Once you have selected the correct size and type of quad for your purpose the most important thing is to choose a quality brand and purchase from your local authorised quad dealer.

Loading and Towing
Utility quads are designed to carry significant loads and tow trailers etc. Most have useful racks front and rear with reasonable capacity and most can tow half a tonne or more. Be sure to practice riding with light loads before trying to load the quad to capacity. As the majority of quads are designed for one person, never carry a passenger and be aware of the extra weight and different handling characteristics of a fully loaded quad.
NQC TOP TIP: When purchasing a new quad aim for extra load carrying capacity then you think you will need and get a quad that suits your use.
Look for the carrying capacity of the racks and towing limits and look for carrying racks that have back stops that will stop your load sliding about and make it easier to tie things down. If you intend to do a lot of towing then power assisted steering could make a big difference to you.

Maintenance & Back-Up
The amount of general maintenance you require will of course depend on the type of use and operating conditions you encounter. In general it is always a good idea to wash off muck and salt especially around the wheels and suspension. Routine checks include checking oil level, adjusting brake cables and generally looking to make sure nothing is loose. The most important regular check should be on the tyres to ensure correct pressure is maintained.
Your ATV will of course require servicing at regular intervals as laid down by the manufacturer. During busy periods you may require servicing to be carried out at short notice so you will need to make sure you are using a good local dealer who is authorised to service your make and model.
NQC TOP TIPS: When buying a new ATV talk to the dealer about your servicing requirements and the service he offers before you purchase. Choose a well known brand that can guarantee parts supplies and purchase from an local authorised dealer recommended by the manufacturer. Quality dealers like those listed in our National Quad Centre dealer listing will be prepared to offer demonstration rides before you purchase.

Official Resources
The industry is very safety conscious and although ATVs are very easy to drive there are certain techniques which should be learnt.
The official training body is the European ATV Safety Institute (EASI) and courses are normally provided to purchasers of most new ATVs.
The most important advice we can give though is to buy a well known, recognised brand of quad from an official authorised dealer who will be able to provide the sales advice, service and back up you will need.