What is a Side-by-Side Vehicle? A beginner’s guide with pictures.

Any American outdoorsmen know that side-by-sides are the real deal. However, if you are just hearing about this little, mechanized wonder, you came to the right place to learn all about them.

I’m a country boy at heart, and I was born and raised in Idaho. Growing up, I gained a passion for all outdoor activities, and I have always preferred to use a side-by-side vehicle over your average all-terrain vehicle or horse. I know very well that side-by-sides are worth the buy, and I aim to tell you everything you need to know about them to make an educated choice.

So, what is a side-by-side vehicle? Side-by-sides are small 2 to 6 person, all-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicles known as MOHUV’s (Multipurpose off-highway utility vehicle) or UTV’s (Utility task vehicle). They come built in many models and for many purposes, all of which will get you where you need to go in style.

UTV‘s are well-known vehicles that resemble ATVs (all-terrain vehicles or four-wheelers) but have many noticeable features such as:

  • 2 or more seats bolted in next to each other
  • roll bars or a roll cage
  • a cargo hold in the back, similar to that of a pickup truck
  • can come with kits to make them street legal

Arguably, the side-by-side is the best option for any outdoor lovers in the United States which seek the thrill of adventure first and the budget second. However, many buyers make hasty decisions and miss out on the benefits that come from a UTV catered to their specifi needs.

There are so many wonderful things that outdoorsmen must know when picking out that perfect side-by-side for all their daily endeavors.

What is the Differences Between a UTV and ATV?

The main difference of these two vehicles were touched on previously, but let’s dig in a little deeper.

Size and Seating Capacity

ATVs typically accommodate 1 to 2 individuals, with riders straddling the vehicle’s top. This motivated my grandfather to acquire five of them, as our sizable family could enjoy ATV outings together.

For those content with less space, ATVs are a suitable choice. They offer rear-end space for cargo as well.

The adage “bigger is better” often applies. UTVs resemble cars, providing an enclosed top section with windows and seating for 2 to even 6 people. This proves not only convenient for larger families but also facilitates hauling tasks.


ATV, standing for “All Terrain Vehicle,” aptly implies its versatility. Renowned for speed and robustness, its thick tires conquer mountains, snow, ice, sand, and forests. In some regions, ATVs are even road-legal, suitable for everyday errands.

UTV, short for Utility Task Vehicle, leans toward off-roading. Ideal for rugged terrains, my grandfather has utilized one for snow removal for years.

Just like ATVs, UTVs thrive in mountainous and sandy locales. Many UTV models are also street-legal, reflecting the expanding trend of both vehicle types becoming roadworthy.


Here, UTVs hold an advantage. Their covered design shields operators from inclement weather, a boon in harsh climates.

During rain or snow, the windows, top cover, and doors prove extremely valuable. ATVs lack such protection, demanding extra precautions in adverse weather.

Both vehicles offer accessories for extreme weather, such as warmers for cold climates. Separate covers for ATVs are available to counter snowy or rainy conditions.

ATVs and UTVs each offer numerous advantages. The choice largely hinges on personal preference.

What Are Side by Side, UTVs, Used For?

Over the years, UTVs have played an invaluable role in mining operations, military applications, and construction projects. They are fantastic for pretty much everything that a pickup truck is used for and are made to go where no pickup has gone before.

UTVs have played an invaluable role in mining operations, military applications, and construction projects.

Though they’re made to be small and versatile, these little machines can sure carry a hefty load (up to 1350 Lbs); making them your best bet to getting the job done quickly and effectively.

However, not every side-by-side is created equally or for the same purpose. Depending on the buyer’s desired purpose and preference, weight capacity, transmission, passenger capacity, and suspension, will accommodate their needs as desired.

To delve further into UTV’s and the different models available, click here.


Many are made for hunting endeavors and are the optimum choice to getting you, your crew and all your gear into places even the best pickup trucks cannot go. Made to be quick and nimble, yet built to be taller for the purpose of clearing debris and rugged terrain from erosion.

Further Reading: Best Side-by-Side UTVs for Riding in the Mountains

Best Side-by-Sides for Hunting Trips:

ModelPrice (US MSRP)Passenger CapacityLoad CapacityGrade
Honda Pioneer 1000-5 LE$22,09931,000-lb (454kg) 9.5/10
Polaris General 1000 EPS$16,79921,100 lbs. (499 kg)9/10
Textron Stampede EPS$14,4992600 lbs.(272 kg)8.5/10
Can-Am Defender HD10$15,79921,000-lb (454kg) 8.5/10


There are others built to allow more space for cargo and are made specifically for utility workers, providing a reliable work tool for workers to get their gear to places quickly, and efficiently to places where cars cannot drive to.

These hefty machines are strictly built for maximizing efficiency in the work setting.

Further Reading: Best Side-by-Side UTVs for Farm Use

Best Side-by-Sides for Work:

ModelPricePassanger CapacityLoad CapacityGrade
John Deere Gator XUV 825i$15,66021400 lbs. (635 kg)9/10
Kawasaki Mule Pro-FXT Ranch Edition.$16,9993-61,000-lb (454kg) 9/10
2019 Textron Prowler Pro XT$11,39921,000-lb (454kg) 8.5/10
2019 Can-Am Defender HD10 XT$15,79921,000-lb (454kg) 8.5/10


Then there is the more favorited category of them all; the off-road sports models. When most people imagine a UTV, they tend to mix it up with a dune buggy, and with good reason.

Being nimble and off-road efficient as they are, these side-by-sides are practically dune buggies. They are built for high-speed fun with the family and are worth the bill.

Best Recreational Side-by-Sides:

ModelPricePassenger CapacityHorsepowerGrade
POLARIS RZR XP TURBO$24,9992144 hp9.5/10
CAN-AM MAVERICK X ds TURBO$25,3992121 hp9.2/10
YAMAHA YXZ1000R$20,5992182 hp9/10
ARCTIC CAT SPROT CAT 700$13,999260 hp8.5/10

Choose The Right UTV For the Job

what is a side by side
what is a UTV

Just as it would be unwise for a surgeon to come to an operation with a hatchet rather than a scalpel, it would be wise to find the right type of UTV for the task you have at hand. Side-by-sides are meant to be versatile and provide all the bells and whistles while getting the job done. They are separated into three main categories: Hunting and fishing, work-oriented, and sports models.

UTVs made for hunting trips and off-road adventures are often sleeker and more compact, meant to carry a few passengers and hunting or fishing gear.

Honda brands like the Honda Pioneer 1000-5 LE are built to reduce noise level and handle great on off-road trails. They are nimble and have just enough space for two to five passengers and a spacious cargo hold.

Further Reading: Honda Side-by-Sides: How do they compare to Polaris?

To avoid damage caused by the rocky terrain of the outdoors, these UTVs are built to sit higher (between 10 to 13 inches above ground) to provide clearance for debris to pass underneath.

Side-by-sides are separated into three main categories: Hunting and Fishing, Work-Oriented, and Sports.

For more practical and job-related purposes, work-oriented UTVs take a step away from the prized dune buggy adventure feel and focus on the job at hand. The CAN-AM brand, for example, gears many of its side-by-sides to providing construction workers, landscapers, farmers, and miners the biggest bang for their buck; providing them the optimal vehicle for the job, and replace a pickup truck entirely.

The CAN-AM Defender Max/DPS/XT, for example, is built lower to the ground and can support nearly a ton. They come with a 50-horsepower 800cc engine or a 72-horsepower 1000cc engine to provide the owner with the best experience hauling heavy loads (2,500-lbs towing capacity).

UTVs made for offroad sports, are built for adrenaline-pumping fun and exploration. Buyers often find this dune buggy-like type of UTVs to be the most attractive around the U.S. These particular vehicles are built for speed and getting down and dirty in the outdoor elements.

Instead of soft benches for passengers, these side-by-sides have bucket seats built in order to keep you and your passengers inside when going off jumps or making those tight corners.

If you or your neighbor are interested in looking into this adrenaline-pumping class of side by side, I would highly recommend starting with the Polaris Polaris RZR XP Turbo S. This 168 horsepower, all-terrain, sleek machine is a mechanical masterpiece.

Experts consider the latest model to be the fastest of its class in the year 2019. You can bet it is worth the money. If you are looking for a great time out in the wild with your family, this will make an exceptional investment.

Further Reading: Cam-Am vs Polaris Side-by-Sides: Pros and Cons of Both

Things To Pay Attention To

Looks aren’t everything. Each UTV is built for a specific job with specific limitations. While in search of a side-by-side of your own, consider paying particular attention to a few aspects of each vehicle to ensure you find the right vehicle for the job.


Depending on the terrain, you may want a taller vehicle to clear debris and all sorts of obstacles that may lie on the road. If in search of a vehicle for working out in the lumber yards or up in the mountains where fallen trees are prevalent, I recommend you look for a vehicle that has a wheelbase of 20 inches or higher.

Tow Capacity

Many farmers and miners are in the market for a vehicle that can tow the mightiest load. If you are looking for a vehicle that can tow a trailer behind it, you should research the weight of your trailer and check out the tow capacity of your side-by-side. Most of those in this market like a UTV that has has a max of about 1350 lbs.

If you are looking for this type of vehicle, I would recommend theJohn Deere Gator XUV 825i. The John Deere brand has always been reliable and a favorite of many on-site job workers. This particular UTV is built to tow around 1500 lbs. Making it the optimal vehicle for farmers and construction workers.

Payload Capacity

Most side-by-sides come with a pickup-like rear end with plenty of space to carry all kinds of things. Even though they look very similar on every vehicle, not all are created equal.

If you are looking for a side-by-side that is built like a mule to carry around all your gear, I would recommend looking up the specifications to find the heaviest weight capacity. My personal favorite is the Kawasaki Mule Pro-FXT Ranch Edition.

Check out our ATV/UTV Page to Learn More!

Why Do Side-by-Sides Cost So Much?

The higher cost of side-by-sides can be attributed to their status as specialty vehicles crafted by renowned manufacturers.

Coupled with enhanced horsepower and unwavering consumer demand, these factors allow UTV manufacturers to command higher prices for side-by-sides.

4 Reasons why UTVs cost so much are as follows.

1.Specialized Nature

Unlike the relatively affordable cars, trucks, and SUVs essential for daily life, side-by-sides cater to specific needs. While indispensable for professions like farming, they’re not a necessity for the general public. As is often the case with specialized items, their price tends to be elevated.

2. Prominent Brands

Although side-by-sides remain relatively unknown to some, major vehicle manufacturers have embraced the UTV trend. Recognizable names such as Yamaha, Toro, Suzuki, Polaris, and others are active in producing side-by-sides. While lesser-known brands exist, the market is predominantly led by established names, and as with many products, brand recognition contributes to the higher cost.

3. Remarkable Evolution

UTVs have been available since the 1960s, but their popularity surged around 2009. Over the past decade, substantial advancements have transformed side-by-sides. Manufacturers have tirelessly enhanced suspension, horsepower, and speed, outpacing older models. A side-by-side from the last year or even five years ago will significantly outperform its predecessor. This continuous improvement justifies the accompanying price increase.

4. Sustained Demand

Related Questions

What is the difference between a UTV and an ATV? ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) are built much smaller and meant for one or two riders at the most. UTVs are built to be more like a small truck and provide multiple seats bolted next to each other (hence the name side-by-side).

UTVs come with a payload in the back and often times a towing hitch for trailers, which provide more versatility, while ATVs are built without such practical capabilities.

Click here to read more about the differences between a UTV and ATV.

Is a driver’s license required to drive UTVs? A valid driver’s license is required to operate UTVs and ATVs in practically every location within the United States. Nearly all restrictions apply to UTVs that apply to cars and trucks, both on and off the road. It is better to always carry your license on you, even when you’re out exploring the country.

Further Reading: How to Make a UTV Street Legal

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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