Using Your ATV on the Farm

Updated June 3, 2018 . AmFam Team

While ATVs have a reputation for being fun recreational vehicles, they’re also incredibly useful on farms and ranches. Learn how to use your four-wheeler safely and efficiently while getting your work done.

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) might have a reputation for being stress-relieving cruisers of rough terrain, but they’re also widely used as utility vehicles on farms and ranches. ATVs and other utility vehicles are functional in areas where traditional farm vehicles aren’t — they can maneuver in tight spaces, easily transport small to medium loads, and are faster than other transportation options such as tractors. They’re often more affordable, making them a great addition to your fleet of farm vehicles.

Recommended ATV Features

ATVs certainly aren’t built for road use — they’re meant to handle the bumps, hills and other obstacles that nature tosses your way. If you’re considering purchasing one for your farm, consider buying one with these features:

Straddle seat. Your farm ATV should have a seat that allows you to easily shift your weight and apply pressure to one side of the vehicle while riding on uneven surfaces.

Shock absorbers. As you’re navigating the terrain of your property, shock absorbers will help control the uncomfortable bouncing of your four-wheeler. You might not notice the absorbers if you have them, but you’ll definitely notice if your ATV lacks these ultra-helpful coil springs.

Reverse gear. Perhaps the biggest benefit an ATV has over other farm vehicles is its mobility. Getting in and out of tight spaces without being able to toss your ATV in reverse is, well, pretty difficult.

Automatic transmission. Operating a manual transmission ATV will take some time to learn, and if you’re not going to be the only one to operate the ATV, you might be better off buying one with an automatic transmission. Focus on the many other aspects of farm work instead of taking on the learning curve of driving a manual.

Locking differential. To put it simply, a locking differential makes sure your wheels spin at the same speed, reducing the possibility that your ATV will spin out or lose traction on rough or slippery terrain.

Necessary Gear

Whether you’re out working in the bitter cold or the smoldering heat, it’s important to keep all parts of your body protected from farm equipment, moving ATV parts and the elements of harsh weather. Consider stocking up on this gear:

Helmet. No matter the activity, it’s important to keep your head protected from any sort of potential rollover or crash.

Face shield or goggles. While you cruise around on your ATV, keep your eyes safe from dirt or other debris.

Long sleeves. Protect your skin from the harsh sun rays, pesticides, bugs and other nuisances with long sleeves.

Pants. Shield your legs from the aforementioned annoyances with full-length pants. And if you’re handling any sort of hardware, you’ll want a durable pair that can withstand a cut, puncture or abrasion.

Shoes. Consider wearing boots or another pair of shoes with a sturdy heel, ankle coverage and slip-resistant sole. Keep the laces tight so they don’t get stuck in any moving ATV parts.

Gloves. Your hands are one of, if not your most important asset! Protect them from the wear and tear of daily hard work with gloves. Go for a high-quality pair reinforced with leather for comfort and longevity.

Clothes that fit. While you might be tempted to opt for loose-fitting clothing in the name of comfort, it poses as more of a risk than it’s worth. Choose clothing that fits well and doesn’t take the chance of getting caught in any moving parts of farm or ATV equipment.

Who Should Drive an ATV?

Chores are a fundamental part of growing up on a farm —and while ATVs can make those farm work easier, proper limits should be in place for teenagers who may operate an ATV.

ATV engines are often defined by their size in CC (cubic centimeters). The more CC an engine has, the greater its power and speed. To keep young riders safe, consider establishing these limits on your farm:

  • No children under the age of 12 should operate an ATV with 70 CC or more.
  • No children under the age of 16 should operate an ATV with 90 CC or more.

Appropriate Training

All riders, including teenagers, should be appropriately trained prior to driving. In addition to receiving farm-specific training, drivers should be trained on these basic skills and tasks:

Putting the machine in park and neutral. You’ll need to know how to stop the vehicle and put it in a stationary position to disembark and load or unload items from the ATV. In the event that it will need to be towed or pushed, you should also know how to put the vehicle in neutral.

Drive at appropriate speeds. Many ATV accidents are the result of going too fast for the terrain or for the weight of material you’re carrying. The risk of rollover or the loss of control is far too great for a driver not to take it slow and steady.

Be aware of natural obstacles. Holes, stumps, hills — they can all bring an abrupt halt to a workday and cause damage to an ATV, to any cargo, and worst of all, to the driver. You should be very familiar with the area you’ll be driving on prior to their first go-around on the land.

Cross traffic safely. If your work area includes land separated by roads, it’s of the utmost importance that you follow these standards when crossing. Always:

  • Yield to oncoming traffic. Regardless of the type of vehicle heading down the road, they have the right of way. Wait until all traffic has passed in both directions before crossing the road. Hurrying across the road could lead to a loss of control, loss of hauled materials or injury.
  • Cross the road in a straight, direct line rather than at an angle. After making sure the coast is clear, cross the road.
  • Stop on the shoulder of the road prior to crossing. Never make a non-stop attempt to cross the road, even if you don’t believe any traffic is coming.
  • Drive slowly on pavement. ATVs and their tires are built to handle rough terrain, not flat, hard pavement. Keep yourself on the vehicle and your cargo safe by crossing the road slowly.

Turning and Maneuvering Hills

Since ATVs are much lighter than other vehicles, it’s important to use extra care when navigating uneven terrain. When turning or driving on hills, shift your weight appropriately to avoid a rollover or loss of control.

Slow turns. Shift your weight forward and towards the outside of the turn.

Faster turns. While you should aim to take all turns safely and slowly, be prepared to take turns at slightly higher speeds. Shift your upper body into the inside of a turn, being careful to maintain solid pressure with your foot on the outside footrest.

Driving up a hill. Move your weight forward while maintaining solid footing on footrests.

Driving down a hill. You should drive down a hill with the machine in a lower gear, if possible, while making sure to keep your weight back in the driver seat as to avoid tipping the vehicle. For automatic transmission ATVs, utilize the breaks and navigate the downslope slowly and steadily.

Driving across a slope. Due to an ATV’s increased risk of rollover, you should avoid driving across sloped hills if possible.

Stalling. If an ATV’s engine stalls, stop the vehicle with the brakes, put it in neutral, get off the vehicle and guide it to a safe, flat location.

Towing with an ATV

While your ATV can handle a bit of luggage on its rear and/or front racks, you might find yourself towing materials using the most popular of the ATV farm accessories — a trailer. Keep these safety standards in mind while hauling goods across your property.

Don’t overload your ATV racks or trailer. Too much weight on your ATV and the trailer can slow the vehicle down, put pressure on vital parts of the vehicle, and put you in danger. As a rule of thumb, do not put material that weighs more than 1/3 of the ATV’s total weight on the racks. Check your trailer’s manual to see its specific weight limits.

Distribute weight evenly. Putting more weight on one side of the ATV or its trailer is dangerous — make sure weight is distributed evenly front to back and side to side.

Everyday Know-How

So you’ve been trained, donned your safety gear and are ready to get to work. But before you go, keep these last few tips in mind:

Give the vehicle a pre-check. Check the vehicle’s oil, fuel, tires, and lights to make sure the vehicle will run and drive properly.

Confirm the day’s workload and location. Establish and share your day’s schedule so that coworkers or family can find you in the event of an emergency.

Locate the manual. When any question or issue arises, have the manual handy to troubleshoot the problem without the help of an ATV expert.

No impairments. Never operate an ATV when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or when you are tired.

Need help with deciding what kind of insurance coverage you’ll need for your farm’s ATV? We’re here for you! Contact an agent (Opens in a new tab) today to learn more about your options.

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