7 Basics of Electric UTV Ownership
Manufacturers designate some off-road vehicles for work and others for play. With a utility-task vehicle (UTV), you get both. UTVs are ideal for hauling materials around the ranch in the morning and then riding the trails in the afternoon. The UTVs you’re most familiar with use gasoline as their energy source. What if we told you the future of UTVs is heading toward electric?
Electric UTVs are unique machines and deserve a closer look. Let’s walk through electric UTVs, how they work, and their advantages and disadvantages.
What Are Electric UTVs?
Electric UTVs are side-by-side vehicles (SSV) using an electric motor instead of your conventional gasoline-powered engine. These machines are similar to their gas-powered counterparts in their functionality. They still haul hay, building materials and other things you need to get the job done. However, the inner mechanisms distinguish the two types of UTVs.
While you may notice more electric UTVs on the market now, they debuted in stores over a decade ago. In 2009, Polaris introduced the Ranger EV as their first electric UTV. That machine, while primitive, was a solid start for the electric off-road market. The Ranger EV gave you 30 horsepower and a 50-mile range, but the first edition of the electric UTV didn’t last. A few years later, Polaris discontinued it and returned to the drawing board.
Electric vehicles (EVs) became more popular in the market in the late 2010s and early 2020s as consumers realized their benefits. We’re starting to see EVs not just from Chevy and Ford but from off-road manufacturers, too. In the spring of 2023, Polaris reintroduced its electric UTV with the Ranger XP Kinetic. This machine beats its predecessor with 110 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque.
What’s Inside an Electric UTV?
Electric UTVs may look similar from the outside, but what’s on the inside counts more. Here are a few ways electric UTVs separate themselves from gas UTVs.
Electric UTVs start with the motor, the heart of the vehicle. The motor replaces the engine in other UTVs that use gas. Instead, the motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy for the UTV. With mechanical energy, the UTV can turn its wheels and move wherever you want.
How does the motor get its power? Electric UTVs rely on the battery for their energy supply. Gas and electric UTVs use batteries, but each kind is different. Electric UTVs typically use lithium-ion batteries that you see in Teslas and other EVs. Conversely, gas UTVs use lead-acid batteries, which are cheaper but less efficient.
3. Inverter and Controller
The battery powers your electric UTV’s motor by the inverter. This part takes direct current (DC) power from the battery and transforms it into alternating current (AC) power ready to use. The inverter is essential because it’s the glue that holds your battery and motor together.
Your electric UTV’s efficiency relies on your inverter for efficient power transfer and control. The last thing you need is an overheating motor from too much energy conversion. The inverter works with the controller to regulate power flow and the speed of your UTV.
4. Braking Systems
The controller also has a significant role in the braking system. Electric UTVs distinguish themselves from gas machines because of regenerative braking. This process means your electric UTV captures kinetic energy when you brake and converts it into mechanical energy for your vehicle. The range of electric UTVs can be iffy, so this feature provides a significant boost.
5. Cooling System
Electric UTVs don’t need a complex cooling system like gas machines do. Your electric UTV’s motor and battery produce much less heat, so you only need a heat sink. Most electric UTVs have a heat sink and a fan to circulate air and keep the internal operations cool. This feature is beneficial if you drive UTVs in hot climates.
How Do Electric UTVs Handle Off-Road?
Electric UTVs perform well when driving off-road because of their torque. Gas UTVs require a certain amount of power to reach their full torque, but you get maximum torque instantly with an electric UTV. Max torque is handy for quick acceleration on hills or technical terrain.
Electric SSVs are generally easy to drive on any terrain. You’ll feel plenty of control because of its lightweight nature and low center of gravity. The main downside to driving UTVs off-road is their power, which we’ll discuss later in this article.
Electric UTV Advantages
Some consumers may be on the fence about buying an electric UTV. Here are seven advantages you should know to influence your decision.
One of the main reasons you see people driving electric UTVs is their eco-friendly operation. Running on an electric motor means you don’t need a combustion chamber or carburetor — just a motor and a battery. Electric UTVs don’t have tailpipe emissions, so you don’t have to worry about harming the environment while driving around the ranch or through the woods.
Off-roading is fun, but you must consider Mother Nature when driving on the trails. Gas UTVs emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) and can endanger wildlife, even if you can’t see them. Gases like nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide negatively affect the lungs, potentially leading to problems with food webs and animal populations. Electric UTVs do a better job of protecting the environment.
2. Eliminating Fuel Costs
Electric UTVs run on battery-electric power, so you don’t have to worry about fuel costs when creating a budget for your off-road vehicle. When driving gas UTVs, you must be mindful of fuel-saving tactics like not accelerating down hills or jackrabbiting. With electric UTVs, you can take gasoline out of the equation.
Eliminating fuel costs is a significant boost for trail riders. You still have to pay for the electricity used to charge your UTV, but the cost is lower. Plus, electricity rates aren’t as volatile as oil and gas are. In the summer, gas prices routinely approach $4 per gallon, hurting your wallet if you drive a gas UTV. Electric UTV drivers avoid the pain at the pump and charge at home.
3. Improved Indoor Health
UTVs are unique because you can take them indoors and do work. You’ll see plenty of UTVs at warehouses and distribution centers because they can carry heavy materials and navigate tight spaces better than a forklift. Even airports and construction sites use UTVs because of their versatile operation. Electric UTVs give you the upper hand by improving the air quality in your facility.
UTVs are convenient for indoor work, but fumes from gas-powered machines can negatively impact human health. Extended exposure to gasoline vapor can lead to dizziness and headaches in the short term. In the long run, you risk convulsions, arrhythmia and heart failure. Electric UTVs make your workplace safer with no dangerous fumes. Plus, the facility smells better.
4. Lower Maintenance
Electric UTVs are popular with off-road fans because they’re easier to maintain. These electric machines have fewer moving parts and pieces, making them more straightforward for younger people and beginners to sustain. Inspecting the battery is the primary maintenance you need to perform with an electric UTV. You’ll be good to go if you keep it charged and watch for wear and tear. Of course, you’ll still need to upkeep the tires by watching the psi and cleaning them.
Compare the electric maintenance with gas UTVs. With internal combustion UTVs, you have more moving parts and things to watch out for. Gas UTVs require regular oil changes and tune-ups to keep the engine running smoothly. Plus, you have to change the air filter, coolant, spark plugs and more. These factors show why electric UTV maintenance is simpler for the average person.
5. Longer Lasting
Buying off-road vehicles is like purchasing the cars in your garage. Some people want to upgrade every few years, while others will drive their current vehicle until it finally breaks down. Luckily, with electric UTVs, you don’t have to worry about replacing your off-roader every few years and shelling out money. These machines have a reputation for lasting longer than gas UTVs, making them a solid long-term investment.
It all goes back to the simplicity of electric UTVs. Like electric sedans and SUVs, electric UTVs have simple mechanisms with fewer moving parts under the hood. There’s a smaller chance something goes wrong when you don’t account for pistons and exhaust systems. Your electric UTV will face less wear and tear as long as you give it regular maintenance.
6. Easy to Drive
Do you have kids who like to ride? Are they ambitious enough to get behind the wheel for themselves? Luckily, electric UTVs are accessible for the whole family to enjoy.
First, electric UTVs typically have a lower center of gravity than their gas counterparts. Their battery and motor are two of the heavier parts, and both are underneath the vehicle. Lowering the center of gravity makes electric UTVs more stable and easier for your kids to drive on the trail.
Another key safety feature for electric UTVs is their power. You won’t be able to drive as fast with these off-roaders, making them easier for your kids if they’ve never operated this kind of machine before. Electric UTVs serve as a terrific first ride for your kids or any friend who wants to get into off-roading.
7. Quieter Rides
Something else that will help your kids is how quiet electric UTVs ride. No combustion or exhaust makes your UTV loud, so you’ll have a much stealthier time on the road.
This quietness comes in handy when driving on trails or into the woods. You could take a trip to hunt, watch birds or simply tend to your farm animals. Regardless, electric UTVs provide a much quieter ride. They’re not entirely silent, but the noise level is much lower than your average gas UTV.
Electric UTV Disadvantages
Electric UTVs are handy vehicles for recreational or professional uses. However, they’re not perfect. These four disadvantages show why you may think twice before buying one.
1. Higher Initial Costs
Innovative machinery comes at a price. EVs tend to have higher initial costs because of the technologies required to make these machines. Electric UTVs tend to be more expensive, negatively affecting people trying to get their hands on one.
For example, the 2024 Ranger XP Kinetic starts at $29,999 — a steep climb compared to the $12,499 full-size Ranger 570. Even the Ranger Crew XP 1000 Texas Edition starts at $24,299. You’ll compensate for the high costs by saving money on gas and maintenance, but the entry price may be too high for some buyers.
Ideally, your UTV will last all day, whether you’re working on the ranch or taking the family for rides. With electric UTVs, you must be more vigilant of your range because it’s not as long as a gas UTV.
For example, the 2022 Polaris Ranger EV has a 50-mile range. In comparison, you can drive much longer with the Ranger 570 or the other gas UTVs. Electric UTVs can bring range anxiety if you have a long day of riding ahead of you. Plus, carrying a gas can and filling up your UTV is much easier than recharging an electric UTV.
3. Charging Infrastructure and Time
Owning an electric UTV means you’ll need to charge it frequently. If you use the UTV daily for work, you can expect to charge it every night before the sun rises and the chickens wake you up.
Your electric UTV comes with a charger that’s easy to plug into your electrical outlets, but you may have difficulty charging outside the home. Unfortunately, you can’t plug your electric UTV into a typical charging station. You’ll need to carry your charger and find an outlet, which is easier said than done in the woods. Plus, it takes a few hours to ensure your UTV has a full battery.
4. Less Power
Earlier, we mentioned how less power could be an advantage for family riding. However, it could be a disadvantage in some cases. For instance, imagine you need an electric UTV for hauling. Less power means you’ll have a harder time towing materials around your property or facility.
Also, consider the terrain you like to drive on. Do your favorite trails include hills or sand? These paths require more power than usual, and your electric UTV might not be up for the task. Over-exerting your electric UTV compromises the range that already struggles at times.
Wrapping It Up
UTVs are a favorite for off-road fans because of their versatility. You can use them for work or recreational activities. Your UTV is perfect for solo travel or taking the kids out for a spin.
The next generation of UTVs is here with electric versions. Electric UTVs provide a quieter, more eco-friendly off-road experience and are easier for the family to enjoy. The price may prevent some from buying an electric UTV, but it does bring long-term savings. Test drive an electric UTV and see what you think about it.