If you need to transport materials and passengers on a large work site but a full-sized vehicle isn’t practical or cost-effective, a utility task vehicle (or UTV) or Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) might be the perfect solution. These vehicles fill a strategic role in motorized transportation, one step above light-duty golf carts used for low demand passenger transportation, and one step below high-power work vehicles such as farm tractors. Also separate from all-terrain vehicles (ATV) which are intended for single riders and are more recreational in nature, a UTV emphasizes work and business-related capabilities in hauling, transporting, towing, and material handling at low speeds and in defined service areas. Purchasing a work utility vehicle presents a few unique decisions to review beforehand, and so in this article, we’ll outline these key considerations for purchasing a utility vehicle for your construction, institutional, or commercial needs.
UTVs and LSVs fill a role in transporting people and materials where a normal automobile may not be ideal, either due to size, power, or cost. These vehicles can be used in a wide variety of work and transportation types, so the first place to start when looking to purchase is at the environment in which the vehicle will be used. Below is a series of questions to start this process.
Will the vehicle:
- Be used on-road or off-road?
- Need to be street-legal?
- Operate in close quarters, where size and turn radius are important?
- Have aesthetic and presentation requirements?
- Be subjected to heavy wear-and-tear?
- Operate in weather or harsh climate?
- Need to be compatible with accessories and attachments for various special tasks?
From the above, we can narrow down to a category of utility vehicle best suited to its expected use. We’ll use Polaris Commercial Vehicle models as examples of the differences between application categories below.
Construction / Industrial Category
Service Industry / Commercial Category
|Polaris PRO XD Series||Polaris GEM Series|
|Outdoor, Off-Road Environments||Indoor and Outdoor Environments|
|Heavy-Duty Work and Passenger Hauling||Light-Duty Work and Passenger Hauling|
|Rugged, Durable Construction||Street-Legal, Aesthetic Construction|
|High-Power Gas and Diesel Engines||Sustainable Electrical Motors|
|Common Applications:||Common Applications:|
|Construction Site||Universities and College Campus|
|Farm and Ranch||Hospitality and Leisure|
|Facility and Grounds Maintenance||Government and Municipalities|
|Trail Riding, Outdoorsmanship||Personal Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) Transportation|
We can easily tell the expected uses of these vehicles apart just by their appearance, which in turn relates to what image or presence you’d prefer to have reflected on your worksite. If your vehicle is largely customer-facing and must blend into a professional service setting, a commercial style is your best choice. If your vehicle is to live on jobsites or in industrial, manufacturing, or other heavy industries, the appearance and capability of a more robust Industrial style would be ideal.
Modern utility vehicle powertrains come in three varieties: gas powered, diesel powered, or electric powered. Your choice on which powertrain to select is an extension of the application discussion we covered above, but may also be a convenient opportunity to consider green energy and sustainability interests as well. In some jurisdictions, local incentives, rebates, and financing options may promote the purchase of an electric utility vehicle.
A gas model is a great choice for sites where diesel is not already available and where higher speeds are desirable. A gas engine typically runs quieter and costs less up front, but needs more maintenance and is not as powerful for hauling duties as a diesel engine. For example, a gas-powered Polaris XD 2000G model can hit speeds up to 40 MPH with a 100 hour maintenance interval, whereas a 2000D diesel model peaks at 26 MPH with a 200 hour maintenance interval.
Compared to a gas engine UTV, a diesel model is the clear winner for long life, low maintenance, and pure towing/hauling power. Diesel engines are great selections for sites where diesel fuel is already present, or is easy to acquire nearby. Diesel engines tend to be a bit louder and run rougher than gas engines, and also cost slightly more than gas models. Over time however, the reduced maintenance and greater overall reliability of a diesel engine makes up for most of these initial drawbacks. In addition, the Polaris XD diesel models all add a mechanical parking brake for added convenience and safety.
Sustainable fleet management continues to be a topic of interest when considering utility vehicles, and manufacturers are actively providing advanced electric vehicle options in response. Zero fuel costs, no complicated mechanical engine maintenance, no engine noise, and no exhaust odors are all benefits of choosing an electric UTV model. With these low-impact features, electric vehicles such as the Polaris GEM are perfect for consumer- and guest-facing applications. GEM is built for street-legal driving in most states supporting the Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) classification. The main downside to electric vehicles is charging availability and down time – you’ll need to make sure you have an accessible means to charge the vehicle, and that you can tolerate the charging time while the vehicle will be out of use.
Drivetrain selection is a minor but important decision in selecting a utility vehicle. Directly related to your application environment and the above engine types, drivetrain selection can be the difference between your vehicle ending up stuck in the mud, and able to easily handle rough terrain.
Two Wheel Drive:
As with normal passenger automobiles, two-wheel drive describes that two of the vehicle’s four wheels are geared to transfer engine power to the driving surface, while the other two wheels are passive, rotating freely. Vehicles that can expect to see mostly level, smooth, solid driving surfaces will usually only need two-wheel drive. In the Polaris lineup, the GEM electric vehicle series is entirely two-wheel drive, as the series is intended for specifically this type of on-road use. The GEM eL XD model is the workhorse of the electric series but is still only two-wheel drive, best suited for grounds and facility maintenance where it will mostly stay on hard surfaces.
Four Wheel Drive:
Mud, dirt, uneven surfaces, harsh weather, and otherwise rough terrain is where four-wheel drive vehicles shine. Using a sophisticated drivetrain that transfers engine power to all four wheels, four-wheel drive models such as the Polars XD series easily handle ground conditions that challenge two-wheel drive models. Given the heavier duty of four-wheel drive applications, these drivetrains are mainly found on gas and diesel engine models. In the future, we may see light utility vehicles feature four-wheel electric drives as we currently see in electric passenger vehicles.
Other Drivetrain Considerations:
Suspension – off-road utility vehicles should have robust suspension offerings, providing a balanced ride while hauling heavy loads on uneven terrain. The Polaris XD’s heavy-load spring coil shocks, and the GEM’s street-grade struts, are examples of application-specific suspension components to look for.
Durability – further for off-road vehicles, fully encapsulated CVT boots, corrosion-resistant drivetrain materials, and heavy-duty components such as those found on the Polaris XD series will assure long life in hard conditions.
Payload and Passengers
Payload decisions in selecting a UTV start with pure numbers: how many people and how much cargo weight do you need to transport? In the specifications of a utility vehicle, you should look for three separate data points on this topic – Vehicle Payload Capacity, Cargo Capacity, and Towing Capacity.
- Payload Capacity describes how much weight can be added to the vehicle between passengers and cargo. Payload capacity directly ties to passenger count, and so when purchasing a vehicle primarily for personnel transportation, look at this figure first. A two-seat vehicle will have a lower Payload Capacity than a six-seat vehicle, and take special note of if this figure is shared with any Cargo Capacity figures (described below). Given the small footprint and low gross weight of UTVs, it is imperative to not exceed weight capacities as this may introduce a tipping hazard.
- Cargo Capacity is usually provided on utility vehicle models that have a dedicated cargo space, such as a cargo deck or box. For these models, Cargo Capacity is presented separately to describe the weight that can be added just in that cargo area. This will be a lower weight than the Payload Capacity since it does not include passengers, and is useful to understand both the structural limitations of the cargo area as well as that exceeding this weight may make the vehicle unstable.
- Towing Capacity is how much weight can be pulled by the vehicle when connected to the towing hitch. If a vehicle does not state a Towing Capacity number, it is not intended to tow! If you plan to tow frequently with your UTV, also take a look at the vehicle’s Operating Weight (the weight of the vehicle, all fluids, and all accessories as configured). When towing a heavier load than the operating weight of your vehicle, be aware that stopping, turning, and accelerating may be impacted to the point of instability. Further, a heavier load parked on an incline without parking brakes or wheel chocks may cause the vehicle to drag downhill. It’s advisable to consider your towing needs carefully, and to speak to a knowledge sales consultant to select the best vehicle for the job.
Once purchased, an industrial utility vehicle must be properly serviced and maintained in order to remain safe, reliable, and readily available for your needs. Maintenance and service are tailored to the type of vehicle you purchase, and may come in the form of a service agreement or as-needed service calls. Consider how often you’ll need service, who will provide this service, the availability of spare parts, and the response time you’ll need once you request service.
For example, a campus shuttle vehicle used in daily tours may be a critical vehicle to keep running, and so if service cannot be immediately provided by inhouse or third-party resources, a second vehicle may be ideal to have on standby. Or in the case of a farm utility vehicle that is only used occasionally, longer service response times may be perfectly fine.
An electric vehicle is particularly specialized and will most likely need a qualitied factory-direct service technician to work on it. This might also be a requirement of the warranty, and a good decision for your own safety. Not many general service mechanics have the knowledge or training on electric utility vehicles yet, but that trend is changing as the market develops.
In contrast, a fuel-powered engine can be worked on by any competent vehicle mechanic, often with the support of factory-provided training.
Beyond considering service availability and support for your utility vehicle, also consider features in the vehicle itself that help reduce service requirements from the get-go. For example, the Pro XD series has many service-friendly features such as front-mounted air intake filters, easy-to-reach oil dipstick and oil filters, and standard common drivetrain components. Multi-ply, load-rated tires are also good specs to check, as is confirming that the vehicle comes with onboard diagnostics and a robust fault code system to notify operators of potential issues before they become major problems (as are all standard in the Pro XD series).
The topic of accessories is two-fold with utility vehicles: initial factory accessories, and field-interchangeable accessories.
Initial Accessory Package:
Most UTV manufacturers offer multiple initial configurations for their vehicles, specified upon order. For example, a Polaris Pro XD can come with a variety of pre-configured packages such as the Work Package and the Work Package with Cab System. The Work Package adds a safety strobe light, wide rear-view mirror, roof panel, poly windshield, and air filter restriction gauge to the base model. The Work Package with Cab System adds to the above package additional accessories such as a rear panel window, hard poly doors with windows, heat and defrost kit, and an engine block heater (for diesel models).
For passenger and commercial applications, multiple comfort and weather-related packages are available. The Polaris GEM series has a wide variety of factory-configured packages, adding combinations of features such as full doors, interior heating and cooling, windshield washer, stereo kit, trunk kit, window defrost, lightbars, cargo box, delivery bed, and more.
For most UTVs, towable accessories make up the majority of field-interchangeable options needed. For construction sites, towing a water tank, material trailer, signage trailer, portable lavatory, or generator are common needs. For facility and grounds maintenance, a trash trailer, lawn mowing attachment, seed spreader, or weed sprayer are common options. For campus and institutional purposes, a delivery trailer, chair and table trailer, and traffic control signage are often utilized.
There are other accessories to consider, beyond towable varieties. A snow plow added to the front of a Polaris XD can be useful on cold-weather jobsites, as can snow chains and an auger-fed snow thrower. Removable tool boxes and a cargo enclosure are great accessories for the Polaris GEM series, as are ladder racks and additional safety lighting (for night maintenance or traffic control jobs).
For all accessories, make sure to check that the vehicle can take the added weight, can safety connect to the accessory, is not at risk of tipping or stalling with the accessory attached, and has the electrical power necessary.
Commercial applications have ongoing needs that should be considered when purchasing a new UTV. Will my needs change over time? Will I need to expand or downsize my fleet? Will I benefit from an alternative purchasing arrangement to benefit cashflow?
Do not overlook financing and procurement options – purchasing a UTV is no different than acquiring any capital equipment, and the same cashflow and cost-of-ownership metrics apply. For example, take the options offered by Polaris: you can purchase outright, rent-to-own, or lease.
In this program, you can space out payments over time while obtaining the vehicle you need right away. At the end of the rental term, you own the vehicle and equipment. You’ll gain a low monthly payment with factory-provided maintenance to keep your vehicle productive, while managing your cash flow and credit lines for the best support of your business.
Polaris’ leasing program gains you access to new equipment every few years at a competitive monthly payment. You’ll receive factory-provided maintenance and parts support while you lease the vehicle, and at the end of the lease term, you’ll have no obligation to purchase the equipment. You can decide to renew your lease, evaluate a new lease should your application have changed, purchase a vehicle outright, or cancel your lease until you have the need for a UTV again in the future.
In the commercial vehicle industry, manufacturers such as Polaris produce business solutions in the form of vehicles, and local distributors translate and help implement those solutions down to individual customers. When considering the purchase of a new UTV, make sure to carefully weigh the value of having a local, dedicated, knowledgeable distributor involved and engaged from the beginning. When evaluating local partners, check for qualifications such as factory-provided training and active representative certification, response time, parts stock, and familiarity with your application and industry.
As a distributor and manufacturer’s representative company ourselves, Fairchild Equipment focuses on helping you select the proper vehicle for your needs, work through the procurement and financing process with your objectives in mind, deliver and integrate the vehicle at your site, and then provide full support for all of your questions and service needs for the life of the vehicle. Your local support partner will make all the difference in your ownership experience, such as keeping spare parts available for your model, responding to urgent maintenance or downtime needs, facilitating communication with the factory, providing factory trained and certified mechanics, and answering questions and providing information whenever you need it.