One of the best parts about off-roading is the community. And for many of us, that sense of community starts at home. If you have little ones in the family, chances are they’ve already started to show an interest in riding. And if that’s the case, it’s time to start looking into some UTVs and ATVs for kids.
Luckily, you’re not short on choices. Kids today have more options than ever when it comes to finding the right machine for them. It’s never been easier to get kids on the trails independently and safely.
But there are some things you should know before buying your first youth UTV or four wheeler. What makes them safer than standard machines? And which features should you look for when shopping around? We’ll tell you everything you need to know about quads and side-by-sides for kids.
NOTE: The information in this article is not intended to replace manufacturer guidance. Always pay attention to the age recommendations for your specific model and adhere to local laws when riding.
There’s no official record of who made the first youth four wheeler. Lots of ATVs were popular with kids in the early days, even though there was no particular “youth” designation back then.
For example, the Honda ATC90 was introduced in 1970 and was commonly used as a youth model. But was that Honda’s intention when they were designing this machine? We can’t say for sure.
Side-by-sides are a more recent part of history, though, so it’s easier to track their evolution. In 2008, Polaris announced that the Ranger RZR 170 would be added to the 2009 lineup. They marketed it to kids ages 12 and up, making it one of the industry’s first youth UTVs.
Other manufacturers followed suit, and the demand for safe, kid-focused models has only continued to grow.
You might be wondering, “Why would I spend money on a four wheeler for kids if we already have a perfectly capable machine sitting in the garage?”
The number-one answer to that question is safety. Youth ATVs and UTVs are scaled-down models that are designed with small humans and new riders in mind. They have features, specs, and safety measures in place that regular models don’t, all in the name of keeping your kids safe.
Youth models also give kids a feeling of freedom and confidence that they can’t find anywhere else. While behind the wheel, they won’t feel like they’re playing pretend in a full-grown side-by-side. They’ll feel like real riders because everything is designed to meet their needs and abilities.
Side-by-sides and four wheelers for kids also give parents peace of mind. Adults can rest assured knowing that their kids are learning a new skill in a safe environment.
What exactly makes ATVs and UTVs different from standard models? They’re smaller, for starters. But manufacturers do more than just scale down their most popular machines. And they make every change in the name of safety.
Here are some of the most common safety features to look for when shopping for an ATV or side-by-side for kids.
Youth ATVs and UTVs aren’t just built smaller—they’re also designed to grow with the kids. Special attention is placed on the steering wheel and driver’s seat, typically offering more adjustability than in standard models. This makes it easy to find the perfect setup for your kid, no matter how much growing they have left to do. If they start to outgrow their current setup, adjusting the seat and steering wheel to meet their needs is simple.
The engines in youth models are also downsized. Most of these machines put out between 130 and 300cc. That’s enough power to have fun, but not so much that it’s dangerous or overwhelming.
One of the biggest draws of youth machines, especially in adults’ eyes, are the parental controls. Most youth models give parents the ability to control certain aspects of the machine from a distance. Sometimes this is done using a remote control and other times through a mobile app.
Some youth models even come with geofencing capabilities. This lets parents map out specific areas and control speed depending on where the kid is riding. It can also shut the machine down if the driver strays too far out of bounds.
Parental controls also give guardians the ability to shut down the vehicle remotely—kind of like a remote kill switch. If the child loses control of the vehicle, being able to shut off the engine without actually being in the vehicle can be an invaluable feature.
Manufacturers design youth ATVs and UTVs with safety in mind. For example, most youth side-by-sides come with hard doors straight from the factory. There’s no need to buy aftermarket doors if you’re worried about keeping your kids’ limbs in and everything else out.
Kid-focused machines also come with plenty of LED lights to ensure maximum visibility, no matter what the trail or weather conditions are like.
And the newer these models get, the more advanced the safety features become. For example, the new 2022 Polaris RZR 200 EFI comes with two high-tech helmets for added safety. The helmets have chips in them that the vehicle can detect via Bluetooth. If a helmet gets too far away from the driver’s seat, the engine won’t turn on. (We know this isn’t a 100% guarantee that your kid will keep their helmet on when they’re out of sight. It should act as a helpful reminder for them to always have one on, though.)
All of the safety features in the world don’t mean a thing if they’re not backed by preparation and proper supervision. So for starters, make sure your kids are always equipped with the right safety gear. That means eye protection, a helmet, appropriate footwear, and maybe even some riding gloves.
Also, ensure their UTV has appropriate harnesses that fit well. The seat belts on youth models should have some extra adjustability to them (again with the “grows with the kid” thing), but sometimes this may require you to upgrade to an aftermarket harness.
As a parent or guardian, you should also be looking at the maximum weight limit and age recommendation for your particular machine. Some models are designed with younger riders in mind (10-12 years old) while others are only recommended for 16 and up.
With so many UTVs and ATVs for kids on the market, the young ones in our lives don’t have to wait until they’re old enough to drive a full-size model. Riding also equates to quality time spent with parents, older siblings, and friends. With a safe youth UTV or ATV, kids don’t have to take a back seat to the pastime we all know and love.
So what are you waiting for? The sooner you get your kids their own machine, the sooner they can join you on those weekend rides. And when you’re ready, check out this buyer’s guide we put together to help you make the decision.
But why wait until they’re old enough to handle a youth model? Start them even younger with a battery-powered machine. Here are some of the best off-road toys for the tiniest riders.