UTV manufacturers release new models on a rapid-fire basis, and as a result, off-roaders are constantly selling their older models to clear room in the garage for those new ones. This leaves us with a huge market of used side-by-sides up for grabs (or, should we say, for sale). It can be tempting to throw down a wad of cash on a slightly-used RZR at an amazing price, but do you really know what you’re getting for that money?
It’s important to exercise caution and your best judgment when shopping for a used UTV. Sure, those prices can be enticing, but make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into first. Used machines are most often sold on an “as is” basis, meaning you’re not getting your money back if you get it home and find one or two (or five…) things wrong with it. They typically don’t come with any type of warranty or guarantee. What you see is what you get, and what you get usually isn’t visible to the naked eye unless you do some digging.
Shopping for a used rig can also be really, really overwhelming. There are an endless amount of platforms where you’ll find people selling their older machines—Craigslist, ATV Trader, and Facebook Marketplace, just to name a few. With thousands of machines in front of you, it can be difficult to know what to look for and how to narrow it down.
We’re hoping to help with both of these problems by sharing some tips and tricks for perusing the used UTV market. Check out our buyer’s guide for riders looking to add a brand new (well, new to them) machine to their fleet.
A big chunk of shopping for a used side-by-side can be done long before you come face-to-face with the seller, without even leaving your house. That’s because all wise purchases start with some solid research. As with any investment, you don’t want to just buy the first thing you see. Consult as many sales platforms as you can until you have a fairly good idea of the going rates for certain models.
Here are some resources to you get you started:
While browsing these sites, be conscious of what you’re typing in the search bar. If you just search for “UTVs,” you might miss out on all of the listings that fall under “side-by-sides” or “ROHVs.”
Once you have a machine picked out, look up its Kelley Blue Book value. Heck, take it one step further and print out the results! It will be a great negotiation tool if you come across a seller who’s asking way over the KBB price.
Speaking of negotiating, that’s just one of the many topics we want to give you a heads up on before meeting with a seller—don’t be afraid to throw out a counter offer, and do be prepared to back up your offer with logical reasoning. Bringing up the KBB value is one good way to do this, but you can also use any observations from your inspection (more on that later) to lower the price. For example, if you can tell the machine is going to need new tires soon, mention that and suggest a lower buying price.
Here are a few other pieces of general advice for anyone looking to buy a used side-by-side, especially if it’s your first time buying used:
Unfortunately, not all sellers out there are honest. It’s pretty likely that you’ll encounter someone trying to sell a machine for way more than it’s worth by covering up some not-so-bright spots in the UTV’s history. The best way to uncover those fibs is to get the person talking. So ask tons of questions! Here are some common questions to bring up:
The more you ask, the more they’ll talk. And the more they talk, the harder it is for sellers to hide things or be dishonest with you.
You never know what the seller is going to have on hand, especially if you’re meeting at a random location (for example, a Lowe’s parking lot instead of at the seller’s personal property). Bringing tools, a jack, and a spare battery or jump box will not only help you complete your inspection of the vehicle, but it also might make the seller be a little more honest with you. If it looks like you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t!), they’ll be more likely to admit any preexisting issues ahead of time.
Many “for sale sites” allow the buyer to leave a seller review, rating them on factors like communication and honesty. In these cases, if a particular person has ripped someone off in the past, that information should be readily available to other potential customers. (Think about it—have you ever seen someone get ripped off on Facebook Marketplace and not put the seller on blast immediately after?)
In short, read up on the seller. If they seem a little sketchy or have been poorly reviewed in the past, walk away. There are plenty of other fairly-priced and gently-used UTVs out there just waiting for you to buy them.
Up next we’re going to talk about the in-depth inspection that should be performed on any vehicle you purchase, especially if it’s previously owned. If you’re not fully confident in your ability to assess all of these factors by yourself, consider finding an expert to bring with you! Bribe an experienced buddy with lunch or some brews, or pay a shop mechanic to accompany you on a test drive. It’ll be worth it if there’s a chance that person spots a warning sign that you would have missed on your own.
Once you’ve done your research, have picked out a potential machine, and are meeting with the seller, it’s time to get up close and personal with this rig. You’ve probably (hopefully) come prepared with any tools you might need to give this UTV a proper inspection, and you might even have an expert buddy along for the ride. Here’s a quick guide on what to look for when checking out a previously owned side-by-side.
We suggest starting with the frame. If the machine has been in some rollovers in the past and the seller is trying to hide that fact, a good look at the frame can reveal those issues. Don’t be scared to crawl underneath to get a better look. You’re keeping an eye out for cracks, weird bends in the steel, or any other signs of a previous wreck. Signs like this can usually be found near the shock towers or where the shocks attach to the frame, so pay close attention to those areas. If anything looks funky to you—maybe some fresh paint or replacement bodywork that could be covering up the effects of a bad crash—walk away. That kind of vehicle history could lead to more problems than you’re wanting to deal with.
The good news is UTV engines are typically less complicated than what’s under your car or truck’s hood, meaning there are less things that can go wrong. The engine is still something you need to check out, though. Obviously, it should start right away without turning over a bunch of times. We also recommend letting it idle for awhile. This is one of the simplest ways to look for any anomalies in the engine. And then, of course, you’ll want to listen closely to the engine during your test drive, but more on that later.
You’ll want to pump the brakes a few times and pay attention to what happens after. Your brakes should be responsive, with no squeaking or grinding noises. Any sound coming from the brakes is an indication that you’ll need to put in some work in the very near future. If you’re lucky, it’s just the brake pads that need replacing, which isn’t too expensive. But if you’re not so lucky, the brakes themselves might need replaced—that’s going to cost you a little bit. Bad brakes don’t have to be a deal breaker, though. If you’re willing to make any necessary upgrades to the machine, you could use the brake issue as a negotiating tool to lower your price.
This is something you should do on any vehicle you purchase, no matter how new it is. Check the oil and make sure it looks and smells fresh. The coolant should be green or orange in color, and you want to make sure it doesn’t look diluted. Another tip we recommend is to remove the gas cap and sniff the gas. If it smells bad (think rancid or rotten), that’s an indication that the machine is going to require some work on the carburetor or fuel injection system.
While you’re under the machine, check out the driveline. Look for any cracks in the CV boots and make sure the axles aren’t bent or busted. If you notice any unexpected issues here, that machine has probably been ridden a little harder than the seller is letting on.
Side-by-side tires aren’t cheap. So unless you’re willing to drop some serious cash on top of the cost of the machine, you want a machine that has pretty decent tires from the get go. Keep an eye out for dry or cracked rubber, worn-down or uneven lugs, bulging sidewalls, embedded nails or foreign objects, and punctures. The tread can also be a good indication of how worn down the tires are.
An excess of aftermarket upgrades isn’t always a bad thing, as long as you know the previous owner’s motivations behind those improvements. Some custom builds are made to look fancy but ride slowly, and others are intended to be beaten up and pushed hard. Not all upgrades are meant to be extreme, though. Sometimes it’s just about replacing broken parts or adding new ones to improve the machine’s performance. Pay attention to any modifications that have been made and don’t be afraid to ask the seller why something was done.
The last and most obvious thing to check off your list (and arguably the most fun part of shopping for a new machine) is to take it for a test drive! This is your chance to really experience how the machine handles and turns. You’ll want to keep an eye on all the crucial parts mentioned above, and also listen for any unnatural or scary noises or movements. For example, if you feel any slippage during your drive, that’s a sign that a belt is going to need replacing sooner rather than later. And above all, focus on how comfortable you are while driving. As cheesy as it sounds, a good question to ask yourself during a test drive is, “Does this feel like ‘the one’?”
Something we can’t stress enough is to not rush when purchasing a new-to-you machine. It can be frustrating to find what you think is the perfect UTV at a steal of a cost, only to see it up close and discover a bunch of problems that you aren’t willing to take on. But don’t worry! Sellers are putting more and more used side-by-sides on the market every single day, and we’re confident that with the right amount of patience and research, you’ll find your perfect pre-owned ride in no time.