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Buying a Utility Vehicle

John Deere GatorThe utility vehicle, also called a ‘side by side’ is growing in popularity on lifestyle blocks and farms around NZ and it’s easy to see why. Like an ATV it’s small and nimble, unlike an ATV, it’s very stable and designed to carry passengers. They’re rugged, can carry and tow heavy loads, can go places your standard ute can’t but are almost as comfortable to drive as your car.

A utility vehicle is more like a car than a motorbike. It has a steering wheel (usually on the left as they’re imported from overseas), a bench seat for driver and passengers and can have floor mats, windscreen wipers and even heating! A tray on the back to carry loads is standard and many of these trays are able to be tipped, to make unloading easy.

There are hundreds of jobs on a lifestyle farm that are easier to do with a utility vehicle – once you’ve bought one you’ll wonder how you managed without it!

They haven’t been around for long; in fact the first purpose-built utility vehicle was the Gator ™, produced by John Deere in 1993. Over the years other manufacturers have produced their own vehicles so how do know what is right for you?


These vehicles are designed to go places normal vehicles can’t. That means steep slopes, rough terrain and mud and water. However, they can’t do the impossible and safety is very important.

There are a number of safety features to check for:

  • Roll over protection structures (ROPS) should be fitted to protect you and your utility vehicle in case you roll over.
  • There should be seat belts for driver and passengers.
  • Ask about chassis rigidity – the more rigid the better for control and safety.
  • Check load and towing capacity versus vehicle weight – see below.

Petrol or diesel

Diesel vehicles can be more expensive to buy but the fuel is cheaper – and no Road User Charges to pay! Diesel engines have more torque which means more pulling power and load-carrying capacity. They can be more expensive to repair but are generally very dependable and keep going for years. One final consideration is that diesel models retain their value more than petrol.

Petrol engines are quieter and cheaper to repair if something goes wrong. Also, if you don’t usually store diesel on the property but have petrol for your chainsaw, lawnmower etc then you’re less likely to run out of fuel if you buy a petrol model.

2 or 4 wheel drive

2 wheel drive vehicles are cheaper to buy and have slightly lower fuel consumption. They are fine for driving on flat or gently rolling terrain and carrying light loads but anything more demanding requires 4 wheel drive.

Engine size

The more you want to do with your utility vehicle, the more engine power you’ll need. As well as the terrain you’ll be driving on you need to consider whether you’ll be using the engine for extras such as towing or running a spray unit.

Load capacity

Load capacity varies between models. Take the time to think about what you may use the vehicle to carry – tools, fence posts, animal feed, spray tanks full of weedkiller, firewood, and even sick animals. If the tray tips, you need to decide if you want manual or hydraulic tipping.


You can find out the towing capacity of the vehicle by asking the salesperson or looking online at the specifications. However, you should also take into consideration the weight of the vehicle itself. Towing a heavy load behind a light vehicle could cause safety issues on steep slopes.


Check what comes as standard with the utility vehicle you’re planning to buy. One model or brand may seem to be good value but if you have to pay extra for features that come as standard on another then it may not be good value at all.


Utility vehicles are workhorses and last for years – or should! You don’t want to buy a vehicle only to find you can’t get parts in a few years. Talk to the salesperson about spare parts and whether they still hold parts for previous models.


Utility vehicles should be serviced regularly, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. When you’re buying the vehicle, find out whether the vehicle needs to be brought into the dealer for service or if the dealer has a field service option. A field service option saves you having to find a way to transport your utility vehicle to the dealership - many utility vehicles don’t fit on standard trailers.

Reliable/known brand

As with many big purchases it is best to buy from a known and reputable company. Big brands get to be big by providing good products and good service over many years. Lesser known brands may be cheaper but may cost more in the long term if the vehicle is not built to last or service is poor. A more reliable and well built vehicle will save money over time.


There are so many great extras you can get with and for your utility vehicle, for example you may decide to buy one (or all) of the following:

  • Brush guard
  • Roof
  • Deck liner
  • Gun rack
  • Spotlight
  • Windscreen
  • Windscreen wipers
  • Toolbox
  • Gear rack
  • Floor mat
  • Mud tyres
  • Winch
  • Spray tank unit.


A utility vehicle is a great addition to any lifestyle farm, whether you’re feeding out, fencing, break fencing, weed killing or carrying out one of the other hundred or so farm tasks, these little vehicles are a great help. Choosing the right one is important so find a reputable dealership and tell them what you need it for. A good dealership will be happy to bring a vehicle out to your property to show you what it can and can’t do.

Once you’ve bought your vehicle don’t forget to insure it.



We would like to thank Geordie Forbes and Ryan Antonio of Fieldpower for their help when writing this article.