Which is right for you depends on how you use it.
As more people try to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, electric and hybrid automobiles are becoming available and more popular. The same is somewhat true off the road, although electric ATVs, or EVs, have actually been available to the masses for quite awhile.
While earlier versions of electric ATVs were of limited use and often maligned as being little more than souped-up golf carts, times have changed. Responding to increased consumer demands, EV makers have advanced their efforts to build fossil-fuel-free ATVs that run on a par with petroleum-powered off-road rigs. With more choices available, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to decide which way to go: gas or electric.
Steve Nessl, marketing manager for Yamaha’s ATV & SxS department, says the biggest advantages of gas vehicles are proven, at-the-ready performance and off-road capability.
“They are designed and built from the ground up for off-road use,” Nessl said. “They’re made for slugging through mud and across the far reaches of tough terrain — for going places nobody else can go.”
He also remarked on their versatility. “When designing our vehicles, we tried to cover as many needs of the outdoorsman as possible, be it hunting, scouting, plowing, planting or running fence. They do it all well.”
On the other side of the fence is Philip Jhant, director of sales for Bad Boy Buggies. “I grew up on a farm,” he said. “We lived out in the country, and everything ran on gas or diesel. Later, after using electric vehicles, I became a dyed-in-the-wool electric guy. I immediately switched to exclusively electric vehicles, even before we purchased Bad Boy.”
The lack of engine noise and odor also makes them a good option for hunters. And Ronel Bronson, director of distribution for Stealth Electric Vehicles, touts, “They will change the way you hunt.”
So who’s right? Which is the better choice for the deer hunter?
HOME ON THE RANGE
Everyone wants to know their vehicle will get them where they’re going and back. “One of the biggest advantages of gas ATVs is what Nessl calls at-the-ready performance. “As long as there’s gas in the vehicle, I know when I turn the key I’m going to get the same output, the same power and performance,” he says. And depending on how rough the terrain and how aggressively you drive, you can expect that reliability over an estimated 80- to 100-mile range.
That’s not necessarily the case for electric vehicles. The longer you drive them, the more you drain the battery, reducing the amount of torque and horsepower they’re capable of producing.
However, range becomes less of a concern with EVs if you understand that going in. “It’s an education for the consumer to understand the range limitations of their vehicle,” Jhant observes. “Most electric vehicles have an average range of somewhere between 20 and 40 miles, depending on terrain, speed and other variables. Your top range might be 35 miles, but not if you go 25 mph the whole time.”
Driving aggressively will drain batteries faster.
There are other considerations as well. Gas ATV users can carry extra fuel. Running out of either gas or juice is never a good thing, but it’s much more of an issue for EVs, particularly in remote areas. It’s a lot easier to get a ride back with a jug of gas than it is to run several miles of extension cord. Furthermore, you can refuel a gas ATV in minutes, while it could take 8 to 10 hours to fully recharge an EV.
One of the biggest knocks on early electric ATVs was they were little more than glorified golf carts — great for navigating 18 holes of cart paths, but not much good in the rough. As Nessl pointed out, gas ATVs were engineered and built specifically for off-road use. And Bronson admitted, “Most electric vehicles did start out as golf carts.”
More recently, manufacturers have stepped up to address that stereotype.
“Stealth models are not repurposed golf carts,” Bronson said. “The frame and suspension are designed specifically for strenuous off-road use.” For example, both the Stealth Night Hawk and Bad Boy XTO have a MacPherson style strut front suspension and heavier springs and shocks than older EVs.
Bronson also pointed out EVs actually boast more torque than gas ATVs, 130 to 160 foot-pounds. “And an electric motor has instant torque with no need to rev the engine,” says Aaron McCaleb of Source Outdoor Group. “It’s a more efficient system for hauling or pulling a load.”
Again, there is a trade-off. An electric motor is more efficient for pulling or hauling a payload, but that added work drains batteries faster. Instead of simply pausing to refill the gas tank, you’ll have to plug your EV into an outlet for 8 to 10 hours before continuing.
It’s almost impossible to do a direct cost comparison because the vehicles operate on such different systems, but we can try.
Off the lot, gas and electric ATVs are fairly close in price. The Yamaha Rhino, Stealth Night Hawk and Bad Boy XTO all run about $13,000, with EVs tending to run slightly higher.
Bronson noted: “In order to be competitive (price-wise), we’ve added more standard features.” That includes things like camo finish, roofs, windshields, racks and more aggressive tires. It’s also worth noting several states offer tax credits on the purchase of an EV.
Comparing mileage is more difficult. Nessl was hesitant to offer specific mileage figures for gas ATVs “because it depends so much on use, terrain and type of riding,” he said. Again, you can probably expect 80 to 100 miles on a tank of gas in a Grizzly 4x4, farther on a Rhino side-by-side. Depending on riding conditions, you’d probably average somewhere between 10 and 30 mpg. Still, with the price of gas, plugging into the wall is a lot cheaper than filling up.
Ostensibly, electric vehicles are much more economical to operate. According to a Stealth comparison sheet, EVs run at about 1⁄7 the cost of gas ATVs. Jhant estimated the savings to be a bit less. “EVs are probably about 50 percent the cost of a gas vehicle (to run),” he said. That doesn’t take into account any difference in maintenance cost, and the ultimate replacement cost of batteries. Jhant said the batteries have a four- to five-year life expectancy with a replacement cost between $700 and $900.
Both types have their maintenance and service issues as well. For both, you need to keep proper air pressure in the tires and periodically lubricate grease fittings. Additional routine maintenance on a gas ATV, according to Nessl, consists largely of changing the oil and air filters periodically, as recommended in the service manual. If you’re not mechanically inclined, it’s also advisable to bring your unit in to the dealer periodically for a thorough inspection in addition to repair or adjustments when necessary.
Maintenance intervals are based on hours of operation, so how often you bring your gas-powered ATV to the shop depends on how, and how much, you use your ATV.
“Once a year is optimal,” says Nessl, “but once every two to three years is probably adequate in most instances.”
That’s a good guideline for EV owners, too. While backyard mechanics are easy to find, shade tree electricians are scarce.
Fortunately, electric motors have fewer moving parts. The big thing for electric vehicles is to maintain proper water levels in the batteries and keep the terminals clean. “All that,” according to Jhant, “should require about 15 minutes every 6 months or so.”
Water is the key to battery life, so it’s important to keep the battery filled, which might require more frequent attention in hot or dry conditions. “Heat equals evaporation,” notes Bronson. Much of this can be avoided with maintenance-free batteries, a more expensive option in some electric models.
Bronson also noted that ATVs use heavy duty, deep-cycle lead acid batteries. “This is not a golf cart battery,” she said. “It’s more like what is used in a forklift.”
As a result, it won’t be affected as much by extreme cold. “It should still start and run at almost any temperature, although range can be slightly reduced in extreme cold. Bronson also noted batteries are not affected by elevation the way gas engines are. They do, however, add considerable weight, which influences performance.
Over the broad range of ATVs, gas probably offers more choice in type and style. Yamaha’s outdoor utility line, for example, contains a dozen different four-wheelers ranging from 125cc to 700cc, and two 700cc side-by-sides. In terms of side-by-side options, the edge probably goes to EVs. Both Stealth and Bad Boy have several models including two- and four-seaters and those with or without cargo beds.
NOT EASY BEING GREEN
One of the big advantages claimed by electric ATV makers is that they don’t burn fossil fuels and, therefore, are better for the environment. Part of that is true. They don’t burn fossil fuel, which eliminates the need for, and by-products of, petroleum extraction, refining, distribution and then combustion. But they do require electricity which has to be generated somewhere, possibly by wind turbines or hydro dams or by coal-fired furnaces. It’s impossible to trace, but you might want to put an asterisk on that Green label.
There is one distinct and indisputable advantage of electric ATVs: They’re quiet.
“I have the ability to get in and out of areas undetected,” Jhant says. “As a result, I see more game. Many times I have driven by deer and they never knew I was there. I’ve also been in a stand watching animals react to a gas ATV. First they raise their heads, then move off, long before the vehicle comes near.” Jhant also raves about electric ATVs for turkey hunting. “You can cover a lot of ground and still be able to call, listen and move in close without disturbance, and you can bring more gear with you.”
Jhant also offered his thoughts on some less obvious but equally important aspects.
“I think (gas) engine noise puts you in a different frame of mind,” he says. “I have a 13 year-old son, and the ability to have conversations in the woods when riding, scouting or checking cameras is priceless.” And it’s not just about kids. “I have an 82-year-old dad who can’t do the walking he once did. This gives him the ability to get into remote places and still not spook game. Besides, the older guys aren’t interested in the speed and noise.”
Going gas-free has a couple other advantages. One, you don’t have to worry about picking up gas odor while refueling. Another is that EVs also don’t emit exhaust fumes that could spook game. As Bronson points out, “because there is no heat signature, you don’t have to worry about the potential for igniting a wildfire.”
Which type of vehicle you should choose will depend largely on intended use and personal preference. No question, electric ATVs will give you a comfortable, quiet ride. If your daily hunt occurs inside of a 20- or 30-mile range on relatively easy ground, they’re well up to the task. If you’re traveling longer or unknown distances, or on particularly rugged terrain, gas is a better option.
For hauling smaller loads and working smaller plots, an EV will suffice. But if you’re going to be aggressively managing property, you might want to go with gas. In the end, there’s really no wrong choice. Both types are so popular that if you try one and decide it’s not for you, you’ll have no problem selling it.
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