UTVs and golf carts are like competitive cousins, each trying to prove they're the best. People who own each type of vehicle will swear by them and say they'd never consider anything else. But where does that leave you, someone new to utility vehicles and unsure where to start?
UTVs, Utility Terrain Vehicles, and golf carts are utility vehicles with specific design functions. Though they may look similar in some ways, their differences come from these distinct intended purposes. Figuring out which vehicle to choose begins with understanding what they were built for.
A golf cart was intended for - you guessed it - the golf course. Standard golf carts are light, small-engine vehicles that carry people and a small amount of luggage smoothly and calmly across grass and paths. Though they're small, they are powerful enough to transport two or more golfers across an 18-hole stretch, so they can easily travel long distances for long stretches of time.
UTVs are built for work, not play. The average model has a large engine (though still smaller than a car or truck), a durable body, good suspension, and all-terrain tires. This design gives UTVs the power to haul heavy equipment and tear through rough terrain at speed (and with a fair bit of noise too).
Don't fear if what you want your utility vehicle for doesn't fit neatly into one of those two categories. Both golf carts and UTVs are becoming increasingly customizable vehicles. Add enough parts to a golf cart and it starts to look more like a UTV. Smooth off some of the rougher edges of a UTV and it could pass as a powerful golf cart. The important thing to ask yourself is: what do you want your utility vehicle to do for you?
UTVs were born for farm work, so it's no surprise that they win the cargo competition right out of the gate. A typical UTV can tow about 2000 pounds, and some can handle 3000 pounds or more. Their larger engines are built to haul at speed across large areas, and many come with either built-in cargo beds or tow attachments.
That's not to say golf carts can't handle weight. The typical towing capacity on a golf cart is around 1000 pounds, while some models can handle a fair bit more than that. However, their smaller-on-average engines mean they're not built for day-to-day hauling of big, bulky cargo. If that's what you want your utility vehicle for, go for a UTV.
UTVs might have an advantage when hauling cargo, but when it comes to hauling people golf carts have the edge. Where UTVs were designed to help on the farm, the sole purpose of a golf cart is to be a comfortable riding experience for passengers. Most common golf carts come with two seats, but there's a wide range of four, six, or eight-seater golf carts available. UTVs, on the other hand, generally max out at two or three people, including the driver.
If you're looking to go long distances in no time at all, UTVs are the clear choice. Golf carts generally max out at 20mph as that's the speed limit on most golf courses. With modifications, you might be able to squeeze 5mph or so more out of a golf cart engine. UTVs, on the hand, can manage up to 60 and even 80mph in some models, leaving golf carts in the dust. When it comes to off-roading, UTVs are an even clearer winner, as most golf carts aren't built for terrain rougher than a flat path or pavement.
The biggest factor in how noisy these vehicles are is, naturally, their engine. If noise is a concern, an electric engine is the way to go for both golf carts and UTVs. If you're worried about performance, don't be, as electric engines have come a long way in recent years and a quality model will keep pace with gas carts in terms of speed and towing capacity.
But if you're concerned about mileage or otherwise wedded to gas engines, the quietest ones are in golf carts. Those powerful UTV engines come at a cost, and golf cart manufacturers try to keep engine noise down to preserve peace and tranquillity on the course. In short, the average gas golf cart will be quieter than the average gas UTV.
If you want to take your vehicle for a drive to the store, you might not get very far. It is illegal to drive a golf cart on public roads in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Rhode Island, and New York. Other states that do allow golf carts on roads require that they have a VIN, license plate, horn, speedometer, working head, and brake lights, and turn signals, most of which don't come standard on most golf carts. Even after all of that, they are classified as low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and subject to different laws and regulations than cars.
Sadly, UTVs have no advantage over golf carts in this area. States have varying rules for where and when you can drive your UTV on-road, but in most cases, you'd still have to pay for a host of modifications and go through a fair bit of red tape to get your UTV street-legal. Check your state and county legislation for what's legal in your area, but there's not much point comparing golf carts and UTVs in this area.
Okay, so roads are off-limits, but what about everywhere else? The UTV is easily the best choice for off-road driving. UTVs are built for use on farms and rural areas, where paths are few and far between. Your average UTV can roll right over roots and rocks and through mud and streams without breaking a sweat. Most importantly, their off-road wheels and strong suspension make them safer to use off-road.
Golf carts can take on rough terrain at a pinch, but it's not their forte. Where UTVs are designed for the trail, golf carts are designed for, well, the golf course. Many models can manage off-road, but they aren't as durable or safe as a UTV. If you're planning on driving mostly on rough terrain, a UTV is the way to go.
Tent and sleeping bags in tow, a long trail ahead of you: the perfect time for a golf cart or a UTV, right? Well, when it comes to camping with utility vehicles, it depends where you go. Many official campgrounds don't allow golf carts or UTVs because of the noise they make. Some campgrounds might be more lenient towards electric engines, but not all will have the facilities to recharge them. Others will insist that you rent their own vehicles rather than bring your own.
If you do find a campground that allows utility vehicles, which you go for depends on the trip you're planning. Taking a lot of gear? The UTV will help you haul it. Going with a group? A golf cart will have space for more of you. Need to drive to get there? You might have problems with either vehicle. All in all, there's no clear advantage between golf carts and UTVs when it comes to camping.
If you're just looking for the cheapest option out there, buy a golf cart. Due to smaller engines and their simpler design, the standard golf cart is a fair way cheaper than the standard UTV (pun intended). UTVs are larger and built with sturdier parts to withstand off-road travel, making them the more expensive option.
You get what you pay for. Golf carts are generally cheaper because they come with fewer bells and whistles. Once you start getting into the world of golf cart modifications, many models can approach or exceed the price of an average spec UTV. Before you think about going for the cheapest model available, think about what you want to do with the vehicle, and investigate how much you'd have to pay to modify your golf cart to get you there. In the end, you might find that a UTV is a cheaper choice.
At the end of the day, UTVs and golf carts are evenly matched. The main question you need to ask is: what are you using it for? Are you looking for a smooth ride for you and your family across your land or through your cul de sac? Go for a golf cart. Do you want to speed down dirt roads, hauling half of your belongings behind you? Get a UTV. Want a mix of the two? Explore the world of modifications. With today's market of golf carts and UTVs, the world is your oyster.