ATV Towing Tips

It's generally illegal (and unsafe) to ride an ATV on the street, so you'll have to tow it to the trail.
It's generally illegal (and unsafe) to ride an ATV on the street, so you'll have to tow it to the trail.
Don Wilkie/

No need to beat around the bush -- all-terrain vehicles are fun to ride. They give you a subtle sense of accomplishment as you negotiate rutted and overgrown trails that would stop a bigger and less agile vehicle in its tracks. And after you've experienced the adrenaline rush of riding for a day or a weekend, you can go back to the "real world" pressures of work or school filled with a peaceful calm.

There's one not-so-little detail, however, that you must attend to in order to stay legal, safe and sane. That detail: transporting your ATV to and from the trail. Since riding an ATV on public streets is illegal in most communities (and with so many inattentive car drivers, it's just not a good idea), you'll have to tow it to the trail.

This article provides some ATV towing tips and explains the equipment you'll need for safely towing an ATV. What's the big deal, you ask? Can't you just toss it in the back of a pickup and head for the hills? Or if you really want to get fancy, lash it down to a flatbed trailer with a f­ew strategically placed bungee cords?

Well, no.

­As with motorcycles, the size and weight of ATVs mean that you must pay close attention to how you secure them. And of course, you should know how to safely operate any trailer that you use for your ATV towing. On the next page we'll give you a quick run-through of the most important ATV towing tips.

Quick Tips for Towing an ATV

You can speed around on your ATV once you hit the desert, but when it's on the trailer you need to keep it slow.
You can speed around on your ATV once you hit the desert, but when it's on the trailer you need to keep it slow.
Josef Valavka/istockphoto

Think about it: At highway speeds, a sudden swerve or an unexpectedly large pothole could turn your off-road vehicle into hazardous road debris. Gust-prone bridges and idiots who forget to use their turn signals can go from being mere annoyances to white-knuckle stress inducers.

So we've put together some tips for towing an ATV that will enhance the safety of you and other drivers and your own peace of mind.

  • If possible, use a trailer that has been designed specifically for ATV towing.
  • Observe the driving rules that you would when towing any other object -- allow extra time and distance for stops and turns, and maintain plenty of space between other vehicles and yours.
  • Always secure loose and large objects properly; in the event of an accident or even just an abrupt move, unsecured objects can destabilize your trailer or be ejected.
  • Make sure that the trailer itself is properly connected to your tow vehicle and equipped with safety chains and any other necessary trailer equipment (like signaling lights)
  • If you are new to towing an ATV or anything else on a trailer, practice driving slowly on secluded roads before making your first recreational trip.
  • On long trips, pull over about once an hour and check the towing equipment and ATV to make sure they are still secure.

­Any tough job becomes much easier when you use the right tools. To learn about towing equipment that makes hauling an ATV easier, go to the next page.

ATV Trailers

Riding ATVs is fun, but it can be dangerous.
Riding ATVs is fun, but it can be dangerous.
Brad Sauter/istockphoto

Given the unusually bulky form of all-terrain vehicles, it's no wonder that an entire industry has arisen to help enthusiasts with the task of transporting ATVs. In the next two sections, we'll take a look at some of the specialized ATV towing gear that makes the "getting there" a bit less stressful and a lot safer. Towing trailers for hauling equipment come in a wide variety of sizes and flavors -- small, large, single-axle, multi-axle, open, enclosed, partially enclosed and so forth. Some are general purpose. But the ones we're particularly concerned with are specialized ATV trailers.

­What sets apart trailers designed for ATV towing from other towing equipment? Well, typically, ATV trailers have low decks for easier loading. They often have foldaway ramps to further ease the loading and unloading process. They're built to withstand the weight of ATVs, which can tip the scales between 300 and 500 pounds apiece.

Finally, they feature numerous strap handles for placing the heavy-duty straps you will want to keep your ATV from sliding around.­ Be sure to consider what additional equipment for ATV towing you might need along with the trailer. A drop hitch attachment and other towing gear can remove some of the sloppy driving feel when you are pulling a trailer. Some ATV trailers have metal frame or mesh sides that serve as containing walls when folded up, then function as a wide, handy loading ramp when folded down. ­On the next page we'll learn about ramps and tie-downs.

ATV Trailer Accessories

Getting your ATV on the trailer is easy -- just ride it on up the built-in ramp.
Getting your ATV on the trailer is easy -- just ride it on up the built-in ramp.
Frey/Stringer/Getty Images


To get your ATV off of the asphalt and onto the trailer or pickup bed, you will need a ramp, or perhaps a couple of them (called dual runners), depending on their width. Ramps for loading ATVs and motorcycles are commonly made of aluminum because of its high strength-to-weight ratio. The array of choices for this piece of ATV towing equipment alone can be confusing: You must choose from arched ramps, bi-fold ramps, tri-fold ramps, heavy duty and other classifications.

But if you choose to ferry your ATV on a specially designed trailer, the decision is likely to be easy -- ATV trailers tend to have the ramps built-in.

If, however, you use a pickup bed or a general purpose trailer to transport your ATV, you must at the very least be sure the ramp will support the ATV's weight. While you may never require an extra heavy duty 6,000-pound capacity ramp, it is a good idea to allow a cushion of several hundred pounds.

Expect to pay around $200 for a light-to-medium capacity ATV loading ramp with about a 1,000-pound rating.

­ Use a winch, if possible, to load your ATV, especially if you are transporting it in a truck bed. Otherwise, ride it up the ramp slowly in low or four-wheel drive gear. Pay particular attention to steering straight ahead and mind the edges of the ramp. Tie-Downs

With an expensive toy like an ATV, tie-down straps are not the place to skimp and cut corners. Several manufacturers offer complete tie-down kits that include heavy-duty nylon webbed straps with ratcheting cams. These kits allow you to eliminate all slack in the straps when you secure your ATV to the trailer. The tires should be squished down upon the deck of the trailer and appear as if the ATV is carrying the weight of a rider. The ends of the straps may have simple metal S-hooks, or the more reliable "snap hooks," which click onto the trailer's anchor points and remain closed. As always, follow the manufacturers' instructions with any equipment for ATV towing that you purchase.

For more resources on towing an ATV, go to the next page.­

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Davis, Bob. "North Star Unistar Trailer." ATV & SxS Illustrated (online edition). July 10, 2008. (Accessed Oct. 10, 2008)
  • Priesgen, Anthony. "US Patent 7147417 - Slide mechanism." Patent Issued December 12, 2006. (Accessed Oct. 12, 2008)
  • "Towing a Trailer: Being Equipped for Safety." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Accessed Oct. 7, 2008)
  • "Transporting Your ATV Safely." Today's ATV Rider Vermont. (Accessed Oct. 13, 2008)