Utility vehicles fill a unique niche in a government's fleet — they can operate on rugged terrain, transport people while also performing work, and navigate tighter spaces than a traditional vehicle, whether inside a facility or out in the woods.
Just as purchasing decisions are made carefully for on-road fleet units, so should they for utility vehicles. However, the requirements aren't quite the same. Here's a look at what to consider when purchasing utility vehicles.
At a Glance
Some questions utility vehicle buyers should ask themselves are:
Ensure the Vehicle Fits the Job
The first step in buying a utility vehicle is fitting the right vehicle to the right job. Ask yourself how the vehicle will be used day in and day out. Consider:
- All the purposes the vehicle will serve
- The type of terrain on which it will be used
- Fuel type
- Passenger capacity
- Hauling and dump bed capacities
- Climate and altitude in which the vehicle will be operated.
“The most important first step is to match the right utility vehicle to the proposed application,” said Aaron Stegemann, business development manager, Polaris. “Once the right model is identified, the utility vehicle can be customized to match the application.”
In addition to the basic requirements, Stegemann said fleets should also consider whether they have needs for fully enclosed cabs, heaters, audio equipment, and power steering. Likewise, it’s important to consider any safety equipment that might be required on the jobsite, such as strobe lights, reverse warning kits, horns, and light bars.
Without careful consideration of the application, fleets may end up with utility task vehicles (UTVs) that don’t fulfill their needs. For example, a Polaris customer purchased a four-passenger fleet for use in an indoor manufacturing facility. The customer wanted to haul more passengers, but after getting the fleet onsite, he realized the vehicles didn’t have a tight enough turning radius to navigate the facility. The solution was to sell off the four-passenger models and change to smaller two-passenger models. While the two-passenger models were a much better fit for the application, the fleet could have saved time and money had it more carefully considered the application to begin with.
Models Built for Work
It’s important to buy UTVs that are designed specifically for work — not golf carts or other vehicles dressed up with enough accessories to masquerade as a UTV.
“Fleet managers should look for models that are built from the ground up as a utility vehicle. They should avoid overseas manufacturers that basically put a box on the back of a golf car, declaring it a utility vehicle,” said Mike Cotter, director, Consumer & Commercial Marketing for Club Car. “When a utility vehicle is engineered and built from the ground up, you can be assured the vehicle will have a durable chassis to handle the job required. Converted golf cars, in most cases, don’t have the suspension/chassis to handle rugged jobs required by government facilities.”
Cotter has known fleets that purchased converted vehicles in an effort to save money — a choice that cost them more money in the long run. He recalls a military base in Georgia that decided to order vehicles with kits that converted them from a golf car to a utility vehicle, which didn’t hold up to the work demands of a government facility. “Over time, they realized those vehicles actually cost them so much more in additional maintenance and repair,” Cotter said.
In addition to ensuring a UTV can perform the necessary work, Stegemann said it should be designed for the needs of the driver, too. “Ergonomics become so important when workers spend all day in a vehicle; they should be comfortable,” he noted.
Shop with Versatility in Mind
Utility vehicles have a much wider variety of applications than passenger vehicles, yellow metal, or equipment — so they must be versatile. “UTVs can be used for a variety of tasks. A versatile utility vehicle will get the job done quickly and efficiently with workhorse capabilities built for any weather condition,” said Dan Muramoto, Kubota product manager, Utility Vehicles & Sub-compact Tractors.
Cotter agreed. “Our utility vehicles feature a track-based attachment system for carrying tools and equipment. This frees space in the bed and allows the kind of fit-to-task versatility that saves time and money,” he said.
A versatile UTV will:
- Operate on a range of terrains
- Perform a wide range of tasks
- Run in any weather condition
- Offer sufficient cargo space
- Have an effective hydraulic lift cargo box
- Possess strong hauling and towing capacity
- Offer a variety of options/attachments.
“Fleets should also consider how a utility vehicle can create efficiencies through its ability to complete multiple tasks,” Stegemann said. “There are perceptions that utility vehicles can only haul cargo and move people, but we’ve designed our vehicles to do a lot more than that.”
For instance, a single model might be used to haul cargo, remove snow in the winter, mow in the summer, and more, simply by switching attachments.
“Fleet managers should look at companies that offer extensive options to be used with their vehicles — items such as tool boxes, ladder racks, van boxes, and custom cabs,” said Rusty Fuhrmann, GSA sales manager at Club Car. “Versatility is all about matching the right tool to the right job.”
Don't Forget About Durability
To make the wisest use of public dollars, a requirement for any purchased asset is durability.
“Durability is an essential quality for any utility vehicle to have, but it’s even more important for a commercial-quality utility vehicle,” Stegemann said. “A fleet manager shouldn’t be afraid to ‘kick the tires’ of a vehicle to evaluate its durability. A commercial-focused dealer will be more than willing to bring a unit onsite for workers to demo.”
To get a better sense of a vehicle’s durability, Stegemann suggested assessing the following:
- Payload capacity
- Towing capacity
- Engine type
Jack Switzer, government business manager, John Deere Agriculture and Turf Division, added that a UTV’s frame and empty vehicle weight are also key to determining durability. “Better vehicles use a heavy-duty welded truck-style steel frame for their chassis. The frame resists vehicle twisting when operating in uneven terrain,” he said. “Empty vehicle weight is also important. Heavy-duty engine, frame, and transmission components generally weigh more than light-duty components and lead to greater durability.”
Cotter agreed that a strong frame is critical, but noted that steel frames are subject to rust. “Club Car vehicles are built on exclusive aircraft-grade aluminum frames. They are rustproof, corrosion-resistant, and engineered to be stronger than steel.”
Powering Your UTV
When it comes to powertrain, how the UTV will be used is again the first consideration.
“Choosing the right powertrain depends on the application and other equipment in service,” Stegemann said. “If the fleet has a green initiative or is looking to operate the vehicles in an enclosed environment, they should consider an electric vehicle with no emissions. If the agency utilizes equipment with diesel fuel, that agency may be more inclined to purchase a utility vehicle with a diesel engine for the convenience and performance factors.”
Electric is ideal for:
- Green fleets
- Indoor use
- Reduced noise.
Gasoline is ideal for:
- 24/7 use
- Situations where charging is an inconvenience
- Lighter-duty work applications.
Diesel is ideal for:
- Fuel availability
“Choice of power train is determined by how the vehicle and where the vehicle is going to be used,” Cotter said. “As an example, Club Car sent 170 diesel vehicles to Iraq with the Marines four years ago because they needed diesel vehicles that would run off JP8 and JP5 jet fuel. They needed to have the ability to pull fuel out of the wing tanks on their aircraft to run the diesel vehicles. Also, all their other trucks and vehicles were diesel powered and therefore they only had to transport one type of fuel.”
When selecting gasoline powertrains, engines with electronic fuel injection are also a consideration. “You’ll get more power and much better fuel efficiency,” Fuhrmann said.
Two-Wheel vs. Four-Wheel Drive
Before choosing a two-wheel or four-wheel drive model, consider the terrain, weather, and usage requirements.
“Two-wheel drive vehicles operate fine in mainly flat terrain and good traction application,” Switzer said. “Four-wheel drive is recommended in uneven terrain and when wheel traction is challenging due to mud, snow, icy roads, trails, and hills.”
Four-wheel drive may be an attractive feature, but it simply may not be needed to do the work.
“It’s really a question of application,” Fuhrmann said. “Four-wheel drive is needed in off-road environments. However, we see many fleets that unnecessarily buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle when a two-wheel-drive vehicle equipped with a locking rear differential is more than sufficient.”
If you are buying a four-wheel drive vehicle, Cotter suggested purchasing a system that senses the ground it’s on and shifts automatically, without the driver having to pull levers or push buttons.
Consider the Accessories
While accessories might seem like an afterthought in the purchasing process, they should be taken into consideration. Accessories are often key to getting a wide variety of jobs done.
“Fleets should most certainly be concerned about the accessories offered by the manufacturer. With accessories, fleets can truly customize a utility vehicle to meet their specific needs,” Stegemann said. “While a fleet may not require certain accessories at the time of purchase, it’s important for managers to consider future needs and if the manufacturer-supported accessories can meet those needs.”
Switzer added that the more accessories there are available, the more work can ultimately get done. “More attachments can lead to more work possibilities, as long as the vehicle can safely function with the attachments in challenging terrain,” he said.
In addition to mowing, towing, and snow removal attachments, safety and comfort accessories are available, which include: enclosed cabs, heaters, canopies to protect from falling objects, windshields, wipers, work lights, strobe lights.
“The key to accessories is safety and durability,” Fuhrmann argued. “When an accessory is attached to a vehicle, it becomes a part of that vehicle. Make sure the accessory you buy has been properly designed and tested for the application in which it is to be used.”
Custom Solutions for Your UTV
If accessories alone don’t equip your UTV to perform the work needed, custom solutions should be available. When seeking a custom solution, Cotter suggested asking the following questions:
- Who is doing the custom work?
- Is the work performed by the same parties that design and manufacture the vehicle, or is it outsourced to a third party?
- Does the manufacturer stand by the custom work with a warranty?
“Make sure anything attached to the vehicle was designed to go with that vehicle,” Cotter suggested.
A Warning About Warranties
Not all warranties are created equal. To ensure the warranty will offer sufficient protection, you should:
- Read all of the warranty language
- Understand what is and isn’t covered
- Know the length of coverage
- Understand the warranty process
- Know who provides the service
- Consider parts availability and downtime.
“The devil is in the details. Make sure you do a true apples-to-apples comparison,” Fuhrmann recommended. “How is the warranty honored? Does the manufacturer provide local service through a network of technically trained dealers, or do they simply provide instructions and manuals? This is typical of many overseas manufacturers. How easy is it to get parts? Does the dealer offer onsite repairs to avoid downtime?”
While reading the fine print may not be the most enjoyable part of the purchasing process, it’s important.
Don’t Forget to Kick the Tires
Armed with a checklist of what to look for in a UTV, you’re one step closer to making a smarter buying decision. But don’t forget to check it out in person and make sure all the components add up.
“I’d suggest demoing the vehicle at the location it will be used most to ensure it’s capable of handling the day-to-day jobs,” Stegemann said.
Questions to Consider
Before adding utility vehicles to your fleet, consider these questions prior to purchase:
- What will it be used for?
- Is this model built for work?
- Is it versatile?
- Is it durable?
- Which powertain fits the application best?
- Does the application require four-wheel drive?
- What accessories are available?
- Are there custom solutions to meet our specific needs?
- What does the warranty include?
- Can I demo the unit?