Are ATVs Automatic or Manual? (3 Types of ATV Transmissions)

  • By: Kevinsmak
  • Date: January 12, 2023
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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All-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, are built to last. They’re tough enough to take a punch and keep going. That’s why you see them used in everything from races to working on farms.

Living in a rural region makes ATVs an ideal mode of transportation. However, a common inquiry is whether or not ATVs are fully automatic.

The transmission of an ATV varies by model and manufacturing year. ATVs can be purchased with either a manual, automatic, or semi-automatic transmission. CTV and wet clutch transmissions dominate the automatic transmission market. There are numerous variants under each category.

Types of ATV Transmissions

When shopping for an all-terrain vehicle, one of the features to consider is the transmission. For all-terrain vehicles, there are three distinct transmission options:

Automatic Transmission

Automatic transmissions are the most popular type in both cars and ATVs. They’re easy to use and don’t require you to do any shifting. Just put it in the drive and go.

The functioning of an automatic transmission is very similar to that of a car, and some even feature a lever to select high or low gearing. The general premise is centrifugal force, which states that as rotational speed increases, so does the force moving away from an object’s center.

The quad will go considerably faster while in high gear but will have less power when moving slowly. Low gear allows you to pull or carry more since the maximum speed is significantly reduced, but the quantity of power at the lower speed is greatly increased.

Many youth ATVs have automatic transmissions, which allows the typically inexperienced rider to focus more on controlling the quad rather than having to shift gears.

Most automatic transmissions have two or three gears. Two-speed automatics are common in smaller ATVs, while three-speed automatics are more popular in larger ones. Some ATVs even have four- or five-speed automatics.

There are two common types of Automatic transmission s in ATVs:

  • The CTV transmission
  • Wet Clutch Automatic transmission

Read on for a detailed discussion of these two.

The CTV Transmission in ATVs

The CTV transmission is a type of automatic transmission common in Honda ATVs. It features two modes: high and low. This transmission features three basic components:

  • Belt
  • Drive pulley connected to the engine
  • Drive pulley connected to the transaxle

A belt runs through all of the pulleys. When the ATV reaches a specific revolution per minute (RPM), centrifugal force activates the CTV transmission and the clutches begin to engage.

When the centrifugal force isn’t powerful enough to engage the high gear mode, the low gear mode kicks in. More power is available at lower speeds, making it useful for hill climbs and navigating muddy terrain.

If the centrifugal force is high enough, the clutches will engage, and you’ll be in high gear. In open, flat areas, you can increase your speed with this.

Shifting to the left activates reverse gear. Comparable to an automatic transmission in an automobile, the CTV does not have a park position.

If you want an intuitive automatic transmission, the CTV is a fantastic choice. Those just getting into riding or those specifically interested in a trail-ready ATV will find it to be an excellent choice.

Wet Clutch Automatic Transmission

Wet clutch automatic transmissions are an automatic gearbox style in which oil is used to both lubricate and cool the clutches. This reduces the risk of the transmission overheating and extends its useful life.

Most utility-style ATVs, which are larger than standard ATVs, have this transmission. It’s also commonly used in ATV racing since it can withstand the high speeds and loads required for racing.

It functions similarly to an automobile’s automatic transmission, but the clutches are cooled and lubricated with oil instead of air. This reduces the risk of the transmission overheating and extends its useful life.

If you want an automatic transmission that will endure for a long time and be easy to maintain, a wet clutch is a good choice. It works great for larger ATVs and those that will be utilized for racing.

Manual Transmission

A manual transmission, also known as a “stick shift,” requires the rider to shift gears manually with their foot or hand. This type of transmission is common in cars but less so in ATVs.

Many quads have a manual transmission, especially sports quads. They function just like a motorcycle’s manual transmission.

On a quad, manually shifting gears gives the rider more control and can keep the engine’s RPM in the optimal range for maximum power when you have traction or less power (limited slip) when you don’t.

It may also make turning or leaving a turn easier. You definitely don’t want the transmission to shift when you’re making a sharp turn since it can throw you off balance.

Because an ATV has four wheels, learning to shift gears on it is much easier than learning to shift gears on a motorbike because you don’t have to worry about keeping the quad upright. Everything else is about the same.

In manual gearboxes, the clutch, the throttle, and the shift lever must all be used simultaneously. If you are driving up a slope, you might also need to apply the brakes simultaneously.

These quads also include motorcycle-style brakes; you will use your right foot to control the rear brake and your right hand for the front brake.

Using your foot brake during takeoff will be simpler since you must use the throttle, but depending on the circumstance, that approach may not always be the best.

When starting on a steep hill, you must employ a different method depending on whether you are facing up or down the hill. Steep slopes provide a very different challenge.

Semi-automatic Transmission

A semi-automatic transmission is likewise simple to operate, albeit it does call for some manual shifting on the part of the rider. There is no way to change gears or engage the clutch. To change gears, you need only press a button or pull a lever.

In my opinion, the easiest gear selectors to operate are the push buttons, which allow you to just press up or down to change gears. For instance, when the engine begins to whine near the top of a given gear, you know it’s time to switch up.

Simply release the gas pedal and press the “up” button to advance to the next gear higher. Pressing the down button will shift you into a lower gear, allowing you to slow down more gradually.

A semi-automatic transmission is more convenient than a fully manual one since it is less cumbersome and heavier.

Similar to automatic transmissions, a semi-automatic gearbox will have two or three speeds. The main distinction is that you have to choose the gear you’ll be in by hand.

Why Would You Choose a Semi-Automatic Transmission

If you’re the type of driver that likes to have some say over your vehicle, semi-automatic transmission is for you. It’s a smart pick for budget-conscious shoppers because it’s more affordable than automatics.

Vehicles equipped with such a transmission are more reliable and useful in the workplace than automated quads. Because you may choose the optimal gear ratio for the job, they excel at towing and hauling.

And since there’s no need to hold in a clutch lever, they’re less of an annoyance to ride than quads with manual transmissions.

How to Choose the Type of Transmission for Your ATV

Think about the following before deciding on an ATV transmission:

Type of Terrain

The terrain you will be riding in is the primary factor to consider when choosing between an automatic, semi-automatic, or manual transmission.

If you mostly ride on flat land with good traction, then an automatic transmission will likely be just fine. A manual transmission will give you more control if you plan to do rock crawling or hill climbing.

And if you are somewhere in between, a semi-automatic might be the best choice. It offers some of the benefits of both automatic and manual transmissions.


Automatics are typically the most expensive, followed by semi-automatics and then manuals. So, if cost is a major consideration, a manual transmission might be the way to go.

Ease of Use

You should get an automatic transmission if convenience is your top priority. No clutching or shifting gears is required.

Similar simplicity of operation applies to a semi-automatic transmission. There are no clutch levers or gear shifters, but shifting is still necessary.

To change gears, you need only press a button or pull a lever. In terms of control, a manual transmission is the most difficult to operate but also the most rewarding.

Size and Weight

In general, automatics are the heaviest and bulkiest, followed by semi-automatics and then manuals. So, a manual transmission might be the way to go if you want a lightweight and compact ATV.

Final Thoughts

Most ATVs are automatic or semi-automatic these days. But there are still some manual transmission models out there. And each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Consider the type of terrain you will be riding in, as well as your budget and level of experience, when deciding which type of transmission is right for you. Whichever you choose, make sure to get plenty of practice before hitting the trails. And always ride safely.

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