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

  • By: Kevinsmak
  • Date: September 15, 2022
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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ATVs are built to be tough and durable. They can take a beating and keep going. This makes them popular for all sorts of activities, from racing to farming.

ATVs are especially a great way to get around if you live in a rural area. But one question we get a lot is whether ATVs are automatic or manual?

ATV transmission differs depending on the vehicle’s model and the year it was made. There are three types of transmission available in ATVs: manual, automatic, and semi-automatic. The most common automatic transmissions are CTV and wet clutch transmissions. Each type has its own additional variations.

Types of ATV Transmissions

One thing you’ll have to decide when you purchase your ATV is what type of transmission it will have. Here are the three types of transmissions available for ATVs:

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

Each pulley is connected by a belt. The CTV transmission is operated by centrifugal force, which starts to engage the clutches when the ATV reaches a certain RPM.

The low gear mode is engaged when the centrifugal force isn’t great enough to engage the high gear mode. This gives you more power at lower speeds and is ideal for climbing hills or going through mud.

The high gear mode is engaged when the centrifugal force is great enough to engage the clutches fully. This gives you more speed and is ideal for flat, open terrain.

There’s also a reverse gear, which is engaged by moving the shifter to the left. The CTV transmission is similar to a car’s automatic transmission but doesn’t have a park position.

The CTV transmission is a great option if you’re looking for an easy-to-use automatic transmission. It’s especially well-suited for beginner riders or those looking for an ATV to use on trails.

Wet Clutch Automatic Transmission

The wet clutch automatic transmission is a type of automatic transmission that uses oil to cool and lubricate the clutches. This helps prolong the transmission’s life and prevents heat damage.

This transmission is common in larger ATVs, such as utility vehicles. It’s also common in racing ATVs, as it can handle the high speeds and heavy loads associated with racing.

It is similar to a car’s automatic transmission but uses oil to cool and lubricate the clutches. This helps prolong the transmission’s life and prevents heat damage.

The wet clutch automatic transmission is a great option for those looking for a durable, long-lasting transmission. It’s especially well-suited for larger ATVs or those that will be used 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 also easy to use, but it does require the rider to do some shifting. There are no clutch levers or gear shifters. Instead, you just push a button or pull a lever to upshift and downshift.

The push-button gear selectors are the simplest to use, in my opinion, because you can press up or down as needed. For instance, you’ll know to shift when the engine starts to whine, and you have reached the maximum of that gear. 

To do this, lift off the throttle and hit the up button to go to the next higher gear. And when you slow down, you press the down button to go to a lower gear.

The benefit of a semi-automatic transmission is that it’s lighter than a full manual transmission and gives the rider more control.

A semi-automatic transmission has two or three gears, just like an automatic. The difference is that you have to select manually which gear you want to be in.

Why Would You Choose a Semi-Automatic Transmission

A semi-automatic transmission is a great choice for riders who want more control over their ride. It’s also a good choice for those looking to save money, as they’re typically cheaper than automatics.

ATVs with this transmission are more of a workhorse than automatic quads. They’re better suited for towing and hauling because you can select the appropriate gear ratio for the task.

They are also less annoying than manual transmission quads because you don’t have to hold in a clutch lever while riding.

How to Choose the Type of Transmission for Your ATV

When choosing the type of transmission for your ATV, consider the following factors:

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.

Cost

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

If ease of use is your main concern, then an automatic transmission is probably the best choice. You don’t have to worry about shifting gears or using a clutch.

A semi-automatic transmission is also relatively easy to use. You still have to do some shifting, but there are no clutch levers or gear shifters.

Instead, you just push a button or pull a lever to upshift and downshift. A manual transmission is the most difficult to use but offers the most control.

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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