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Operating Costs of ATVs Vary Widely

Posted May 31, 2005

Here it is summer 2005; gas prices have reached $2.50 per gallon in the last six months. As I pass Love's on I-35, I notice their sign doesn't even go to two dollars, they are just giving the "cents" price for two-dollar-a-gallon gas. I'm kind of like Love's I didn't think I would ever see gas prices this high, but they are.

Fuel affects the price on almost everything. Raw materials have to be transported to manufacturers, then goods have to be moved to the retailer, then consumers buy fuel to get to the store and bring the product back to our home or business. With fuel prices doubling, we now, more than ever, have to pay attention to fuel efficiency.

Today's farmers and ranchers have been using all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, more and more. I have written articles before on ATV use. We now have four years of data on the Foundation's fleet of ATVs. I thought this would be a good time to look at what it is costing us to operate these units.

As with any piece of equipment, treatment and maintenance determine the life of a unit. This is not a comparison of ATV manufacturers, I am simply giving you our actual costs for a variety of ATVs. I am also going to give you the history of the machine, so you can relate it back to some application you may have.

Let's start with #4 and #6, two Arctic Cats with different horsepower. #4 is used on the Foundation's Coffey Ranch, pulling a cake feeder mounted on a trailer most of the time during the winter months and subjected to very rocky terrain the rest of the time. It has plenty of power to do these chores, but you pay for the power to the tune of .85 cents/hour for fuel and $1.60/hour in repairs (see table). #6 is used on the Red River Farm. At 7.5 less horsepower, you would expect a little better fuel economy, and the records reflect that. This unit is basically used for transportation, moving cattle, etc., so why the high repair cost? Sand is the culprit. The unit is subjected to sand on a daily basis, and sand and bearings just don't go together.

OK, now let's look at #5, a Honda 29-horse unit used on the sandy Red River Farm. This is the most efficient unit we have. It is mainly used like #6, but at half the cost. We feel that the lower cost results from this unit being sealed better, so the sand has a harder time reaching those critical areas.

For those of you looking for a used ATV, #1 is a unit used on the Pasture Demonstration Farm west of Ardmore. This unit has given us years of good service, and it is still efficient on fuel but look at the repair cost. This unit has not had a hard life, but it has been a lot of miles on good terrain. You can chalk the repair cost up to it being 15 years old. You just can't get around the cost of owning an older unit.

The last two on the list are both Kawasaki automatics one is a 4-wheeler (#3) and the other a mule (#2). The mule is fairly good on fuel but is costing $2.63 an hour in repairs. Why? The mule has a small bed on the back and people tend to overload it at times. The biggest repairs on the automatic units have been torque converters and converter belts. Unit #3 has one of the highest fuel costs per hour; I can't really nail down why this particular unit uses more than some of the others.

The Noble Research Institute has recently purchased a new Kubota RTV 900 ATV. It is a diesel, and the drive train is hydraulic driven. As soon as we have some data on this new machine, I will report it. I hope everyone has a great summer.

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