Types of Off Road Vehicles

by Tanya Alexander
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Photos: Stock.xChng

Since the inception of vehicular travel, there has been an interest in the development of vehicles specifically suited for traveling off the beaten path. Over the years, off road vehicles have been developed for both common and not so common terrain types, made to complete a specific purpose or purely for recreational use.


The first application of retrofitting a standard vehicle for off road travel was developed in the early 1900s for the Russian military. The Kegresse track was devised using a flexible rubber tract system, which was retrofitted to a standard vehicle for off road travel. The more well-known off road vehicle--the Jeep--was developed primarily for wartime use, but later was redeveloped for civilian use and serves as the cornerstone of off roading as a recreational activity.


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There are several types of off road vehicles, some which are used on a variety of terrain, others which are terrain-specific.

Common off road vehicles include: 4-Wheel drive trucks; SUVs (sport-utility vehicles); OHVs (off-highway vehicles) such as ATVs (all-terrain vehicles); UTVs (utility-terrain vehicles); and Dirt Bikes.

Off road vehicles which are more terrain or use-specific include: sand rails, dune buggies, rock crawlers, monster trucks, snowmobiles, military vehicles, amphibious or dual-terrain vehicles, and hover crafts.

Common Characteristics of Off Road Vehicles

For a vehicle to be considered an off road vehicle, it must be able to provide a functional means of transportation off of a paved surface. Typically, off road vehicles need to have a reasonable amount of ground clearance to avoid larger obstacles, such as rocks, branches and debris. They also typically require a smaller amount of ground pressure, so they aren't as likely to sink into softer ground material such as sand or mud. Reduction in ground pressure usually is achieved through a softer suspension, larger tires or tracks. Also, off road vehicles generally have a low gearing system, to assist in getting through rough terrain by using the lowest possible gearing on an engine to allow for best use of its available power. Many off road vehicles are also equipped with a four-wheel or all-wheel drive system for traction in slippery terrain.


Off road vehicles can serve a specific purpose, as in the case of military vehicles to transport soldiers and equipment. They also can have a purely recreational use, such as sand rails and rock crawlers. Some common off road vehicles--like Jeeps, SUVs and trucks--are dual-purpose and also can be used as a normal means of on-road transportation.


As with any vehicle travel, the operation or use of off road vehicles carries a great amount of responsibility and knowledge. Being able to judge terrain and the best possible way to navigate over or around obstacles is important to the safety of the vehicle operator, passengers and anyone in the vicinity. There are times that proper safety gear is a necessity, not only out of common knowledge, but also as defined by area law. It is suggested that you research state and area laws with regard to proper equipment, required courses or knowledge, habitat or wildlife considerations, and permits or licensing.

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