What Are Those 3-Wheeled Cars Called?

Jan 24, 2024

Tags:renterguidetrikeautoyclethree-wheeled motorcycleinfo

what are three wheeled cars called? polaris slingshot

Three-wheeled “cars” are most commonly called "trikes," “autocycles,” or "three-wheeled motorcycles." These vehicles might be called one or the other, depending on the design and purpose. 

Some are designed more like a traditional car with two wheels at the front and one at the back, while others are more akin to motorcycles with one wheel at the front and two at the back. Trikes can be used for various purposes, including recreation, touring, and even as mobility vehicles for people with disabilities. They offer a unique blend of the motorcycle experience with stability closer to that of a car.

Autocycle vs. Three-Wheeled Motorcycle

What’s an Autocycle, Exactly?

picture showing a comparison between an autocycle and a three wheeled motorcycle what are those 3 wheeled cars called

  • Definition: An autocycle is a type of three-wheeled vehicle that blends features of cars AND motorcycles. It typically has a more enclosed structure compared to a trike.
  • Design: Autocycles often have a car-like seating arrangement with a steering wheel and pedals. They may have a roof or partial enclosure. They often have room for 2 people, but some models may hold more. 
  • Wheels: They generally have two wheels at the front for steering and one at the back- the opposite of a trike. 
  • License Requirements: In many places, autocycles can be driven with a standard driver's license, without the need for a motorcycle endorsement. 
  • Examples: Polaris Slingshot, Elio Motors vehicle.

So why do people still call these three-wheeled motorcycles?

Well, there’s a little bit of a grey area with the classification of vehicles like this. Essentially, the federal government has no definition for an autocycle, meaning that at a federal level, they’re classified as a three-wheeled motorcycle.

The caveat to this is that most laws regarding classification and regulation of vehicles, including three-wheeled vehicles, is at a state level. This is why many states further classify these as autocycles. The diverse regulations across states mean that the same autocycle might be subject to different laws depending on where it is operated. They’re still commonly registered as motorcycles, regardless. 

What Defines a Trike Motorcycle?

picture of a comparison of 2 types of three wheeled cars called trikes

  • Definition: A trike, or tricycle, is a three-wheeled vehicle that is more closely related to a motorcycle. It can be either a conversion of a two-wheeled motorcycle or purpose-built from the ground up.
  • Design: Trikes maintain a motorcycle-like riding position and controls (handlebars, motorcycle-type seat). They can be either "delta" (one wheel in front, two in the back) or "tadpole" (two wheels in front, one in the back) configurations.
  • Wheels: The wheel arrangement varies, but traditionally, trikes have two wheels at the back and one at the front (delta layout), but may have a more “roaster” look with a tadpole layout (two in the front, one in the back).
  • License Requirements: In many regions, riding a trike requires a motorcycle license or endorsement. Certain states may allow for a special “three-wheel” license, that permits riders to only use trikes, and not regular two-wheeled motorcycles (ex. Texas, Washington, Florida, and Illinois). 
  • Examples: Harley-Davidson Tri Glide Ultra, Can-Am Spyder.

Brands that Make Three-Wheeled Motorcycles or Roasters:

Find the Best Three-Wheeled Trike HERE

What Makes a Vehicle a Car?

A car is defined as a motor vehicle with a fully enclosed structure, typically equipped with four wheels and safety features like airbags, designed for passenger transportation. It features a steering wheel, pedals, and various controls for operation, and is usually powered by an internal combustion engine, though electric and hybrid versions exist. 

Cars are different from other vehicles by their capacity to carry multiple passengers, their enclosed design offering safety and comfort features, and their purpose of facilitating personal or family transportation over a range of distances. 

This definition aligns with legal and regulatory standards that differentiate cars from motorcycles, bicycles, and commercial vehicles at a federal and state level. 

Rent a Three-Wheeled Car Today!

Riders Share’s platform proudly offers three-wheeled car rentals from popular brands like Polaris. Rent your slingshot today at the closest location to you and experience the uniqueness and fun of driving these three-wheeled vehicles, from as low as $50/day. 


The world of three-wheeled vehicles is expanding, and so are the types available. Between trikes and autocycles, each offering a different slice of fun on the road, the possibilities are endless. If you're leaning towards something that feels more like a motorcycle but with a bit more balance, trikes are your go-to. But if you want a taste of that motorcycle thrill with a touch of car-like comfort, autocycles are where it's at.

Here's the kicker though – the way these vehicles are classified can get a bit tricky. On a broad level, they often get lumped in with motorcycles. But when you zoom into specific states, the rules can change a lot. This just goes to show how vehicle categories are trying to keep up with all these cool innovations.

So, whether you're team trike or all about autocycles, there's no denying that both bring something special to the road.