ATPases associated with diverse cellular activities (AAA+ proteins) are macromolecular machines that convert the chemical energy contained in ATP molecules into powerful mechanical forces to remodel a vast array of cellular substrates, including protein aggregates, macromolecular complexes and polymers. AAA+ proteins have key functionalities encompassing unfolding and disassembly of such substrates in different subcellular localizations and, hence, power a plethora of fundamental cellular processes, including protein quality control, cytoskeleton remodelling and membrane dynamics. Over the past 35 years, many of the key elements required for AAA+ activity have been identified through genetic, biochemical and structural analyses. However, how ATP powers substrate remodelling and whether a shared mechanism underlies the functional diversity of the AAA+ superfamily were uncertain. Advances in cryo-electron microscopy have enabled high-resolution structure determination of AAA+ proteins trapped in the act of processing substrates, revealing a conserved core mechanism of action. It has also become apparent that this common mechanistic principle is structurally adjusted to carry out a diverse array of biological functions. Here, we review how substrate-bound structures of AAA+ proteins have expanded our understanding of ATP-driven protein remodelling.