7 Tips for Choosing the Best Winch You Need To Know March 03, 2014

If you ever go off-roading then a good winch isn’t just something to think about, it should be a top priority. A winch can get you out of a tough situation like nothing else. Along with saving yourself, having a winch can help you get other people to safety as well. When all else fails, the winch is there to get you out. With something as important as a winch, choosing the right one can be tricky. Check out the tips below to help you pick the best winch for your purposes, and get one installed before your next trip.

Weight Capacity

Winch Buying Tips Spool (Photo courtesy of flickr) One of the most important factors to look at first when buying a winch is the weight capacity. You need to know if the winch you’re getting can handle the weight of your truck as well as whatever is keeping the truck stuck. This rating will be a combination of both the mechanical capacity of the winch itself as well as the tensile strength of the line material. A good rule to follow is to take the total weight of your truck (include any customizations) and multiply that by 1.5. Along with weight capacity comes the line material. You can choose either synthetic rope or wire. Wire is the traditional choice and while it does take up less space since it’s thinner, it can cause more damage if it breaks, and frayed metal ends are not great for flesh.

Line Length

winch line off-road (Photo courtesy of flickr) Speaking of winch line, you need to know how much line you’ve got and how much your winch can handle. More length means you can reach out farther, but the maximum rated pull for a winch is at the end of the spool, so a lot of length means a lot of time unrolling the spool to get the most out of it. A good solution is to keep less line on your spool and keep an extra 50-foot line to splice with in case it’s needed. Make sure you have extra splicing eyelets with the extra line so you can make safe splices. A good number to follow is 100 feet on the spool with that extra 50-foot just in case.

Line Speed

winch line speed (Photo courtesy of flickr) Line speed is important more for a comfort factor than anything else. A slow line speed means you have to wait longer for your cable to unwind and wind up again. The majority of winches are fairly fast while unloaded but all of them will slow to a crawl when under load. A regular winch should get 2-4 feet per minute (FPM) under load, with load-free speeds varying dramatically between brands and models. You can get a winch faster than this while under load, but you’ll invest a lot more in the winch as well as the electrical system behind it. Faster winding while under load equals higher amperage, so make sure your alternator and battery in your truck can handle the load.

Winch Motor

Winch buying tips winch mounting (Photo courtesy of flickr) There are two major types of winch motors. The first is permanent magnet (PM) and the second is series wound (SW). The lower-cost option when looking at winches is the PM route. A winch with a PM motor will draw around 10% less amperage but even with this lower power PM winches tolerate abuse significantly less than SW motors, and don’t deal well with heat or cold. In contrast to this, a winch with a series wound motor can take a lot of abuse and will be reliable at freezing temperatures as well as hot environments. If you’re a frequent off-roader, you should go with a winch with a SW motor

Winch Drivetrain

winch buying tips gears (Photo courtesy of flickr) Just like any other motor, your winch has a drivetrain to transfer power from the motor to the winch mechanism. There are three major types of winch drivetrains available and each has their own positive and negative factors. Worm Gear – This is the oldest style of winch drivetrain still in use today. Similar to a Spur Gear (more in a minute on that), The motor for this style is along the side of the winch housing and the spur gears it uses offer extra gear reduction. These are the best at holding a load, as they need very little braking to do so. This is the type of drivetrain you’d find on the winch that a tow truck uses. Planetary Gear – This is the most popular type of drivetrain on the market today for winches. Similar to the kind you’d find in an automatic transmission in a car or truck, these are the smallest of the three and as such are the lightest as well as the cheapest. The biggest issue with this style of drivetrain is that many use a brake in the center of the drum that can get very hot when spooling out under load. Spur Gear – Almost as old as the worm gear, the spur gear style of winch drivetrain uses spur gears to operate, and have the lowest amperage draw out of this list. While excellent drivetrains, there is only one winch on the market currently with straight spur gears.

Mounting Your Winch

mounting winch (Photo courtesy of flickr) The strongest winch in the world is no good if it isn’t mounted properly. Whatever the weight capacity of the winch you choose is, you need to make sure your mount can handle the same weight. The strength of the mount is only half the battle, too. You need to pay attention to the weight of both the winch and the mount as well, since these can weigh down your truck’s suspension. Remember these are sitting in front of the truck itself, which magnifies the weight the suspension sees. Stronger front-end suspension may be required depending on the winch and mount you choose.

Electrical Work

The last big consideration for a winch was already touched on, but is worth noting again. Your winch works off of your truck’s electrical system; so you need to pay attention to the voltage and amperage draw the winch you’re looking at needs. A new, stronger batter is a great place to start, as stock batteries aren’t known for their longevity or strength. Along with this you need to pay attention to how many amps the winch pulls. Your alternator will be rated for a specific number of amps, and if the winch pulls too much, it can blow fuses and cause more problems for you. If you have a large winch, a second battery and upgraded alternator aren’t a bad idea. For the battery, look at the Optima Yellow Top and make sure that if you add a second battery, that you replace your main battery as well. Trying to run a new and old battery in line with one another will only kill the new battery quicker.


As you can see, there’s a lot more to buying a winch that you would think. A winch is a major purchase that when you’re all done costs far more than the price of the winch itself, but done properly a good winch can save you from some pretty hairy situations and even get your winchless friends out of a few jams, too.

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