Extensive buying guide and review to choose the best winches!

In simple terms, a winch is a powerful machine with drums on which cables are rolled to pull heavy objects. These magnificent tools have been fabricated for both water and snow sports, pulling riders swiftly across snow and water. And if you are an off-road enthusiast and your vehicle are stuck in mud or other rough terrains, winch maybe the first thing strikes your mind in such case.

1. What is a winch?

Before you buy a winch, it is imperative for you to know all about its components and functionality. A winch consist of several differ elements and each of these elements have a different purpose. Manufacturers combine these elements together in the most appealing way for a bigger goal.

Car Winch with a steel cable and a hook



Let’s take a glimpse of the components used in constructing a winch:

A cable wire

There are two types cable employed in winches, steel cable or synthetic cable. Steel cables are more reliable when it comes to heavy duty job and they are even durable. On the other hand, the synthetic cable is easy to handle, but get damaged soon. A standard winch includes 40 to 100 feet of wires and the measurement varies depending on the requirement.

Winch Drum

To wrap the wires around, there needs to a solid gear, and winch drum serves the purpose. The wires are cleanly wrapped around the winch drum, which rotates in a circular motion winding the cable in as well as out.

Motor 

The motor used in the winch is used to turn on the functioning of the drum so that it can pull and push the wire. You must know that not all winches come with motors as some are handled manually. Still, the popularity for motored winches is more in comparison to manual winches.

Gear train

The gear train used in the winch converts the power of motor into pulling power, making it possible for the winch to pull the heavy materials.

2. Pros and Cons of having a winch

When it comes to owning a winch, there is a whole lot reason to have them in your possession. No, wonders winches have more pros than cons. Let’s see what the pros are:

If you are an off-road enthusiast or someone who want to travel alone, winches are a must for you. There are times when your vehicle gets stuck in the mud, and you don’t find any help around. In such case nothing works better than the winch. All you have to do is fix it with the car and winch's motor will automatically pull the car out of mud. For many, winches have proved to be a savior when they were stuck amidst muddy areas.  

Off-road car winch


Some of the winches are also proven to be beneficial in waters. Boat owners use winches for pulling the skiers and for other recreational activities.

The only downside of the winches is they are heavy and will add weight to your vehicles, which will eventually reduce the acceleration and cornering speed. Even the chances of wear and tear increase with this extra weight. If you are ready to accept the downside, then these machines are an excellent possession.

Pros 

  • Highly efficient
  • Can pull the heaviest objects
  • Good for water skiing and vehicle towing
  • Great investments

Cons

  • Heavy to be carried on a vehicle
  • Need powerful powering source

3. How many types of winch are there? How does it work?

Operating sports utility vehicles and trucks may require winches, but winches come in different shapes and types and before you buy one, you need to understand your requirements. Basically, there are two types of winches: Power winches and Manual winch.

Power Winches

The power winches are rather a good choice as you will just have to hook the rope end to the object and the rest will be done by power winches. These winches are further classified into several parts depending on the source of its energy. Have a look at their further division!


Electric Winch

Electrical winches are powered by batteries, which can be either the car’s battery or an extra one working independently. Select the batteries depending on the type of operation you want to get accomplished. Suppose you are buying winches for emergency usage, then just the car battery will work. However, if you have bought it for occupational need, then you must get an auxiliary battery. Winches generate a significant amount of heat, hence limiting the energy supply and other capabilities, so an extra battery will be worth.

Hydraulic Winch

A hydraulic winch is connected to a hydraulic pump, and making these winches the most powerful option you can have. These winches are most popularly used by boatmen to pull skiers. We would say the hydraulic winches are best suited for industrial purposes. The only downfall about these winches is the installation, which is pretty involved as the winch is fitted inside the engine of the vehicle and the vehicle needs to be running for the winch to work.

Pneumatic Winch or Air Winch

 Air winches are also known by the name "Air tugger" and "Air hoist”. As per the name suggests these winches are powered by air, making it a more versatile and safer option. They are more efficient and safer than any of electric and diesel winches. When compared to electric and hydraulic winches, the air winches make a better option for industrial workload.

Manual Winches

Some of the winches are made for lightweight functioning and are handled manually. If you are looking to pull objects of 1000 lbs, manual winches are a good choice, plus, they are light weighted and portable too. If compared to the power winches, these winches have been ahead in portability but lacks a bit in efficiency.

4. What is the right winch for you?

The most important thing to take in consideration while buying a winch is how you will be using it. To utilize the power of a heavy duty winch, you require a heavy duty vehicle too. In case your vehicles capacity doesn’t match that of the winch, then the outcome couldn’t be so good. So, you must determine the frame and weight strength of the vehicle on which you want to mount the winch.  Last but not the least make sure you are particular about the type of winch and cables:

Basically, there will be two purposes of buying the winch, one for industrial use like towing and other for the off-roading journey.

For off-roading, you will need a winch that exerts high power on the rope. If the winch weighs too less or can't offer much power to the cord, it is going to be difficult to pull the vehicle out. Also, make sure that that the winch is not too heavy for the front of the car as it might cause off balance.

For towing job, you will need winches that are medium weighted and have a high durability. As you are buying it for regular job purpose, it would be better to buy a durable one, even if it costs a bit more.

Next, comes choosing between electric and hydraulic winches and here is how you need to go:

Electric winches

The choice is obvious when it comes to electric winches, if you are using it for off-roading, then go for nothing else than electric winches. It runs on vehicle’s battery as well as a spare battery. If you have space for an extra battery on your car, we will certainly recommend you to go for auxiliary battery as it won't affect the car’s performance.

Hydraulic winch

The hydraulic winch is powered by the hydraulic system of a vehicle. In most of the cases, it will be the power steering pump which will be used by the hydraulic winch. Along with being a good industrial option, this type of winch is even perfect for water sports like skiing. Boat owners get the hydraulic winch fixed to their boat’s engine and offers balance to the skiers.

Air winch

When it comes to picking heavy load, nothing works better than the air winch, but believes us it has the most complex components you can think of. If you are okay with understanding the functionality and can assemble and disassemble the components, there won't be a better option than this. All over it is a good choice for regular heavy duty tasks.

Warning! For anyone trying to put their hands on hand winch just because of the cheap prices, beware of a headache it is going to give. We only recommend it for light duty tasks and portability. If you want it for landscaping, then it will definitely work.

5. Things to keep in mind before purchasing a winch

We hope you are ready with quite a few information about winches. Let’s put these information together to buy the best winches available in the market:

Know your vehicle

Before you go for one of the winches, first know the capabilities of your vehicle. Learn about its weight and strength as it will be the deciding factor for selecting a winch.  Go by the simple formula: for pulling a 1000 pound object, the winch needs to offer 1,500 pounds line pull.

Winch motors for your vehicle

Winches are primarily defined by the motor they use like – permanent magnet, hydraulic, and series wound.

If you have a smaller vehicle and you need winches for small recreational activities, then permanent magnet motor will work. These motors can work even on the 12-volt car battery, which is good enough for basic home usage.

For vehicles like SUVs and ATVs, you can run for a solid option like the series wound motors. Whether its rock climbing or pulling the vehicle out of mud, these winches prove to be the best. No to forget, even commercial users rely on these winches.

Here comes the master of all, the hydraulic winches. If you are engaged in an occupation where you require winches for the entire day, look no further than hydraulic winches. They have been successfully used for towing and other daily application for a long time now.

Type of cable

Synthetic and steel are two types of cable found in the winches with both having their ups and down. While steel cable is a solid choice, some people find it a bit heavy to handle and it is even open to corrosion. On the other hand, the synthetic cable is easy to use, but has a very less life. You can’t rely on them for heavy duty tasks, plus they add a lot weight to the winches.

Steel cable

Steel cable


Pros

  • Durable
  • Less expensive
  • Won't add more than 10-15 kg of weight, which is a lot lighter than synthetic cable
  • Dissipates heat from internal brake drum

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Can rust
  • Hard to handle, you will need hand gloves to operate

Synthetic cable

Synthetic cable


Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to handle
  • Won't rust

Cons

  • Synthetic cables are susceptible to UV exposure, heat, chemicals, and abrasion
  • Exhibits substantial elongation when under a load

Last but not least, you should see for the ease of installation these winches offers. What we want to say is, you won't like to indulge in a heavy installation process for small uses. For ease of installation opt for electric winches and expect a little complexity out of the hydraulic and air winches.

6. Accessories you need to buy with a winch

It is equally important to focus on the accessories that come with the winches. The absence of even one of these accessories might create a ruckus while installing the winches. Here is what you need to look for:

A mounting kit: This is one accessory that comes directly with the winches. Also, it will be the gateway to mounting the winches. When you research for your purchase, focus on winches that come with a mounting kit.

Tree saver strap: Although most of the people ignore this one product, it’s worth all the investment. When you wrap the hook around the tree, it usually damages that particular spot and even harms the hook. To avoid this, a tree saver strap is wrapped around the branch, and then the hook is attached to it. 

Some clevis pins: Clevis pins will be needed when you are attaching the tow and snatch straps together. There will be many other requirements too, so, better have a few extra ones in access.

Snatch blocks: You might not need it always, still it’s a necessary element when you want to double or redirect the pull.

Thick leather gloves: Save your hands from any damage by wearing thick leather gloves. It’s a must have accessory from the aspect of personal safety.

7. Safety rules when using winch

One final piece of information before you set towards the list of best winches and of course, it’s an important one. We are talking about the security aspects while buying the winches.

When you buy the winches, the company provides a list of safety measures. Be sure to read it carefully, before you start using the machine. However, if you are too bored to read those technical sentences, here is our simplified version of safety measures that you should follow:

Wear all the important gears before jumping in the field. If the task is heavy duty, go for a safety jacket, a helmet, and gloves. But, if it’s a standard recreational activity back at home, just the gloves will work fine.

Be aware of the load you are about to tow as you have to deliver the power according to the weight of the object. While taking the load on, never exceed the capacity of wire rope, it might cause breakage and falling of the load.

If the winch has grown too hot, take a brake and start loading once it cools down. Last, but not the least, make a better use of the accessories that come with the winch, for, e.g., use the choker chain and sling for hooking the rope.

8. How to use hand winch

Hand winches are portable and convenient when lifting standard size objects back at home.

Step 1:  Wrap the anchor strap chain around the immobile object and tie it to a tree or any strong object around. Once done, hook the winch to the strap and pull the winch cable to take it to the object you want to move.

Step 2: Inspect the attachments from both the ends, making sure it’s sound and secure.

Step 3: Push and pull the winch lever to tighten it for a better pull.

Step 4: Continue turning the crank and release the tension till the object has moved completely.

The process is as simple as this. The best thing about these winches is – they are light weight, cheap, and can be carried very easily. Even the load capacity is quite decent for such a price and low complexity thing.

9. How to wire electrical winch?

There are two ways to power a winch. You are either going to chose the vehicle battery or the auxiliary batteries. Vehicle batteries are recommended for light-to-medium duty winching jobs, but for the heavy-duty winching job, you will require an auxiliary battery.

Wiring process with car battery

On the winch

  • Attach the negative wire to the negative ground post and power wire to the positive post.
  • Take both the wire from the winch all the way to the engine compartment, making sure it doesn’t touch any hot areas.

Under the hood

  • Attach the positive lead to the positive post of the vehicle’s battery and negative lead to the negative ground post.

Wiring with auxiliary battery

Wire the auxiliary battery parallel with vehicle’s battery, making sure the combined battery is at 12 V. Also, don’t forget to install a battery insulator in between.

On the winch

  • Just like above, attach the power wire to positive post and negative wire to the negative ground post.
  • Run the wire into the battery compartment, without bringing it in touch with any hot thing.

Under the hood

  • Attach the positive lead to a positive post on the auxiliary battery and negative lead to the negative ground post.

You can also add quick disconnects to make the wiring easier. Once done, power it up and there you go with a ready to pull device.

10. How to attach winch cables to drum?

Whether you are installing a cable on a new winch or replacing the older one, the process is very easy. Here we are going to show you how to install winch cables to drum:

  • Put the clutch in the freewheel setting. Remove the bolts using a socket and pull the old wire from around the drum.
  • Start inserting the new cables in a way that it feeds of the bottom portion of the drum.
  • Insert the screws through the loop and fit it in the end of the wire. Some cables might not have the loops so get one that matches the specifications of your winch.
  • Apply a little of the thread locking compound on the bolts and tighten the socket with ratchet. Make sure it is secure.
  • String the cable out and attach it to a solid object like a tree. Winch it in line with the vehicle on neutral and do maintain the weight as you spool in.
  • Keep winding the cable on the drum in close loops, making layers one above another. In the end, just unhook the cable from the tree and wrap the rest of it securely.

11. How to install winch on your vehicle?

The process of installing winches will vary from vehicle to vehicle, but the basics will remain quite similar.

  • Install the mounting plate for your particular vehicle. Use Loctite to secure the winch to the mounting plate and then connect it to the ATV.
  • Connect the six-gauge winch wire with the ATV, and then you can connect it from the winch to the relay. Doing this, you are going to connect the switch to the winch and run electricity from the ATV to winch motor. In certain cases, you may also need the contractor box, which is located under the seat.
  • Connect the red and black wire from your ATV to contractor box and follow the instructions given on a particular ATV.
  • Set up the power switch at a convenient location, we would recommend it to be on the handle bars.

And now all you have to do is to connect the final black cables to the battery to power your winches. Now test the setting and you are done with the process.

12. Common problems when using winch and solutions

Winches are a great option for handling heavy loads in the day to day life, but when it comes to troubleshooting them, they might seem a little tricky. Here we have mentioned some of the problems that you might face and their possible solutions:

Motor running in one particular direction

The reason behind this issue could be a defective solenoid or a faulty remote. If the defect is in the solenoid, jar the solenoid to free contacts and apply 12 volts to coil terminal to fix it.

For the faulty remote control switch, disengage the winch clutch; remove the remote control plug from socket, and try running it at 8 and 4 o’clock.

Motor gets too hot

This is a normal happening, and there is nothing wrong with your winch. Just set up a cooling period for the winches to prevent overheating.

Motor runs, but the drum cannot be engaged

If a clutch doesn’t engage, you might have to disassemble the winch to find the cause and repair it.

Motor damaged by water

A high-pressure car wash might cause harm to the winch, and the only way to recover the loss is by letting it drain thoroughly.

Motor is running below recommended speed

Several reasons can be there behind a low-speed motor. Either the cause is insufficient battery, bad connection or insufficient charging system. Start by checking the battery, if its 10 volts or less, you might need to replace it.

While checking the batteries, if you come across corrosion wires, clean it and apply grease. In case, the trick mentioned above doesn't work; you will have to replace the existing system with larger capacity charger.

13. What are the best winches on the market?

Power winches

Superwinch 1145220 Terra 45 ATV & Utility Winch

Superwinch 1145220

If you want to stick to a highly efficient magnet motor while choosing your winch, then Superwinch 1145220 Terra is one awesome choice. The product arrives with 55’ of ¼” steel wire rope, and 1.6hp weather sealed motor.

No matter what the weather condition is this steel gears and oil pocket bronze bearing machine will always function smoothly. As far the compatibility is concerned, this one is especially recommended for ATVs.

Some other noticeable features are the ergonomic cam action free spooling clutch and handlebar mounted the switch. You can quickly disengage the motor and manually draw out as much rope as you need.  All over, the products boast, high-end power, combined with versatility and durability.

Pros

  • Durable
  • Circuit breaker protected
  • Weather sealed
  •  Heavy duty latch

Cons

  • A little pricey

Smittybilt 97495 XRC Winch

Smittybilt 97495 XRC Winch

Smittybilt 97495 XRC Winch has been thoroughly updated for heavy duty tasks, and you are going to witness enhanced performance with excellent durability.

The winch comes with 6.6 hp Amphibious motor and 3 Stage Planetary gear System. The waterproof rating is IP67, and there is 500AMP Solenoid too. Smittybilt has maintained its quality standards by making this product completely waterproof, so even if it gets wet, there is nothing to worry.

You will receive the kit with all the wiring essentials.  93.5 feet 5/16 inch cables are wired around the winch drum, giving it the capacity of 9,5000 pounds single-line control. The product carries a five year or 100,000-mile warranty, which will depend on the usage which one will come first. In clear words, you will have lifetime mechanical warranty and three years of electrical warranty, which is quite an offer for this price.

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • Automatic in-drum brake

Cons

  • Handle to switch from free spooling may seem hard to move

WARN 885000 Corded PullzAll 120V AC

WARN 885000 Corded PullzAll 120V AC

For those who are looking forward to lifting the weight up to 1,000 lbs WARN 885000 Corded PullzAll 120V AC is a savior.  The winch is considered ideal for the job of pipe fitting, construction, iron work, garages, auto shops and machine shops. You can also use it for farm and ranch use, hunting, and home improvement.

The variable speed trigger has both forward and reverses control button that allows you to be precise about the movements. As far the ropes are concerned, you will get 15’ of 7/32” cable cord, which users often complain about. But, for the low price it is available on, the cable length justifies.  With just 15 lbs weight, we consider PullzAll is one of the lightest options available in the market.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy

Cons

  • Cable length might need to be extended

Master Lock 2953AT 12-Volt DC Portable Winch

Master Lock 2953AT 12-Volt DC Portable Winch

For a winch with high-level compatibility with most types of vehicles, the Master lock 2953 AT winch makes a great option. You can mount it to any flat surface and use it in any vehicle be it a boat, trailer or car.

 It can roll approximately 6,000 pounds of objects on land, but in the water, the capacity gets reduced by 1000 pounds, leaving the marine capacity to 5000 pounds. And, when it comes to pulling the objects, expect no more than 2000 pounds.

The best thing about this winch is, it shuts itself down if overloaded, so, there is no worry of wear and tear. However, you will get a one-year warranty on this product.

You can carry this winch conveniently on one of your vehicles as it doesn’t occupy much space. For us it is one of the most versatile options available in the market.

Pros

  • Convenient to carry
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Free spool problem

Warn 89030 Vantage 3000 Winch

Warn 89030 Vantage 3000 Winch

When you need a powerful option of winch at a cool price, the Vintage 3000 winch is our choice. Whether you are moving heavy loads or towing vehicles, a powerful motor with 3000-pound of pulling capacity sounds enough.

Vintage with this release revealed an entirely new design, which is reliable and fast. All the components of the winch are packed in a compact form offering enough of portability.  You will find the winch to be corrosion resistant, which means the weather won't affect the mechanical build.

50 feet of 3/16 inch wire rope is rolled around the winch drum, making it reliable when you have to pull objects from far. So, whether it’s the coil length or the pulling capacity, this Vantage winch has maintained its position nicely.

Pros

  • Dash-mounted control switch
  • Corded remote

Cons

  • It will not fit on the mounting brackets of UTVs

Rugged Ridge 15100.01 8,500Lb Winch with Steel Cable

Rugged Ridge 15100.01 8,500Lb Winch with Steel Cable

Lightweight, durable, and affordable will be the three attributes to best define the Champion Power Equipment Wireless Power Winch Kit. Constructed with durable HP series wound motor, this winch makes a good option for off-roading. Whether you are planning any recreational activity of mud blogging, this winch will serve the purpose without messing.

The packet arrives with 94’ of 5/16” diameter wire rope, which is enough for most heavy duty industrial jobs. The entire exterior body is corrosion resistant, so, you don’t even have to worry about the mechanical health of your precious investment.

 There is a 12-foot remote switch which will swiftly control the winching actions. Buyers receive five years of limited warranty with this product, which is quite cool.

Pros

  • Good length of wire
  • Durable build
  • Five years warranty

Cons

  • You will have to grease it from time to time for long life

Champion Power Equipment Wireless Power Winch Kit

Champion Power Equipment Wireless Power Winch Kit

Champion power equipment winch kit is a great option for you if you are looking for powerful and reliable winch kit. ATV or UTV, it goes well with both of them with its 1.6hP permanent magnet motor. The ergonomic handle bar mounted remote control ensures a complete control on the winching action whether you are moving it in or out.

However, there will be just 38 ft of aircraft cable attached to it. We won't blame the manufacturers for the less wire as the product is available at a cheap rate. The winch comes with 2-year limited warranty and lifetime technical support. Not a bad deal at such an affordable price.

Pros

  • Permanent magnet motor
  • Durable build
  • Goes with both ATV and UTV

Cons

  • The winch is designed to be run for 1 MIN on and 5 MIN off.

Manual winches

Reese Towpower 74329 Winch

Reese Towpower 74329 Winch

Resse Towpower has been designed by keeping in mind the daily lifting jobs that we across at our home and outdoor. The product unreels easily facilitating swift pull of the object to be lifted. Even the installation process is straightforward, so you won’t have to worry about complex installations.

The winch will support almost 1500 LB of weight, which is a good choice for lightweight indoor and outdoor jobs.

Pros

  • Heavy Duty
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Spin it fast, and you will notice balancing issues

TEKTON 5547 4-Ton Dual Gear Power Puller

TEKTON 5547 4-Ton Dual Gear Power Puller

The TEKTON 5547 4-Ton Dual Gear Power Puller claims the capacity of 4,000 pounds on a single line and a safe working load of 2000 pounds. As it uses a simple ratcheting gear pulley system, there is nothing mechanical to learn about this product, except that it does its tasks very well.

Considered ideal of landscaping, construction, and other one handed operation; this manual puller is affordable also. The steel cable combined with this puller is 12 feet and 7 inches, which makes it 7 feet and 3 inches on the double line.

As far the build is concerned, it has an all steel construction, suiting well to the hands. Even the grip is firm with the cushioned coverage on the handles. For little everyday jobs, a recommended choice we would say.

Pros

  • Decent quality
  • Aircraft grade steel cable

Cons

  • Not for industrial jobs

Reese Towpower 74337 600 Pound Capacity Winch

Resse Towpower wins zinc plated to give the outer body and excellent corrosion resistance. The comfortable handles fitted to the winch make it easy for you to process the winching.

 You will get it with 36’x1/4” rope, which might seem less, but serves the lightweight indoor and outdoor jobs. Buyers even claim the build to be smooth enough to not require any hard and fast maintenance.

Pros

  • Enough rope
  • Zinc plated
  • Corrosion resistant

Cons

  • Not for heavy duty task

14. How to maintain winch?

No doubt, these machines are going to be one of your precious possessions, and it seems okay to spend a few minutes to preserve its long life.

Follow a lubricating schedule every month by applying grease to all the joints. This makes sure the movement is swift, and the joints don’t corrode. After a period, the bolts might get loose; it would be better to check the fitting from time to time.

For electrical winches, it is necessary for you to maintain the wiring. Keep checking all the possible connection for breakage and replace if any of the wire or switch is damaged.

Last but not the least; wires are the components of utter concern. Technically you should emphasize on finding any cuts and corroded wire.

15. Conclusion

We hope you now have all the details that you have been seeking for a long time. However, even if you know the facts, pros, and cons, make sure to check your personal requirements and work areas and then only proceed with buying a winch. If bought with above consideration in mind, these winches are going to deliver a great value for your investment.

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