A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a Winch for Vehicles

Imagine this scenario. You’re on an off-road trip and find yourself driving through mud. Your jeep ends up buried axle deep. You don’t have any friends to call for help, as you’re in the middle of nowhere.

So what do you do?

This scenario perfectly shows how things can go wrong, even if you planned your vacation well. It also illustrates the need to have a winch for your vehicle, especially if you’re driving a four-wheel drive.

A winch is a mechanism that winds the wire around a drum, allowing it to pull objects like a car connected to the other end of the wire. It is usually placed on the front or rear bumper of an off-road vehicle.

This type of towing equipment can also pull out vehicles, boats, and tractors onto a trailer.

Winches are like spare tires. You don’t want to get dirty in replacing a flat tire with a spare tire, but you’d be glad that you have a spare tire in case of an emergency.

The same goes for winches. You don’t really go around thinking about it. But in case your jeep or 4WD gets stuck in deep mud or one of your friends get stranded as well, you would be happy to have a winch in your automobile.

Winches aren’t just for pulling out stranded vehicles. They can also be used for uprooting tree stumps and dragging heavy equipment.

Types and Parts

There are two widely available types of winches available for vehicles — hydraulic and electrical.


Via: carid.com

An electrical winch taps into the electrical system of a vehicle to generate power. It is easy to install, aside from coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes. However, an electrical winch draws a lot of power and it can completely drain your battery. As such, this type of winch is recommended only for light or occasional use.

On the other hand, the hydraulic winch gets its power from the power steering pump of the vehicle. It can provide a longer pull time than an electrical winch. But installation of this type of winch isn’t as easy as its counterpart. Moreover, there aren’t a lot of hydraulic winches available on the market.

These are the basic parts of a winch:

  • 1. Motor — this is the heart and soul of the towing equipment. It drives the gear train, which is responsible for turning the drum and hauling in the line.
  • 2. Drum — this is the primary barrel of the winch. It is spun by the gear train.
  • 3. Gear train — this amplifies the energy coming from the motor. It provides the hauling power needed by the winch to be effective in whatever purpose it is used for.
  • 4. Cable — this can be likened to an arm; reaching out to the anchor point and holding tight while its other end pulls out the car. It can be made of steel or synthetic material although the latter is preferred for its strength and durability.
  • 5. Fairlead — this provides a passageway for the cable to spool through and guides it back onto the drum.
  • 6. Remote control — this allows the operator to control the direction of the winch.

Tips for Shopping for a Winch

If you’ve decided to add a winch to your vehicle, you should consider some factors before shopping for one. These include:

  • 1. Winch capacity/rating. It’s pretty simple to determine the winch rating or capacity for your jeep. Simply multiply the gross vehicle weight by 1.5. Then you would have your minimum winch capacity. For example, if you have a 2016 Jeep Wrangler which has a gross vehicle weight of 5,500 pounds, you would need a winch with a capacity of at least 8,250 pounds. Keep in mind though, that this is only the minimum winch rating. You would need a winch with a higher rating if you would want to pull your vehicle out of mud, for instance.
  • 2. Line length — the longer the line on the drum, the further you can reach out to a stranded vehicle. However, a disadvantage of having a longer line is that it can be easy for the cable to get jammed or snarled up. Most experienced off-roaders suggest having 100 feet on the drum coupled with 50-foot extension.
  • 3. Mounting system - the mount that you get should be able to handle the pulling capacity of the winch. You should also take into consideration the weight of the winch and mount as it can cause the front suspension to drop down.
  • 4. Warranty — read the warranty of the winch before buying. Winches’ warranty coverage may vary from a few months to several years.
  • 5. Accessories — gloves, hook straps, tow hooks, and D-shackles are some of the accessories you should look for when shopping for a winch.

Safety Tips in Using a Winch

In using a winch, keep in mind these tips:

  • 1. Plan your pull. Examine your surroundings and decide on the best course of action, depending on the terrain and available anchor points.
  • 2. Speaking of anchor points, choose one that is stable and strong. Trees and rocks are good anchor points. The ideal anchor point is straight ahead of the direction you would want to pull.
  • 3. Wear gloves all the time.
  • 4. Place a blanket over the wire rope. This should absorb the energy in the event the wire rope snaps loose.

It would also help if you enroll in an intensive driving course so you know how to operate a vehicle mounted winch. Enrolling in a driving course would not only enable you to learn basic maneuvers such as reverse parking or bay parking but also how to pull out a stranded car using a winch.


A winch is one vehicle accessory you should have if you have a four-wheel drive. This is particularly true if you are fond of driving to the countryside or the rugged outdoors.

A winch is more than a cool piece of hardware mounted in front of your vehicle. It can be a lifesaver.

Leave a Comment: