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How to Choose a Truck Winch, Complete Buyers Guide

How to Choose a Truck Winch, Complete Buyers Guide

There are hundreds of different winches on the market today, each with a varying weight capacity and unique operating system. Before you choose a winch for your truck or ATV, there are several things you should know about.

When choosing a winch for your truck consider the foot mounting, cable type, power source, and minimum weight capacity it can hold. This capacity should be 1.5 times more than the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. This measurement guarantees that the winch can safely move the vehicle when stuck.

The above reason is only one factor to consider when purchasing a winch for your truck, SUV, or ATV. In this post, we’ll look at how to find the right winch for your specific vehicle type. Let’s get started!

Calculating the Minimum Winch Weight Capacity

Winches are often fastened on the front (or back) of vehicles in case they get stuck in the mud while off-roading, and should therefore be capable of moving the vehicle. For this reason, we use the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating.

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) is the weight of the vehicle, passengers, and cargo. This measurement does not include the trailer or payload.

While you could purchase a winch that has a minimum weight capacity of your vehicle’s GVWR, this could potentially snap it. Instead, play it safe by multiplying the GVWR by 1.5. This ensures that the winch will be strong enough to support the vehicle’s weight, and resist the pull from any mud or objects holding the vehicle in place.

Not sure what your vehicle’s GVWR is? Take a look at the following table to find some of the most common vehicles’ GVWRs.

Vehicle Make, Model, and YearGross Vehicle Weight RatingMinimum Winch Capacity
2022 Ford F-1507,150 lbs10,725 lbs
2021 Ram 250010,000 lbs15,000 lbs
2022 Ford Expedition7,450 lbs11,175 lbs
2020 Chevrolet Suburban7,500 lbs11,250 lbs
2021 Nissan Frontier6,012 lbs9,018 lbs
2019 Toyota Tundra7,200 lbs10,800 lbs
2020 Jeep Gladiator6,250 lbs9,375 lbs

The exact GVWR may vary depending on trim choice and add-ons. However, these numbers should give you a safe estimate of your minimum winch capacity.

As you can see, if you’re purchasing a winch for a truck or SUV, it’s safe to assume that you need a winch with at least a 10,000-pound weight capacity. However, always verify this in case your truck needs a stronger one.

But what if you’re purchasing a winch for an ATV? How much weight should the winch you choose be able to move?

When looking at different ATVs, you won’t see a GVWR measurement. Instead, you’ll see a dry and wet weight. The dry weight is the weight of the ATV on its own; meanwhile, the wet weight is the weight of the ATV when full of fuel.

Don’t just use the wet weight. You should also take into account the weight of a rider, any passengers, and cargo. Add 150 pounds for every seat on the ATV and 100 pounds for cargo. This may be more than what your ATV has; however, it is always better to be safe rather than to be sorry.

You may consider using the curb weight if available.

A glance at the following table can help you learn the wet weight of some of the most common ATVs as well as their minimum winch capacities.

ATV ModelWet WeightWeight with Two Riders and CargoMinimum Winch Capacity
Honda TRX250X385 lbs785 lbs1,178 lbs
Yamaha Raptor422 lbs822 lbs1,233 lbs
Scrambler XP 1000 S888 lbs1,288 lbs1,932 lbs
Can-Am Outlander 450684 lbs1,084 lbs1,626 lbs
Honda Rancher 4×4676 lbs1,080 lbs1,620 lbs
Polaris Sportsman 450 HO671 lbs1,071 lbs1,607 lbs

Using the above numbers, purchase a winch with at least 1,500 pounds capacity. Different types of winches will have drastically different weight capacities.

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We’ll cover the different types of winches in a section later on.

Cable Materials: Which is best?

Before you choose a winch for your vehicle, you should consider the different types of cable materials. Winch cables are made out of either steel or synthetic rope. The type of cable you choose will depend on the typical uses you have planned for it.

Steel Cable

As you can imagine, steel cable is extremely durable. It is also easier to maintain. However, even steel can be subject to corrosion and fraying. For this reason, even steel cable needs frequent cleaning and maintenance.

Steel cable is much less likely to stretch than synthetic rope. In other words, it will laster longer. Keep in mind that steel cabling will weigh more than synthetic cable.

Because steel cable is abrasive and can give you metal slivers, always wear gloves when using it.

Synthetic Rope

Believe it or not, synthetic cabling is stronger than steel cable.

Synthetic cabling requires more maintenance than other cables. It is also important to consider that this rope’s flexibility actually makes it safer and easier to use. How so? Well, when a steel cable snaps, it is usually pulled taught and could cut through surrounding objects. However, when a synthetic rope breaks, it falls like a rope.

Though stronger than steel cable, synthetic rope is much more delicate. If the rope rubs against any sharp surfaces, it could break. For this reason, beginner off-roaders should avoid using synthetic rope.

Make sure that the cable you choose has the same weight capacity as your winch. If you put too much weight on the cable, it could snap and injure you.

If the winch is going on a large truck, opt for a steel cable. However, if the winch is for an ATV then a lightweight synthetic rope will be the better choice.

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Electric vs. Hydraulic Winches: Which should you choose?

There are two main types of winches: electric and hydraulic. Both work very differently and have significantly different weight capacities.

To help you choose the right winch, let’s discuss the differences between electric and hydraulic winches.

Electric Winch

Most winches use electricity to operate. To do this, they connect to the vehicle’s battery for power. The electricity then passes through a solenoid pack which converts it into mechanical power. If your vehicle uses multiple batteries, attach the winch to the start-up battery for best results.

Electric winches tend to be water-resistant; however, very few are considered waterproof. That said, most winches can withstand a couple of splashes of water every once and awhile.

Manufacturers put the solenoid pack in a water-resistant container. Another area of concern is the winch lubricant. Excessive exposure to water could wash away the winch lubrication. This problem is serious enough that the winch may need replacing.

Electric winches are capable of handling anywhere from 1,500 pounds up to 10,000 pounds. However, some models are capable of much more!

Hydraulic Winches

Hydraulic winches have a unique power system. These winches use the vehicle’s power steering fluid to move objects. To install a hydraulic winch, you will need an adapter for connecting it to the system.

Additionally, for a hydraulic winch to work, the vehicle needs to be on. This is different from an electric winch which can operate with the vehicle off.

Because hydraulic winches don’t use electricity for power, they are suitable for use underwater. If you drive your vehicle through streams or rivers, then a hydraulic winch is an excellent option. In fact, hydraulic winches are often used on boats.

  • If you use your winch in water more often, proper maintenance and cleaning are a must.
  • Water, especially saltwater, will rust the mechanical components.

In most cases, hydraulic winches are more capable than electric winches. In fact, one hydraulic winch has the capacity to move up to 40,000 pounds!

So which winch type should you choose? If the winch is for your ATV, an electric winch will do just fine. However, take some precautions to ensure that the winch is protected from water. An electric winch is also a suitable option for most vehicles with a GVWR of 6,650 pounds or less.

That said, if you use your vehicle in watery situations, a hydraulic winch will be the best choice. If you purchase a hydraulic winch, you won’t have to worry about short-circuiting a battery or ruining the solenoid pack. It is also designed to withstand rust!

Foot Mounting Configurations: Why do they matter?

Chances are, the foot mounting configuration is not an aspect you even thought to consider when purchasing a winch, but it should be.

The foot mounting configuration refers to the position that the winch is installed in. There are two main foot mounting configurations, each offering its own benefits to your vehicle set-up. Let’s take a look at the foot mounting configurations below and the positives and negatives of each one.

Foot Forward

The name of the mounting configuration deals more with the direction of the mounting holes than it does the actual direction of the winch.

For example, a foot forward mounting configuration has four mounting holes parallel to the ground. In other words, the winch foot will be perpendicular to the ground.

Some winches will require that they be installed foot forward. But what if your winch lets you choose the configuration? What benefits will it offer you?

This winch mounting position decreases the amount of weight put on the screws while winching. A foot forward mount position pulls on the plate instead.

Foot Down

The foot down mounting configuration has four mounting holes facing down toward the ground. This mount type looks sort of like a small metal shelf. You’ll screw the shelf into the bumper, and the winch into the shelf.

People prefer this mounting configuration because it is easier than the foot forward. However, a foot down mounting position stresses the bolts and screws. You’re more likely to see a bolt break with this configuration.

Occasionally, you will come across a winch that requires you to mount it like both a foot forward and a foot down configuration. These winches are usually extremely powerful and require extra bolts to hold them in place while in use.

In most cases, you’ll want a foot forward mount. Since you’re less likely to break a bolt, you can save money. However, you will likely need help installing the winch to the front or back of your vehicle.

The foot mounting that the winch uses shouldn’t be a deciding feature when choosing a winch. Take this factor into consideration mostly so you understand how the winch works.

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Can You Purchase a Used Winch?

Brand new winches tend to cost several thousand dollars. If you pay a professional to do the installation, a new winch for your truck or ATV could break the bank. However, if you purchase a used winch, you could save quite a bit of money. But is it a smart idea?

There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a used winch; however, you should inspect it very closely before committing to buy it.

First and foremost, make sure that the cable is in good condition. Ask the owner to roll out the line so you can look for any fraying or splits. Additionally, check the mechanisms for any rust. If the owner isn’t willing to show you the line, find a used winch elsewhere.

Once you know that the cable and mechanics are safe, ask the owner to demonstrate it in action. In other words, have them prove that it works.

Always verify the maximum weight capacity of the winch with the manufacturer. You don’t want to purchase a winch supposedly capable of moving 10,000 pounds just to have it snap with a 5,000-pound load.

Overall, purchasing a used winch is an excellent way to save some money. So long as the winch is in good condition and has had proper maintenance, it should last for years to come. However, you should never purchase a winch with rust, cracks, or any other damage that would hinder its ability to safely operate.

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