How To Choose A Winch For Vehicle: The Best Guide

Due to the wide range of winches on the market today, buying one is not easy. In this article, we are going to talk about how to choose a winch for your vehicle?

What is a winch

In our case, it is a device designed to drag loads. To do this, it has a cable or synthetic rope that is wound around a horizontal cylinder called a drum that works with or without reduction with an electric or hydraulic motor.

Why mount a winch on the vehicle

The winch is very useful especially when we make routes or trips alone. It allows you to “get out of the way” of very embarrassing situations when crossing impasses, furrows, fords, etc.

It can also help you to clear the way if you come across a tree or even a rock.

If you go in a group, for the reasons already mentioned, it is always convenient that one of the vehicles is equipped with a winch.

Where is a winch mounted

The most normal thing is that the winch is installed in the front of the vehicle in a specific place for it, either keeping the original bumper and, therefore, on a plate that will be mounted on the 4×4 chassis or directly on a reinforced bumper.

For certain types of extreme postage competitions, a second winch is mounted at the rear or in a central position to help guide the vehicle through the zones.

mounting a winch

How to choose a winch

There are many winches for different purposes of use for different vehicles on the market today, buying the best one is not easy. Therefore, the purchase must be carried out after a long reflection on the use that you give it with your 4×4.

In order to guide you as best as possible in this choice, in this article, we are going to develop this topic.

Due to the wide range of winches on the market today, buying one is not easy. So, we are going to talk about how to choose a winch in this article.


One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a winch is the maximum winch capacity. It is often expressed in pounds (lbs).

A pound is a unit of mass that is roughly equal to 0.45 kilograms. So a 12,000 lb winch has a 5.4 ton winch capacity: 12,000 x 0.45 = 5400 kg.

It should be noted that it is the first layer of cable wound on the winch drum (closest to the motor shaft) that achieves this optimal winch capacity. When the cable is fully wound, you can have 4 or 5 layers of the cable. The first layer has the best traction ability, while the top layer has the best speed ratio.

Performance examples of a 5.4 ton winch

Cable length unwound Winch capacity

Layer 1:  28 meters 5.4 ton
Layer 2:  19.5 meters 4.2 ton
Layer 3:  12 meters 3.6 ton
Layer 4:  5.5 meters 3.1 ton

In general, the rule of thumb is to multiply the weight of your vehicle by 2 to obtain the minimum pulling capacity of the winch you are installing.


Spur gear reducer

This type of winch uses spur gears. The principle is the same as that of the transfer case of your 4×4. The advantage of this system is that the wind speed is quite fast.

However, it is essential that you have a winch with an automatic brake and that it has a very powerful motor.

Epicyclic Gear Reducer

The epicyclic gear is a power transmission system made up of two planetary gears between which several planetary gears rotate. These gears are often used to reduce rotational speed due to the large reduction ratios that this configuration allows. Its majority use is due to the little space it occupies.

Wheel reducer and worm gear

This system allows a considerable reduction ratio, but its main advantage is its small size. However, the performance of this system is poor.


winch on jeep

Hydraulic winches are powered by the vehicle’s power steering pump or by an additional pump.

The most important difference is their long life cycle.

You can use a hydraulic winch throughout the day without any risk of overheating.

An electric winch performs well during the first few minutes of use at full power. It is easier to install and considerably less expensive.

Which motor to choose

If you use your winch a lot, the best solution is a hydraulic model.

For occasional use, an electric winch is more than enough.

Synchronous motors are made up of a rotating part: the rotor, and a fixed part: the stator.

The rotor of an electric motor can be composed of permanent magnets (Permanent Magnet or PM) that are generally installed in winches at an economical price. They are capable of “pulling” 10-15% less than motors wound with the same capacity.

Magnet motors are highly appreciated by casual or prudent users.

Wound rotor motors are the best choice for heavy-duty applications.


Although the winding speed is a matter of patience, tests show that we notice the winding speed of a winch especially when it comes to winding the cable under load.

Many winches are extremely fast without load, but very slow when pulling the vehicle.

Most loaded winches have speeds ranging from 1 to 1.5 meters per minute.

Only you know how far your patience goes when winding your winch cable! But above all, keep in mind that a winch that is fast with load is also a great consumer of electrical energy.

If you want a winch with a high load pulling capacity, you need a powerful motor.


You have two basic options: “steel” cable or synthetic rope.

They will both get the job done and both have their advantages and disadvantages.

“Steel” cable is the traditional option. It is composed of carbon steel wire strands, usually 7 packs of 19 strands (7×19).


  • The steel cable is much more resistant to abrasion than the synthetic rope;
  • It is very resistant to heat;
  • Is relatively inexpensive.


  • It is vulnerable to breakage caused by pinching during winding;
  • It is relatively heavy: about 8 kg with a hook;
  • It can store large amounts of kinetic energy and cause a good whiplash with a deadly effect if it comes loose or breaks.
Winch cable

Synthetic rope is the newest option.

Let’s see the good or bad factors of synthetic rope.


  • The synthetic rope is very light: a length of 28 meters with its hook only weighs about 3 kg;
  • Accidents caused by a rope are less common;
  • Fleet;
  • In an emergency, you can tie a knot to get out of trouble.


  • It is more sensitive to friction than “steel” cable;
  • Has a higher cost.

Synthetic rope is the best option for casual or cautious users because it is easier to use.

“Steel” cable is the best choice for heavy-duty work.

What length to install

The fact that the drum of your winch has a greater length of cable or rope means that the grip point of the vehicle may be further away. But this is not always an advantage.

Indeed, as we have already mentioned earlier in this article, the maximum traction of your winch is carried out in the first layer of the drum. Therefore, to get maximum traction, you should unwind the entire cable or rope.

The other consideration to keep in mind is that the more coiled a drum is, the more likely it is that the cable or rope will get stuck or even twist and deteriorate.

For these reasons, many experienced users prefer to have a shorter cable or rope length and add a strap if necessary. It is a simple and practical solution.