Selecting a winch

Only a select few winch brands design, engineer and manufacture all the components required to make their own winches. Clearly this aspect of the premium end of the market allows the quality level of the various parts to be precisely specified.

For most users the first question to ask is, “how often will you will use the winch”. This can assist in deciding whether to select a premium brand or an entry-level brand.

The second question to ask is, “what will the winch be used for”. To answer that, one needs to match the line pull capacity of the winch to the mass of the vehicle it must haul out of trouble.

To calculate this, take Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) and multiply x 1.5 (to take into account environmental factors and frictional losses). This gives one the minimum winch capacity required.

For example: A fully loaded vehicle weighs 2000kg x 1.5 = 3000kg. Most winches are rated in pounds, so divide kg/0.453, gives 6607lb. Add a safety margin and the minimum requirement is an 8000lb winch.

There are a number of other considerations:

  • How will the winch be mounted: external or inside the bumper, feet forward or feet down.
  • How much installation space is available
  • Type of cable and cable length required. This is dependent on what the winch will be used for. Most winches are supplied with a cable of 25-30m, steel or synthetic dependent on the variant and winch rating eg 8000lb, 12000lb etc. It is recommended not to exceed the manufacturer’s specification as the length and thingness of the cable is specified according to the motor capacity and length that the drum can hold. Exceeding the length of the cable or reducing the thickness of the cable can cause damage to the winch, or the cable can snap if it cannot handle the capacity that the winch is rated for.
  • Cable type will determine the type of fairlead needed (see below).
  • Decide on which cable layer on the drum the maximum load is likely to occur in your usage pattern (see how this varies below).
  • Decide on whether to purchase a sealed/semi-sealed or unsealed unit The new generation of winches in many cases are supplied as waterproof units. This means that the winch is completely sealed to preventing water from entering the motor and gear train. The control pack will also be supplied with a waterproof contactor and the control pack can be fully potted in cases, to protect the electrical wiring. A semi-sealed winch is water resistant with a water outlet point at the bottom of the motor. The water resistance will protect the winch from flooding, but moisture and water can still penetrate. The water outlet will allow the water to be expelled if the winch is fitted correctly. It is also recommended to roll the cable out and in again after the winch went through a water crossing. This will also allow the motor to heat and evaporate the moisture. An unsealed winch is not waterproof or water resistant at all. An unsealed winch will allow water into the winch, thereby damaging the winch and allowing rust to form. An unsealed winch should not be used for water crossings.
  • Determine the required duty cycle and expected usage (hours/time frame). This will influence the quality of winch needed.
  • From the above, you will know whether to purchase an entry level, premium or ultimate performance winch. An entry level winch is a lower specified winch which could be unsealed, the motor would be a standard slower performing motor. The duty cycle will be short and rated for usage on irregular basis such as monthly only. It will also be supplied with steel cable to lessen cost. It is priced at the lower end of a price category. A premium winch will be specified with stronger, manufacturer specified, engineered components for harsher applications and reliability. The duty cycles will be longer and rated for regular usage such as daily or weekly. A premium winch will also be rated as semi-sealed or waterproof. You will also have the option of a steel or synthetic cable. An ultimate performance winch is specified for regular applications in harsh conditions. The user will also benefit from various features added to it such as light indicator, thermal management, fast pulling speed under load and can exceed winch rating. These winches will also be used in competition due to it agility, reliability and quality build. These winches are also priced at the higher end and will have specific applications.
  • A premium winch is also identified by it pre- and after sales service.