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Buying a winch: Things to know before you make a purchase


If you are thinking about buying a winch for your truck or SUV, there are several things to consider. Questions to ask yourself include: How are you going to mount it, what type of terrain do you most often find yourself driving through, and what kind of climate do you live in? Knowing these things before buying a winch  can help you make the right purchasing decision. 

Our buying-a-winch overview will help you choose the right  one for you and your vehicle. 

What winch capacity should I buy?

An industry rule of thumb is to take a vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and multiply it by 1.5. This will give you the minimum pulling capacity for your truck or SUV. If your number lands under a popular capacity, it’s safe to round up a bit. For example, if your vehicle’s minimum pulling capacity is 8,350 pounds, you can buy a 9,000-pound winch. 

The GVWR can normally be found on your vehicle’s door jamb. Note: The GVWR is not what the vehicle weighs (that’s curb weight), it’s the total weight of it fully loaded as rated by the automaker. Electric winches are typically mounted on (or within) aftermarket steel truck or SUV winch bumpers. 

buying a winch

This Rough Country winch is using synthetic rope. (Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal)

Steel cable or synthetic rope?

When buying a winch know that each rope type has certain benefits. Steel cable can be pulled over large boulders, stumps or other trail hazards with little issue as steel is abrasion resistant. If cared for properly, it can last many years of service. However, steel cable can develop sharp burrs over time. It also retains a lot of potential energy under load, which, in the unlikely event of rope failure, can cause the rope to whip around unpredictably. Wearing heavy-duty gloves, such as those with a leather palm, is imperative when winching with steel rope.

Synthetic rope is lighter in weight, easier to handle and stores less potential energy. However, it needs to be regularly cleaned after dusty trail days or muddy excursions, as prolonged exposure can degrade synthetic rope from the inside out. Synthetic rope is also much more prone to damage from abrasion. 

Pro tip: Abrasion sleeves are oftentimes supplied with winches that have synthetic rope. They can be laid on trailside hazards, like large rocks or stumps, so the synthetic winch line can move freely within it and not get damaged during vehicle recoveries. 

buying a winch

This Warn winch is using a steel cable. (Photo by Mercedes Lilienthal)

Different winches, different features

Companies such as Warn Industries, Ironman 4×4, Superwinch or Comeup manufacture a wide variety of electric vehicle winches. Where entry-level models boast simplified features and wired winch controllers, higher-quality products oftentimes showcase waterproof construction, wireless controllers, faster line speeds and more. Another point to consider is the length of the manufacturer’s warranty and how long the winch company has been in existence. Some winches aren’t serviceable while others are. 

Additionally, different winches have different designs. Some have relocatable control boxes, whereas others are fixed. 

Pro tip: Regardless of manufacturer, when buying a winch, make sure it will fit with your bumper before ordering it!

Buy the best winch you can afford

Everybody skimps on certain things. But when it comes to vehicle recovery gear — especially products that could get you or someone else out of unsafe or sticky situations – buy the best winch you can afford. Purchasing gear from reputable companies that have been tested and rated will help ensure successful vehicle recoveries when the unforeseen happens, and that’ll be just what you want when the going gets stuck.

Editor’s note: All photos on this page, including the featured image, were taken by Mercedes Lilienthal.


Mercedes Lilienthal

Mercedes Lilienthal is a contributor for The New York Times, Car and Driver, Forbes, Autoblog, TREAD Magazine and other automotive outlets. She creates award-winning content involving the automotive industry, global travel and inspiring people changing the world for the better. Not only does she write, but she appears on podcasts and radio shows and competes in automotive rallies as competitor/media (partnering with automakers like Jeep, Subaru, and VW). Along with her husband, Mercedes owns three right-hand-drive turbo-diesel 4x4 Mitsubishis: a Delica Space Gear and two Gen 2 Pajeros. They also own a modified daily driver. Her freelance work includes writing, photography and PR/marketing services.

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