Choosing the Right Winch for Your 4×4

By Jerrod Jones

A winch can be invaluable when off road. Not only does it allow you to make self recoveries, you can use it to save other 4x4s that need help. Depending on the conditions you ‘wheel in, your winch may see light-duty use or be put under intense strain. But no matter if your winch is rarely spooled out or it sees regular work reeling in cable, you’re going to want a quality winch that you can depend on when you need it.
But a winch is a sizeable investment and there’s no need to spend more money than necessary. Not only that, but a winch is a lot of added weight to one end of a vehicle so it’s best not to add more than you need. A Samurai does not need a 12,000-pound capacity winch, nor should a 4,500-pound ATV winch be stuck on the front of a 1-ton diesel truck.
Ask yourself these few simple queries to quickly figure out what winch is right for you.

Size of Winch Vs Size of Vehicle

The pulling capacity of the winch should be roughly 1.5 times or more the weight of the vehicle it is attached to. For example, a 6,000-pound vehicle should be running a minimum of a 9,000-pound capacity winch, and an 8,000-pound truck should use at least a 12,000-pound-capacity winch.

Quality and Cost

Generally, the more expensive the winch, the better the quality. But don’t just spend the most money on something you don’t need. Do some research into the options each winch has and if they’re necessary for you. If you live in a desert and your 4×4 never sees water, you probably don’t need a submersible winch. If you are happy with your wired remote, don’t waste money on wireless. If you plan on always having the winch on your truck, don’t bother purchasing a cradle setup with you winch. You get the idea.

Type of Conditions are You Winching Through

The conditions you put your vehicle into are a consideration when outfitting your 4×4. Extracting a vehicle from a mud bog can put much more strain on a winch (and the frame holding it) than pulling an immobilized vehicle up a trail. If you’re getting into really sticky situations, you’ll likely want to forego the standard “1.5 times the vehicle weight” rule and get a winch that has a capacity number that is double the weight of your vehicle.

What Fits and What Hits

The space you have to fit your winch will play a big factor in the winch you choose. Truck & 4×4 winches tend to stick to a couple different general shapes and sizes, and bumper manufacturers allocate space within their designs to fit a logical winch for the vehicle the bumper is going. A winch with a separate control box (not integrated into the main body of the winch) is much easier to fit behind a bumper. If you have a top mount winch like something you may find sitting in front of a Wrangler grill, then the larger body of a winch with an integrated control box is a non-issue.

Steel Cable or Synthetic Rope

While both lines accomplish the same goal, they have different attributes that make them each have their place. A synthetic rope is lighter, easier to use, and does not have drastic repercussions if the line fails. But it is more expensive, abrades more easily, and can succumb to UV damage. A steel cable is heavy, can be dangerous if it fails, and is more difficult to work with, but it is weather resistant, can be drug along with a rock without damage/failure, and is the cheaper alternative.

Winch Cradles

Perhaps you want a winch some of the time, but not all of the time. If you have a daily driver that you don’t have an aftermarket bumper on, you may want to use a front hitch below the bumper and a winch cradle for a removable winch setup. The best part about a winch cradle setup is that you can move your winch to the rear of your vehicle (assuming you have a rear hitch) to pull from the back of your vehicle.

Increase Your Existing Winch’s Capacity

A snatch block is a simple pulley device that you can carry in your recovery gear bag. It allows you to attach your winch cable back to your vehicle to double the pulling capacity of your winch (while having your line speed). With the snatch block, you can greatly increase the pulling capacity of your winch using mechanical advantage.


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