JUN 04, 2019

How to pick the Right Winch for your Off-Road Vehicle

If you don’t want to spend the night in your mucked up 4x4 or if you want to be able to pull yourself out of the deepest mud hole or rescue your buddy whose lesser trail skills got him stuck, then you had better be sure you have the right winch mounted on your ride. If you are contemplating adding a winch to your 4X4, making sure you get one that can do the job is not as easy as it appears. Weight ratings can be deceiving.

But we can help you make the right decision.

Weight ratings don’t tell the whole story. You might think that your 2017 Jeep 4 door Wrangler Rubicon that weighs 5,000 lbs should take a winch rated at 6,000 lbs. Makes sense right? But in reality, you’re going to need a winch rated at 8,000 lbs.

A weight rating is really the maximum capacity that the winch will pull under optimum conditions. Optimum conditions, however, rarely match up with the reality of the trail. The optimum conditions from the winch manufacturer’s point of view are a straight pull with a single cable and one wrap around the drum. It also assumes an electrical system in tip-top condition.

Here are a few reasons that real-life rescues will eat into those optimum conditions.

Smittybilt Recovery Tips - Featuring X20 Gen2 12,000 lbs. Winch with Synthetic Rope

Winches With a Full Spool

A winch performs best when there is a single wrap of steel cable or synthetic rope on the spool. In real life, your anchor point won’t always be precisely the full length of your cable, nor will it be in a straight line. For every wrap on the spool, you lose roughly 10% of the pulling power. So if your nearly new Rubicon has three wraps on the spool, the pulling power has been reduced by 30% or 4,200 lbs and you and your Jeep are going to be spending some not so quality time together until help arrives.

Bulldog Winch 4400 Pound (15019) Trailer Winch/Utility Winch (Bulldog)
Bulldog Winch 10005 Winch

Weak Juice = Weak Winch

Your winch runs off your battery. An old, or underrated battery, undersized cables, or corroded cable connections can all draw power away from your winch. While your alternator recharges your battery, it really doesn’t impact the pulling power of your winch. That said, a larger alternator will recharge your battery faster ensuring a full charge.

When your winch inexplicably loses power, check the electrical connections. This winch shutdown is usually caused by bad connections at the positive and negative terminals.

Superwinch Tiger Shark 9500

Pulling at an Angle

Because you probably were not aiming at the tree that is now your anchor point when you got stuck, it will be on your left or right angle to your winch. Using a fairlead hook lets you get a cable to the anchor without sawing a hole in your bumper, but it does degrade the “optimum” pulling power of the winch. Using a snatch block and a double line pull can greatly enhance the overall pulling power but not double it as so many people think.

SuperWinch Tiger Shark Series 11500 LBS (Westin Automotive)
SuperWinch Tiger Shark Series 11500 LBS (Westin Automotive)

How to Calculate the Weight Rating you Need

When it comes to winches, bigger is always better. You’ll never hear anyone saying “Gee I wish I had a smaller winch.” The industry standard is 1.5 times your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Your GVWR can usually be found on a stick-on label located on the driver’s side door jamb. So if you have a Toyota 4Runner with a GVWR of 5,330 lbs, take that times 1.5 to get 7,995 lbs and round up to the next standard winch rating of 8,000 lbs.

But here’s a note of caution. The GVWR reflects the weight of the vehicle, not all the gear and mods you have added to it. If you use your truck for work and routinely haul a load of gravel and sand, you need to add that to the GVWR.

Just remember, bigger is better and a lot less aggravating than finding yourself with an underpowered winch when you need it.