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Electric Winches: Know the Basics Before You Buy

Lifestyles, Trucks  /   /  By Mercedes Lilienthal

Are you looking to buy an electric winch? Then consider the most important features, such as rope types, wired versus wireless controllers, and gearing. eBay offers a wide selection of electric winches, but where do you start?


Suggested Capacity for an Electric Winch

Regardless of the size of your adventure vehicle, getting a winch with the right capacity is critical.

An industry rule is to take the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and multiply it by 1.5. This will establish your minimum pulling capacity.

The GVWR is often found on your vehicle’s door jamb. Keep in mind that the GVWR is not what the vehicle weighs on a scale. It’s the total weight of it fully loaded as rated by the manufacturer.

Synthetic vs. Wire Rope

Wire Rope

Using traditional wire cabling, like on this 10,000 pound-capacity Rugged Ridge Trekker C10 winch, offers a durable and resilient rope that can be easily dragged over boulders or tree stumps. With proper care, wire rope will maintain its ruggedness, offering continued service for many years.  But beware: Wire rope can develop burrs and rust over time. So use sturdy gloves when winching.

10,000 pound-capacity Rugged Ridge Trekker C10 winch

10,000 pound-capacity Rugged Ridge Trekker C10 winch

Wire rope also stores a lot of potential energy, which could lead to rope failure. Tip: Always “hook up” your winch rope into a shackle (no matter if you run wire or synthetic line). If the hook breaks, it will be forced down to the ground instead of flying through the air.

It would also help if you put additional weight on the line, such as a winch cable recovery damper. This will help bring the line down in the event of a failure.

Winch cable-recovery damper

Winch cable-recovery damper

Synthetic Rope

Meanwhile, synthetic rope, like what’s used with a waterproof Warn Zeon 10-S winch, is lightweight and easy to handle. But it stores less potential energy.

Synthetic line needs to be routinely cleaned after slogging through mud or dusty trails. If a synthetic rope is neglected, the grit from off-road adventures and grime could degrade the line, making it more prone to failure.

Wired vs. Wireless Controllers

Wired controllers, like the one that comes with a ComeUp 9,000 pound DV winch, are tried and true. They are easy to plug in and use but can limit the control of your winch based on cord length.

For instance, Warn winches offer corded remotes that are 12 inches long. And the best position for a user to be protected is either behind an open door or within the cab. So obviously, winch users cannot go beyond that length.

ComeUp 9,000-pound DV winch

ComeUp 9,000-pound DV winch

Wireless winch controllers can conversely provide a longer range of winch-controlling opportunities. Some wireless remotes have a secure Wi-Fi range of about 50 feet. This is helpful because users have more flexibility to control the winch during recoveries while safely standing in various positions.

However, wireless electric winches are limited by batteries that go dead over time. They’re also smaller and could easily get lost if not carefully stashed.

Gearing for Electric Winches

A winch motor with high horsepower is a great selling point. But gearing is more important to a winch than its motor. Drum sizes will affect things like the amount of rope a winch stores, as well as line speed.

Gearing is the biggest factor inline speed. For example, compare these:

  • A Warn Zeon 8 has a gear ratio of 162:1. It’s fast but pulls less.
  • The Zeon 10, which has a 216:1 ratio, is slower but pulls 2,000 pounds more.

The full pulling capacity of a winch is always at its last wrap of rope on the drum. So, until you get down to that layer, you’re not reaching its full pulling power.

Warn Zeon 10 winch

Warn Zeon 10 winch

Materials for Electric Winches

Electric winches are made of a variety of materials, including metals and plastic. Often, premium winches have metal motor-end housings encasing the winch motor to help dissipate heat. They may also use specific materials to make their winches IP68 waterproof-rated.

For instance, the Warn VR Evo, Zeon, and Zeon Platinum winches are all IP68 waterproof. They can operate 1.5 meters underwater for up to 30 minutes.

Less expensive winches are not waterproof. A non-waterproof winch can still get wet, but using it underwater is not suggested.

Roller vs. Hawse Fairleads?

A fairlead simply acts as a guide to get the rope fed back onto the drum. Metal roller-style fairleads are typically used for wire rope. A smooth, large-radius hawse-style fairlead is used for synthetic rope.

In other words, the hawse style doesn’t have rollers. Rather, it has soft, rounded edges that don’t fray or damage the synthetic rope.

Safety First

If you’re interested in buying a winch to house within your bumper, don’t skimp. Buy the best electric winch that’s in your budget. Truck winches can range in price from a few hundred dollars to more than a few thousand dollars.

The cheapest electric winches are made in China. But they might not be serviceable and don’t offer premium materials or internal components. On the other hand, higher-end winch companies are often American-made products with premium features and high-quality internals. They can be serviced and are supported by longer warranties.

Safety is the top priority when using a winch. Knowing how to use a winch before the need arises is crucial. Review your winch’s guide ahead of time. And it’s smart to practice using it before performing recoveries in the wild.

Shop electric winches now
About the Author

Mercedes Lilienthal is an automotive journalist who writes regularly for publications like The New York Times, TREAD magazine, Expedition Portal, and more. Additionally, she and her husband founded and manage two automotive websites: Crankshaft Culture and Subcompact Culture. Mercedes’ freelance work includes writing, marketing services, and photography for various automotive-related clients.

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