can be an absolute necessity. But what winch is right for you

It’s worth noting that not all winches will be useful in all situations and not all winches will fit all bumpers. That means the first consideration to make is not only what you’re going to be using your winch for but what winch will fit on your vehicle. This will, of course, depend on the specifics of your winch bumper or hidden winch mount.

Many 4X4 winches come with basic cables and other fitting hardware, but some will require extended wiring and some bumpers will require winch installation kits and fairlead spacers.

Once you’ve been able to ascertain what kind of winch you can actually use, there are several other factors to consider.

Reliability – Winches are often very much ‘do or die’ tools that can be the difference between your vehicle being trapped in a dangerous situation and being able to pull itself to safety. 

So, when you need to use it, you want to be sure that it will work. This is why you’ll probably want to steer clear of unrecognised budget brands in this instance.

Performance – Your 4X4 is a heavy vehicle that requires a powerful winching system and the heavier your load, the greater motor power and pulling capacity you’ll need. Particularly if you’re planning to traverse difficult terrain. 

The key metric to consider here is the load rating, which states the rough amount of load the winch will reliably be able to pull. The higher the rating, the less the winch will have to work, regardless of how much weight you’re pulling. 

Generally speaking, you’ll want a winch that can pull at least the weight of your vehicle and a lot of owners tend to add 50% of the weight onto it.

Remote controls – With most winches, wired controls will be included as standard but it’s far more practical to have a wireless winch remote installed. 

It’s not only more convenient but a lot safer, as it will allow you to control your winch from a safe distance.

Waterproofing – If you think you might be driving through water, it’s worth noting that water in the motor casing will rust the brush holders, seize bearings and short out when in use. Water in the gearbox will also pit and corrode the gears, ultimately leading to their failure. 

This is why the water ingress level of your winch is something certain drivers might want to seriously consider, though note that winches with a greater level of waterproofing will often be more expensive.

The rope – Arguably the most important piece of the puzzle, the winch rope itself is a major point of contention. The two main choices here are synthetic or steel, with steel rope being more common and durable, with synthetic rope being lighter and safer. They both have their place and which you choose will depend on what you intend on using your winch for. 

Synthetic rope won’t last as long but it won’t recoil and cause potential damage or injury when snapped. 

Steel, meanwhile, is a lot tougher but will also add a lot of weight to your vehicle and can be dangerous if snapped. 

For most users, we’d recommend synthetic winch rope but steel still has its place for heavy-duty users.

Maintenance – Finally, a winch is not something you can just install and forget about. It’s an electrical and mechanical device that demands regular maintenance and that means testing it before every trip or every few months, ensuring that it’s nicely greased and spinning freely.

Image: Standard store88 / Shutterstock.com

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CHOOSING A WINCH


Choosing the best winch for your truck is important as not all winches will be useful in all situations.

You should start by checking the manufacturer specs for your chosen bumper or winch mount, as not all winches will fit.  Then, you need to consider what you intend to use your winch for.  For example, a full-size pickup truck which is axle-deep in mud may not be recoverable using an 8,000lb winch.

Winches are expensive items, but they need to be heavy duty and well-engineered to operate in harsh and challenging situations.

Reliability

You want to be confident that the winch will work when you need it most. A fast and powerful winch is useless if it doesn’t work when needed.  Some budget brands promise the world for a low price, but in our experience they rarely deliver.

Performance

Your winch must be capable of doing what you need it to do.  The motor power, gear ratio and rated pulling capacity must suit your needs.  4×4 vehicles are heavy, and recovery conditions can be harsh and demanding.

Water Ingress

Water in the motor casing will rust the brush holders, seize bearings and short out when in use.  Water in the gearbox will pit and corrode the gears and they will ultimately fail.  Winches at different price-points will have varying levels of waterproofing.

Fitting Hardware

Many winches come with basic cables and other fitting hardware, but some vehicles will need extended wiring (particularly Defenders as the battery is often mounted under the seat) and some bumpers will require winch installation kits and fairlead spacers.

Remote Controls

Wired remote controls are a standard accessory in most cases, but a wireless control system can be useful and is also a safety benefit as it will allow you to control the winch from a safe distance.

Winch Rope

Synthetic rope is a popular choice, as it is lighter weight and tends to fall to the ground if snapped, rather than recoiling and causing damage or injury.  However, it doesn’t last as long as steel rope so you may need to replace it every few years depending on usage.  Synthetic rope is also easier to damage in use.

Steel rope is still common, and is generally more durable although it adds additional weight to the vehicle.  Steel ropes tend to last longer, but they are dangerous if snapped so careful use is required.

Winch Maintenance

Winches are an electrical and mechanical device and require regular maintenance. Firstly, spool the winch in and out 20m or so before heading off on a trip, this makes sure everything is working as it should. Test the winch every few months to keep everything greased and turning freely, this also creates some heat in the motor to help dry out any traces of moisture.

Periodically (every 12 to 24 months depending on usage), open the motor housing and gearbox and inspect, re-grease and check over the winch. This will help to ensure many years of trouble-free use.