Like any good tool, a winch comes with some disadvantages and risks. Consider price, mounting, weight, safety, and more when deciding if it’s worth adding a winch to your rig.
Get past that gnarly obstacle. Unstick your vehicle from the muck. Move hazards, like trees or boulders out of your way.
A winch is a handy tool. It’s also heavy, costly, and dangerous if you don’t know how to use it.
Winches: Why The Huge Price Range?
You can get a really cheap off-brand, Asian-made winch with steel cable for as low as $250. A quality, American-made vehicle winch with synthetic line, bought from a trusted manufacturer will run you at least $850.
Quality: Weather proofing, brake design, motor efficiency, gear tolerances, wire gauge, intelligent override/safety systems and the like are all things that create a quality winch. Most of these things are internal to the winch, and hard to distinguish between winches from the packaging or marketing. It is important to purchase from trusted manufacturers with a track record of quality. It might cost you up-front money, but will save you time and money in the long run.
Capacity: Be sure to get a winch that is appropriately rated for your specific vehicle application. The general rule is 1.5 times the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) to be winched. The higher the capacity, the pricier and heavier the winch will be.
Synthetic Line Vs. Cable: Metal winch cable is inexpensive, very durable and best suited for utility tasks and winching in abrasive situations. While Synthetic is costly and requires a bit more forethought in abrasive situations, it is much lighter, easier to handle and safer to use.
A good middle-of-the-road winch, for light use on most mid-sized vehicles, is the Warn VR8-S. At $700, this winch has the benefits of being engineered by a trusted manufacturer and utilizes synthetic line, while providing the cost savings of Asian production. With 8,000 lbs of pulling power, it’s great for a Wrangler, Tacoma, 4Runner, Outback, Colorado, and similar vehicles.
Mount Up Your Winch
Aside from the purchase price, there’s also the cost of mounting the winch to your vehicle—not to mention the hassle.
There are three main options: a hitch-mounted removable winch plate (about $270), a frame-mounted winch plate ($70 and up), or an off-road winch-compatible bumper ($300 and way up).
The hitch-mounted winch plate gives you the versatility to move the winch to the back of the vehicle or remove it when not in use. However, it does require you to install a hitch receiver on the front of your vehicle.
A frame-mounted winch plate is inexpensive and looks clean. The winch is mostly hidden behind the stock bumper but does take some work to install properly.
Adding a winch-compatible steel or aluminum bumper to the front of your adventuremobile has a lot of benefits, but also adds quite a bit of weight and cost.
Winches aren’t light, even with synthetic line. The Warn VR8000-S mentioned above weighs 66 lbs. The true weight must also factor in the added heft of your preferred mounting option.
This can range from as little as 30 lbs. for a basic winch plate, to 200 lbs. and above for a steel off-road bumper. Remember that this weight is suspended in front of the vehicle, which amplifies its effect on the suspension, and in turn the ride quality of your vehicle, especially over rough surfaces.
Using a winch always has inherent dangers. You are moving a heavy piece of equipment with a tiny winch line. Always read instruction manuals. The following are some guidelines, but by no means comprehensive.
1) Stand clear of winch and load during operation
2) Use leather gloves when handling winch line, including synthetic line
3) Use a damper on the center of the winch cable
4) Keep you hands, fingers and hair away from winch drum and fairlead
5) ALWAYS read the safety guidelines that come with your winch and educate yourself fully on winch safety before operating a winch
The best way to stay safe around a winch is to get proper training,and spend time practicing, on proper winching techniques. Some basic knowledge will go a long way to keep you, those around you, and your vehicle safe.
Who Should Consider A Winch?
You should get a winch if you:
- Go wheeling, mudding or rock crawling
- Adventure by vehicle solo to remote areas off the beaten path
- Can use the utility of a winch on your job site or farm
You probably don’t need a winch if you:
- Always travel with other vehicles in the backcountry
- Have a tight adventuremobile budget
- Your vehicle stays on established routes and usually within cell phone reception
- Your vehicle is already at or over the GVWR
A winch won’t be cheap or light to do properly, and most people don’t use one all that often. But if you need one, you will be extremely happy to have such an invaluable resource at your disposal. If you travel off the beaten path without other vehicles often, the self-reliance a winch offers is worth its weight in gold.
Just remember that a winch is only as good as its operator, so include training on correct use in your decision-making process. Adventure on!