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How To Choose a Winch to Fit Your Needs

What is a Winch?

A winch is a machine for hoisting or hauling. The basic winch consists of a set of gears, a drum (or cylinder), and a cable. The cable is attached to the object to be hoisted or hauled. To turn the gears and drum and pull up the cable, a winch has either a permanent magnet motor or a series wound motor.

Winches use a fairlead to reduce the pulling resistance and break-over angle and to minimize wire rope abrasion (even on off-angle pulls). There are two types of fairleads, the roller fairlead and the hawse fairlead. The roller fairlead offers better cable protection and longevity because it has rollers that move with the cable as it passes through the fairlead. The hawse, on the other hand, does not have rollers. Therefore, there is some friction between the cable and the fairlead itself. This can cause some wear on the cable over time.

Winches are rated in pulling capacity, measured in pounds. Consider the amount of weight you need to pull when determining what type of winch will fit your needs.

What Type of Winch Do You Need?

Ask yourself the following questions as you determine what type of winch will fit your needs:

How Are You Going to Use Your Winch?

The type of winch you need depends on the application and whether you plan to mount the winch on a truck or ATV. Tractor Supply Company sells three different types of winches: utility winches, all terrain vehicle (ATV) winches, and self-recovery winches.

A light-duty utility winch is a very versatile tool and should always be mounted on a trailer or in a truck bed and should never be mounted on the front or back of a pickup truck, SUV, or ATV. Uses for utility winches can include things like loading boats or ATVs onto trailers or placing large trees and landscape rocks.

The ATV winch is designed to be mounted only on ATVs and must have a proper mounting kit.

The self-recovery winch is designed to be mounted on the front or rear of a vehicle and used to pull vehicles out of a ditch or mud, for example, by attaching the cable to a tree or another stable object that can be used as an anchor. Self Recovery winches require a mounting kit or multimount system. The mounting kit attaches permanently to the vehicle while the multi-mount can be taken off and used on other vehicles.

What Else Will You Need?

Depending on your needs, you may want to consider picking up some additional items to go with your winch:

  • A mounting kit (necessary for ATV and self-recovery winches)
  • A multi-mount system to mount winch in either the front or rear of a vehicle
  • A receiver shackle (used in a rear receiver hitch to attach tow strap, rope, or chain)
  • A snatch block (used in a double line pull to increase the pulling capability of the switch)
  • Replacement cables
  • Fairleads
  • Tow straps

Tractor Supply Company stocks a large assortment of winches and accessories. Ask one of our expert Store Team Members for assistance determining what winch and/or winch accessories you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How is more cable added to a winch?

A: It isn’t. A winch is designed for a specific amount and size of cable, making it vital that you choose the right winch for your specific needs on the front end. For additional length, you can purchase a tow strap, tow cable, or chain.

Q: What is the life expectancy of a winch?

A: The use and maintenance of a winch will determine its life expectancy. There are 30-year-old winches that are still being used today. The proper care and maintenance of your winch should be explained in your owner’s manual.

Q: How much cable does a winch hold?

A: Cable size and length is determined by the winch’s pulling capacity and drum size. This varies according to the model.

Q: Does a winch have a self-locking brake?

A: Yes. The brake is an automatic direct-drive cone brake. But we do not recommend leaving a load on the winch or using the brake as a hoist because the brake may slip under a heavy load. For trailer applications, you should not use the brake as a tie-down or keep a load on the winch, as it will harm the brake system due to continuous shock.

Q: What is the operating speed of a winch with a full load?

A: It varies according to the winch model. Refer to the winch specifications in the Application Guide at the Service Center in your local Tractor Supply store.