ATV/UTV Winch Buyers Guide: Choose the Right Winch

So, you’ve decided to put a winch on your ATV or side x side/ UTV.  It will be a very welcomed accessory. From self recovery on the trail to moving things around the farm or your yard.

Though, you are trying to figure out what size you need, and what you need to mount it?  So if you are just getting started with process.   Here are a few things to consider.


So first things first,

Winch Power and Efficiency Loss

The maximum winch capacity rating is based on having only one bottom wrap (layer) of line on the drum.

For instance, each layer of line on the drum you lose about 10 percent (+/-) line pull capacity.  So if you have a full spool of line on the drum.

You could see a 40 percent (plus or minus) reduction in pulling capacity of the winch.  Unless, you pull the winch line all the way out. Leaving at least, 5 wraps of wire rope on the drum.

Though, even with the line all the way out. There is still going to be power and efficiency loss from friction of the line dragging across the fairlead.  To the winch motor building heat, as you are winching and along with that you are draining down the battery. (you may want to consider upgrading your battery).


How will you be using your winch?

Depending on where and how you use your winch will determine how much pulling power you will need.

So, for example if you are someone, who is doing some serious wheeling,  Needing to rely on a winch to get unstuck.  When your bogged in the mud or sand and really bury your rig.  Or winching up steep tough terrain.  You will find out real quick, and how much, you will give, a winch a workout.  So you will need more pulling power.

Compared to winching a rolling vehicle on a level hard surface.  Or, maybe all you’re going to do is run a snow plow in the winter.  You might not need as much winch.


Having a larger size winch.  It won’t  have to work as hard to pull a load, helping it last longer. Compared to over straining a winch at full capacity on a regular basis.  Which will wear it out quicker

Generally, going with a little bigger winch would only be a problem.  If you don’t have enough room.  Or the winch mounting plate for your vehicle won’t accept it.

You don’t have enough battery (amp) power to run it.  Or the weight of the winch is to heavy possibly causing steering, and or performance issues.


So, What Size Winch Do You Need?

The general words, of winch, wisdom.  when it comes to 4x4s.  Is to get a winch.  That has a rated pulling capacity.  At least 1.5 times, or even 2 times the weight you need to pull.

So you would take your gross vehicle weight.  Loaded with all the gear.    Multiply it by 1.5, to get the minimum winch pulling capacity.  Then you can always size up from there.


Though, with ATVs

They break things down a little different.  the minimum winch capacity based off the engine size.  Here is some recommendation to put you in the ball park.

1500 pound capacity:  For use with ATVs under 300cc (sport quads)

2500 pound capacity or larger:  A 2500 pound capacity winch is the minimum recommend size for ATVs 300cc and Larger though you can always step it up in capacity

3000 pound capacity or Larger:  3000 pound capacity is for the large ATVs 500cc or more.  and if you plan on loading your ATV down with gear.  Messing around in the mud, and or winching a lot.  You may need a little bit bigger winch.  you can step up to a 3500 pound capacity.

UTV Winch Size

You will need to be looking at at least 4000 pound capacity or larger.  A 4000 pound capacity is a good minimum capacity for Side x Sides UTVs.  However, if you plan on doing any riding in the mud, and get bogged.  Along with having a UTV on the heavier side of things. You might want to consider stepping it up a notch to at least a 4,500 pound capacity.  To have enough power to pull yourself out in a tough sittuation.



Winch Mounting Plate

Before buying a winch, you need think about how you will mount it to your ATV/ UTV.

Most don’t have a place on the frame to mount a winch.  A winch without a mount.  Won’t do you any good.  So having a winch mounting plate will be important.

Most brands of mounting plates are universal.  Fitting most other brands of winches.  However, you do need to make sure the mounting plate is made to fit your specific vehicle. And is rated to handle the line pull capacity of your winch.

Also, I should mention, there is two different width winch drums (wide, short), and most of the time, they will conform.  To two, mounting bolt patterns.  Wide and standard.


Wide: 4 hole bolt pattern  |  3” x 6.65” (76 x 169mm)

Standard: 4 hole bolt pattern |  3” x 4.87” (76mm x 124mm)


Always make sure the winch and mounting plate are compatible with each other.

The max size of a winch will sometimes depends on the mounting plate available for your specific unit and what it can accommodate.

Not all winch mounting plates will work with the stock bumpers on your ATV/UTV.  So, some manufactures make mounting systems.  That have a customized bumper, and mounting plate in one package.



Wide or Short Drum

As mentioned above there are wide and short drum winches.

So, the difference is the wide drum will hold a little extra line  over the short drum.

This little extra line, on a wide drum.  Might, allow you to reach, an anchor point with your hook.  That could have been, just slightly out of reach, with a shorter line.

Though, the biggest benefit of a wide drum.  Is, it will allow you.  To winch, a few more wraps of line across the bottom part of the winch drum.  Where the most pulling power is.  Before it layers up.

Short drums are used where space is limited.  Some rigs don’t have the room to fit a wide drum.

Winching Kit

Having a winch is a just the start. Adding some extras accessories to the tool kit would be advantageous.

You will need some basics on hand to attach your winch hook to an anchor point.   Enabling you to use the winch safer and or more efficiently. To overcome obstacles you will encounter.

A winching recovery kit like this one with tree protector, D ring, snatch block, gloves, and carry bag. Is one step forward, taking precaution, and being prepared when you get yourself in a pickle.

A tree protector wraps around a tree.  Giving you something to connect your winch hook to. All while helping protect the tree bark.

A snatch block allows you to do a double line pull. Which increases your winch pulling capacity, almost up to 2 times.  Helping in those super bogged situations and also allowing you to redirect your winch line for those off angle pulls.

And, a pair of gloves to protect your hands when handling recovery gear.  With a D ring giving you the ability to attach your winch hook to a recovery point.

 Also, I would add an extra length of about 50’ winch extension rope.  To your accessory kit as well.  Incase you are to far from a tree or anchor point. And your winch line doesn’t reach. At least you could be a little more confident.  Knowing you can connect the dots



A fairlead, helps guide the cable onto the winch drum.  When pulling off at different angles keeping the cable from riding up and over the drum.  Or, wrapping around other parts, of the winch, and or digging into other objects on your rig.  Fairleads come in two different styles, roller or hawse.

Steel cable, is typically used with the steel roller fairlead.  So it reels in smooth under load at different angles without digging or gouging in.  When load is applied to the rollers. Since steel cable is rather course. (Compared to the synthetic rope option)

Hawse fairlead used for synthetic rope. Usually made of aluminum. Having smooth rounded edges to guide the rope in without abrasion. Having no creases, crevices in the corners for the synthetic rope to get snagged or caught in.


Winch Brakes

There are two types of winch brakes dynamic and mechanical.  A dynamic brake uses the gear train in the winch for resistance to automatically hold the drum from turning .  While a mechanical brake locks the drum.  Both can be suitable for an ATV winch though a mechanical brake is less likely to slip (or creep) when loaded


Winch Remote

Having a winch with a remote control switch either mounted to the handlebars of an ATV, dash, of a UTV.  Or even a wired or wireless remote, to operate the winch, at a safer distance from the vehicle.



Waterproof Winch

Not all winches will hold up to the harsh elements.  So, take careful consideration what you will be using it for.  Where, you are going to be riding, and the elements you will encounter with your ATV/ UTV.

You don’t want a winch. Where water, dirt, dust, or sand, could possibly work its way in to to your winch to easy. Causing you a catastrophe.  When you are counting on it.

Having a winch with at least an IP-67 rating would be good. Or even better would be an IP-68 rating. Which should pretty much take you where you need to go.

Also, look for, corrosion resistant paint, and hardware as well. Which is always a plus.


Free Spool Clutch Hub

Having a winch, with a free spooling clutch.  Means, you can engage or disengage the gear train.  From the motor of the winch. Disengaging it gives you the ability, to freely, and easily pull the winch line off the drum. Without having, the mechanical resistance of the winch gear train.




Steel Cable vs Synthetic Rope

There is two types of winch line.  Wire steel cable, and synthetic rope.  They both have there advantages, and disadvantages, depending on your purposes.

Steel Cable

Steel cable is typically best suited for utility type work.  Where you would be winching in more abrasive situations a lot.

  • Strong, durable, and reliable
  •  low maintenance.
  • Abrasion resistant, so it typically a better solution.  If you are using it in areas where it will be a little more rugged, and possibly touch rocks or tree stumps etc. (though you should always try to avoid your line from rubbing on anything)
  • Steel rope usually is less expensive.
  • More heat resistant
  •  will rust, get kinks and barbs (splinters on cable). It is strongly recommended to wear gloves when handle wire rope
  • Also steel rope will store more kenetic energy under load. So if the cable breaks.  It could be very dangerous. (Always use line dampers)
  • Heavier (adding more weight to the rig)
  • Not as flexible and as easy to handle (Compared to synthetic rope.)




Synthetic Rope

Is a solid choice if your handling your rope a lot. As it is considerably lighter. Making it easier to pull out a lot of line up a hill.  Or even just handle in general.


  • Will float on water.
  • Light weight
  • Flexible making it easier to handle
  • No kinks or barbs
  • Synthetic rope doesn’t store as much energy on a pull.  So safer if it where to break under load.
  • More expensive than steel rope.
  • It can be damaged easier by abrasion so always use an abrasion sleeve on the winch line. And keep it from rubbing on objects
  • Also, it will require some maintenance from time to time. If you get the rope fibers filled with mud or sand. You will need to wash it out, to help extend, the service life of the line.
  • Can be damaged by excessive heat

Line Speed / Power / Gearing

The line speed, refers to how fast (feet per minute) a winch can reel the cable in.  This is changed by the gear ratio in the winch.  So, the most common gear ratios.  Range from about 150:1 to 300:1.

For example, the higher numerical number (300:1).  Will have more pulling power (torque) but, the trade off is a slower line speed.  So, it will take longer to reel your rope in.

A quality winch, will match the electric motor power to an optimum gear ratio.  Providing   a good balance, between pulling power and line speed.

Final Thoughts

So, as you look around, for a winch.  Don’t forget to read reviews, and the product description.  Compare all the different specs, because usually there will be, some small details, that you will find.  Helping you with your decision.  To find a winch, that will fit your needs, and budget.