Anyone who’s into off-roading knows there’s an indescribable joy that comes when you’ve freed your ATV out of your garage for a rip. It’s a barrage of fresh air, countryside smells, and adrenaline from start to finish. Unfortunately, this fun comes to a swift halt when your ATV gets stuck. If you can’t get unstuck quickly, a great day out turns into a laborious afternoon. Thankfully, an ATV winch will have you back riding the trail in no time and requires minimal effort. Below you’ll find a buying guide that helps you understand what’s important when picking a winch for your vehicle. We’ve also compiled a list of the best ATV winches on the market and ranked them under a variety of categories.
We considered dozens of ATV winches before choosing our top contenders. Some brands are already well established in this niche, and priority was given to their products. Other lesser-known brands were also evaluated. The main features taken into consideration were pulling capacity, motor type, cable material, pulling speed, mechanical soundness, price, safety features, mount fit, and reliability. We avoided products that have mechanical or electrical issues.
Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.
There are tons of ATV winches on the market at vastly different price points. So, how do you choose the right one for you without overpaying for things you don’t need? Below you’ll find the key features to consider before buying an ATV winch and how they might apply to you.
For all intents and purposes, you’ll be better off if you choose a winch with a synthetic rope. Above all else, synthetic ropes are safer than steel ropes when they snap as you’re less likely to get steel shards in your eye or the rope whipping back at you at high velocity. You’ll be able to support just as much weight with a synthetic rope, but it’ll weigh 20-30 pounds less. This reduces the stress placed on your ATV’s front suspension and makes it easier on you when handling the rope.
Synthetic rope is about as durable as its steel counterpart but, unlike steel, it doesn’t develop kinks. It will fray over time, but it won’t cause you any discomfort when handling it. The main downside to synthetic rope is that it costs more than steel. If the rope is damp and the temperature drops below freezing, there’s a possibility that the fabric will freeze solid.
The only real advantage steel rope has over synthetic rope is that it’s cheaper, albeit marginally. Some people feel that a steel rope requires less maintenance than its synthetic counterpart. However, you’ll still need to keep a steel rope clean, as it’ll rust with time if you don’t.
You may not need to wash a steel rope as often as a synthetic rope, but you’ll need to inspect it for damage each time before you ride. If there are too many frayed strands, it could be too dangerous to use the winch.
The most important feature to consider before buying any winch is its pulling capacity. Winches for ATVs generally range in pulling capacity from 2,000-4,500-pounds. You’ll need a winch that easily pulls the weight of your ATV plus the added resistance of the sand or mud etc., that it’s stuck in.
Generally speaking, the higher the pulling capacity, the higher the price tag. But there’s no need to go overboard unnecessarily. The other thing to be aware of is that higher capacity winches put more strain on your ATV’s battery and some powerful winches might work in bursts rather than consistently and smoothly if your battery isn’t powerful enough.
If you don’t have a winch mount for your ATV, then you’ll need to make sure that the model you’re buying comes with one. If it doesn’t come with one, you’ll have to buy one separately and make sure that it’ll fit on your ATV.
If you already have a mount on your ATV, you’ll still need to make sure that the winch you choose will fit. If you’re unsure, you should contact the manufacturer directly.
Most winches come with some safety features. One thing you should look out for is a remote control, so you won’t need to be too close to the ATV or cable when it’s in use. This is especially beneficial if you have a winch with a steel rope.
Many of the top models will have a dynamic braking system, which uses the winch’s gears for resistance to help automatically hold the load. Some models will also have a mechanical brake. Braking systems are particularly useful if you’re pulling an ATV up an incline or need to stop winching momentarily.
You’ll be faced with two types of motors when picking an ATV winch: a series wound motor and a permanent magnet motor. Permanent magnet motors can pull the same weight as comparable series-wound motors but draw fewer amps, so they won’t drain your battery as much. They’re a better option for anyone worried that a powerful winch could leave their battery flat. Permanent magnet motors are more suited to performing light to medium tasks because they generate more heat and can overheat when used for long periods. As these motors heat up, their power decreases, and their amperage draw increases.
Series wound motors are more suited to tasks that could take a while. They also generate less heat when compared to permanent magnet motors, making them the preferred motor for heavy-duty winching. So if you need a heavy-duty winch and will use it for long periods, a series wound motor is the one to go for.
A good guideline is to get a winch that has a pulling capacity that’s around 1.5-times the weight of your ATV. For the majority of people, a 2,500-3,500-pound winch will be enough.
If you get stuck, you can wrap your winch around an anchor point to pull the ATV unstuck. This is the main reason you’d use an ATV winch, but you can also use it to help load your ATV onto a truck or trailer.
Generally speaking, it’s not safe to use an ATV winch as a hoist. The main reason is that the braking systems on winches and hoists are different, which could lead to you dropping your load.
We’ve chosen the SuperWinch 12V DC Winch as our best overall model. This winch has enough power for the majority of people and is built to last. If you’re on a tight budget and don’t need too much pulling power, then check out our best value pick, the Rugcel Electric 12V 2,000lb Single Line Waterproof Winch