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Buying and Using a Winch

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 18 Jun 2013 | comments*Discuss
Winch Maximum Line Pull Hydraulic

Recovery and specialist four-wheel drive vehicles frequently use winches. Winches pull a crashed or broken-down car onto the flat bed of a lorry. Winches also clear trees, rocks and other debris that has fallen across roads. Many drivers though, have come to see the need for winches in other situations. In the countryside during the winter, cars skid and spin into ditches and fields. A winch can pull a car back onto the road.

Off-road drivers on farms and estates can find themselves stuck in patches of snow or mud. Again a winch can haul a vehicle out. Winches also have all year round uses. For example, a winch can pull a boat out of the water, up a slipway and on to a trailer.

Types of Vehicle

Generally speaking, fitting a winch on a standard car isn’t a good idea. The chassis, for instance, may not be able to take the strain. The most suitable vehicles for winches are four-wheel drives, utility vehicles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Even so, many cars are hybrids that have some of the features of four-wheel drive models. To confirm the suitability of a car for a winch, it may be wise to speak to a garage or dealer.

Winch Capacity

Before buying a winch, it’s vital to work out the maximum line pull. If a winch is to pull a vehicle out of a deep patch of mud, it has a lot to contend with. It must be able to pull the weight of the vehicle and deal with any resistance from the mud. The maximum line pull should therefore be at least one and a half times the vehicle’s weight. When a winch has to perform lighter tasks, such as pulling a boat on to a trailer, the maximum line pull can be less.

Before making a purchase, a motorist must be clear about what he or she expects a winch to do. A winch dealer can then give advice about suitable models.

Electric or Hydraulic

Winches are electric or hydraulic.

  • Electric winches run from vehicle batteries. They have a motor, a gear reduction system and a drum for the cable. They are robust and waterproof. Accessories include battery leads, hooks and straps.
  • Hydraulic winches are for heavy-duty use. They can be a lot more expensive than electric winches but are ideal for situations where sheer pulling power is essential.


An electric winch can fit in the middle of a vehicle’s front bumper. Some bumpers may already be compatible for winch installation. If not, it may be necessary to buy a special winch bumper. It’s also possible to fit a winch on the flatbed area of a utility vehicle. The winch may need a steel strengthening plate beneath it. A garage or winch dealer can provide further advice.

Using a Winch

A winch is a powerful tool. It can pull a vehicle or other object that has a considerable weight. A motorist should therefore:

  • Read the winch handbook and learn exactly how it works
  • Never use a winch on anything that exceeds the maximum line pull rating
  • Check and service the winch regularly
  • Ensure no one stands in front of an item the winch is hauling

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