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If you go off road driving – whether for work, pleasure or both – then you have simply go to invest in a good Electric Winch. To the off road driver these incredible tools can be a genuine get out of jail card, giving you the power and ability to rescue your vehicle from mud, inclines and broken ground.
A good winch can help prevent your vehicle getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, so they are frankly a no-brainer. When you start shopping around for a new winch, you’ll quickly see there are many types out there, from a range of manufacturers and with price tags that can start under a 100 dollars and go quickly north.
We’ve put together this guide then to help you to choose the right winch for you. We’ll look at some of the best electric winches on the market right now, and then help you pick the best one for you.
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Best Rated Electric Winches in 2020
Since our first winch is designed to be mounted on an ATV, it is one of the smaller and more compact winches on the list, and also one of the cheaper. It weighs in at around 20 Pounds, and brings a pulling capacity of around 3,000 pounds.
Since it is designed to be mounted to an ATV, it comes equipped with both a wired hand held remote control, and also a control that can be mounted right on the handlebars.
It provides of a lot of pulling power for a relatively small size, and is specifically designed with a low amp motor to not put too much of a strain on the smaller batteries found on an ATV.
This is not going to pull a Jeep out of axel deep mud. But it is perfectly designed to easily handle just about any winching task you could look to achieve on an ATV.
3,000-Pound Pull Capacity
Wired Remote Control & Handlebar Mounted Switch
Small and Compact
- ModelLT3000 (1130220)
- Weight19.84 lbs
Smittybilt are a very well regarded winch manufacturer with over 50 years experience, and this model represents a re-design of the popular XRC series. Whilst the last winch we looked at was designed for ATV mounting, this model is very much designed for vehicles.
We have a very meaty 6.6 Horsepower engine, running through a 3 Stage Planetary Gear System which helps deliver those horses right where you need them. All working and sensitive parts of the winch are enclosed behind 100% waterproof protection so you can happily ford rivers and drive through water logged holes without worrying about your winch getting wet.
A corded remote control means you can operate the winch standing at a safe distance or even behind the wheel whilst driving, and the supplied hook is very good quality, you won’t need to buy a replacement.
All that power, all that excellent design and build quality that the Smittybilt name guarantees comes with a price tag of only around 300 bucks, making this a very attractive model if you’re looking for a well made winch with excellent pulling power.
9,500-Pound Pull Capacity
6.6 Horsepower Motor
- Weight84 lbs
I’m sorry to hear that your aircraft carrier has got stuck in the mud, but luckily I’ve got my Warn 86260 Electric Winch equipped. We’ll have you out in a moment.
Ok, you may not get called on to rescue the USS Gerald Ford (can’t believe he got a aircraft carrier named after him) but you will be equipped for just about anything else because this winch has phenomenal pulling power.
Naturally the powerful motor is the star of the show here, but it’s worth pointing out that power is driven through a three stage planetary gear train, which really helps deliver smooth power. The braking system is also well designed, which helps to keep you in control at all times.
Operation is via hand held remote control which comes with a 12 foot lead for ease of use and the winch comes with 93 meters of high quality steel cable which should be ample for nearly any situation you find yourself in.
It’s not cheap (and is in fact the most expensive item on the list) but it still comes in at well under 1,000 dollars which, given the pull power, is a pretty good deal.
12,000-Pound Pulling Power.
That’s right, 12,000 Pounds.
Three Stage Gear Train
Exclusive Brake Design
- Weight90 lbs
This is another high quality, go anywhere and very powerful winch very much in the same school as the Smittybilt we discussed a little earlier. This winch is also able to generate the 9,500 Pounds of pulling power, this time however for a 5.2 Horsepower motor, testament to the excellent gears mounted in this model that squeeze every last drop of power from that motor.
Control is via an ergonomic hand held control with a 12-foot lead, and the motor and all sensitive parts are safely tucked away behind 100% waterproof housing. This is a really well designed bit of kit.
The stainless steel rollers are another nice feature, they provide near 360 degrees of rolling surface ensuring the feed out and retraction action of the cable is nice and smooth.
Slightly higher priced than the similar Smittybilt but packing a lot of useful features in a very well designed package, this is a very attractive option.
5.2 Horsepower Motor
Weather Sealed Motor Housing
Stainless Steel Roller Fairlead
- Weight30 lbs
This is another winch designed for ATV/UTV mounting so whilst it is not as powerful as the last three models we looked at, for its size it does pack quite a bit of power – 1.6 horsepower to be precise. That translates to a pulling power of 4,500 Pounds, which again given its relatively small size, is pretty good.
The eye catching feature on this model is without doubt the wire free remote control, thought it also comes with a manual control (designed for handlebar mounting if required) as a back up.
Oh, and you get all that and change from 200 bucks. So all in all, if you’re looking for a smaller winch that still packs a decent power level, and that won’t dent your bank balance too much, this could be a winner.
1.6 Horsepower Motor
4,500-Pound Pulling Power
- Weight18.9 lbs
This winch is extremely basic, but it’s also extremely cheap – and it comes with a free pair of gloves!
Ok, if the free gloves didn’t do it for you, it still has a decent range of useful features. Control is via a remote control of very simple – but easy to use – design, and it sits at the end of a 9-foot lead.
The engine is not particularly meaty at just 0.9 horsepower, but it is able to generate about 2,000 pounds of pulling power, which is still a useful amount. It also has a free spooling clutch so you can spool out the cable without using any power – though that’s’ about as close to luxury extras as we get on this particular model!
Bottom line, if you don’t want any of the bells and whistles of a more premium model, if you just want a winch that pulls when you push the button, and plenty of change from a 100 dollar bill then take a look at this model.
2,000 Pounds Pulling Power
- Weight19.7 lbs
The final two winches we are going to look at are all about portability and ease of use. They do sacrifice a certain amount of pulling power (though this model is able to generate a very useful 2,000 Pounds of it) to instead be small and easy to maneuver – this model even comes with a built in carry handle.
It can be permanently or temporarily mounted to either a ball-mount hitch or to any flat surface using the included mounting plate. It easily draws power from a 12 volt DC power source and comes equipped with a nice long power cable for easy hook up to batteries.
The winch is remote controlled (with a wired control and about 10 foot of cable) and it also comes with a back up hand crank attachment. It is a pretty simple design, but it is one you should certainly look at if you want an easy to use utility winch.
2,000 Pounds Pulling Power
30ft of Galvanized Steel Cable
- BrandMaster Lock
- Weight25.4 lbs
Warn make their second appearance on our list, and this second product could not be more different from the first. Whilst the big Warn winch was the most powerful on our list (with 12,500 Pounds of Pulling Power) this second model generates only 1,000 pounds.
Whilst that does make it the weakest on the list, it is also by far the most portable and easy to use. You don’t even have to mount it, just attach the hooked end to a stable & strong surface via a ring or sling and away you go.
That makes this winch perfect to carry in the back of a flat bed or truck or to keep around the home for any heavy lifting tasks. Getting an ATV into a truck bed or a jet ski onto a trailer for example will be much easier with this useful little machine.
Operation is insanely easy with one built in trigger (with variable speed operation), and a built in LED load indicator ensures you never try to lift more than the winch can handle, a very useful safety feature.
1,000-Pound Pulling Capacity
Easy to Use
- Weight25 lbs
Best Electric Winches Buying Guide & FAQ
There is quite a variety in the design and lifting capacity of these products. We’ll take a look at some of the features to look out for and answer some winch FAQs, which will hopefully help you to select the winch that is perfect for you.
Things to Look for While Buying an Electric Winch
Rope or Cable – There are different advantages to both. See the FAQ section below for a more detailed break down.
Control – A remote control, whether wired or through an aerial is a useful feature. It allows you to operate the winch from a safe distance, or even from inside the vehicle cab.
Pulling Power – It all comes down to power at the end of the day. You simply must ensure the winch has the power to safely pull whatever weight you plan on using it for.
Mounting – Where is the winch going to go? Permanent mounted winches – such as on the front bumper – are typically more powerful but need to remain in place. A smaller winch may sacrifice power for mobility, but that could be more useful for you.
Power Usage – How much power will the winch use, and is your current battery up to the task? A typical car battery holds about 48 amps of power, a winch can easily use 20 to 30 amps and more powerful winches can draw on even more power. Check you battery before buying your winch, and consider an upgrade if it isn’t going to cut it.
How to Choose the Right Winch Size
It depends on what you’re looking for, but the biggest consideration has to be in terms of weight that you need to pull.
For a mounted winch that you are planning to use to assist your off road vehicle, the rule of thumb is that the winch must be able to handle the entire vehicle weight plus 30%.
For smaller applications, use a similar formula. Does your Jetski weigh 800 pounds? Then you’ll need a winch that can handle about 1,040 Pounds.
Different Types of Winch
There are basically two types of winch – Electric and Hydraulic.
- Hydraulic – Works by being connected to the power steering system. This allows them to develop excellent power however the connection is difficult to put in place, these models are expensive and there is far less selection on the market.
- Electric – Far more common, far more available and far easier to install. If you are looking for the most pulling power for your money (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) then electric is the way to go.
Best Electric Winch FAQ:
Q: How Does a Winch Work?
A: A winch is a mechanical device that works to develop a pulling force by wrapping a cable around a central drum…
That’s a bit dry isn’t it? It’s a shame that there’s no one out there who is really good at explaining how stuff works.
Hang on a minute! Check out this winch explanation from HowStuffWorks for a great explanation.
Q: Which is Better – Synthetic Rope or Steel Cable?
A: This is actually a pretty important question, because this choice will have one of the biggest impacts on the operation of your winch. Both types have pros and cons, and you will find people devoted to each type, who will tell you that their choice is best.
At Car Bible we prefer to give you the facts so that you can make your own, informed choice. So:
Easy Maintenance – The big pro of a steel cable is that it is a very hardwearing line that needs very little maintenance. It’s just sits there, it’s hard to damage and it won’t let you down.
Easy Use – Because it’s so hard wearing, it’s easy to use to. Unspool and hook up, complete the winch task, spool it back onto the drum and drive away. A Synthetic
Rope needs that much more care, and needs to cleaned of debris as it re-spools to prevent damage.
Heat Dispersal – Metal is a great heat conductor. The winch – especially electric winches – can get real hot during use. A Steel Cable will help that heat to radiate away faster by being a good heat conductor.
Weight – A Steel Cable can add anything up to 30 to 40 Pounds of additional weight. Bearing in mind the winch itself is going to weight anything up to about 60 Pounds, that’s a lot of extra weight to be putting on your front suspension.
Kinetic Energy – The cable will store kinetic energy as it pulls. If the cable fails and snaps, that energy will be transferred into a broken cable going off in any direction, with a lot of force. That can be dangerous for you, for other people or for your vehicle.
Weight – Synthetic Ropes weigh less than steel. Much, much less. This is good news for your vehicle suspension, but also for you. As you unspool and run out the rope, it’s going to be easier to clamber up a muddy hill with a light Synthetic rope than it is to drag a Steel Cable behind you.
Safer – Synthetic Rope will not store kinetic energy. So if it snaps, it just falls to the floor, making it that little bit safer over all.
Easily Repaired – If it does snap, it is possible to make simple field repairs by weaving the fiber strands back together. That, as this video guide shows, is not as hard as it sounds.
It’s Fragile – Oh my goodness is it fragile! It can rub on the side of the winch (or an obstruction on the ground) and start to fray. It can pick up sharp debris from the floor (small rocks and stones) and that can damage it. It is made of polypropylene, a petroleum byproduct, which means it can be damaged over time by UV light. That’s right, your rough and tough rope can be damaged by the sun. At least it doesn’t sparkle though, that would be much, much worse.
Cost – It is almost certainly going to be more expensive to pick up a winch with a synthetic rope.
High Maintenance – When you’re done off roading, instead of a beer you may end up spending time having to look after your winch – which is, we can confirm, not as fun as having a beer. If the rope got wet you’ll need to unspool and dry it. If it got dirty and picked up debris, you’ll need to clean it.
As we said then, both types have pro and cons, which really does explain why so many people love one above the other. Steel is very simple, can he harder to use but easier to look after. Synthetic is lovely and light making it a dream to handle out in the field – but it also demands a high level of care and TLC.
Q: Do Winches Need Maintenance and Repairs?
A: Yes they do. Those that are mounted on the front of a vehicle in particular need a lot of TLC, simply because they are 1) pulling a lot of weight, 2) subject to a lot of moisture and wear and tear.
This video guide is a great start on the basics of electric winch maintenance. You can trust they know what they’re talking about because they’re Australian, and if they can maintain their winches after hauling their trucks around the outback (and fighting off Kangaroos) that’s good enough for us.