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Finding the Right Electric Winch

atv winch

The uses for electric winches are practically endless. ATV and recovery winches can help free your vehicle if it gets stuck. Some winches are made to pull cars, tractors, boats, and mowers onto a trailer. Other winches are designed to lift like a hoist or crane. The dilemma when it comes to electric winches isn't finding ways to use them; it's finding the winch with the right features and capacity to do what you want... at the right price. The following article can help you find the right winch for your application.

Learn more about the following winch topics:

Electric Winch Categories

ATV Winches Trailer Winches Vehicle Recovery Winches AC Powered Winches Crane Winches Boat Winches

Recommended winch types for different applications:

ApplicationWinch TypesDesired Features
Pulling vehicles out of difficult terrain
  • Free-spool option lets you pull rope out fast
  • Remote control allows you to operate winch while you stay out of harms way
Loading and unloading heavy items such as vehicles and boats onto and off of trailers
  • Free-spool option lets you pull rope out fast
  • Power out allows you to unload items
  • Weather-proof cover and corrosion-resistant hardware protect winch from the elements (especially important for boat trailers)
Lifting and holding items off of the ground
  • Power out allows you to lower items
  • Brake ensures loads can be safely held in place
  • Many winches are not recommended to be used for hoisting
Applications in which portability, economy, or flexibility is preferred
  • Portability allows you to carry winch to where it is needed
  • Lower cost makes them attractive for low use applications

Vehicle Recovery / ATV Winch Capacity

To determine recovery winch capacity, you need to know the Gross Vehicle Weight of your vehicle and the rated capactiy of the winch. You may also want to consider other factors that can affect your choice of winch capacity. Read more, below.

At, we recommend using this formula to determine winch capacity:

1.5 x GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) = Recommended Winch Rating

With vehicle recovery, many things can impact the load placed on a winch:

recovery winch Shop for recovery winches by weight capacity, below

4,400 lbs - 6,000 lbs Weight symbol
7,800 lbs - 9,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol
9,300 lbs - 10,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
11,500 lbs - 12,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
12,500 lbs - 14,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
15,000 lbs - 18,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol

ATV winch Shop for ATV winches by weight capacity, below

2,000 lbs - 2,500 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol
2,700 lbs - 3,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
3,400 lbs - 4,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
4,400 lbs - 6,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol

Determine Gross Vehicle Weight

Getting the right winch for vehicle recovery depends on the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW). The GVW is determined by two factors, the weight of the vehicle (curb weight) and the weight of the items in and on the vehicle. If you are not familiar with your vehicle's curb weight, consult the owner's manual.

Vehicle Curb Weight + Gear = GVW

Layers of Wire Rope

Winches are rated based on pulling against a static load and with only one layer of wire rope wrapped around the drum. But when a winch is in use and rope is pulled in and layered on the drum, the winch's pulling power drops. A winch has its greatest pulling power on the first 2 layers of rope. The table below shows typical capacities for different rope layers.

Winch Rating (lbs)
Layer 1 and 2 (small loss on layer 2)
Wire Rope Layers
Layer 3Layer 4Layer 5
3,0002,430 lbs2,040 lbs1,740 lbs
5,5004,455 lbs3,740 lbs3,190 lbs
7,5006,075 lbs5,100 lbs4,350 lbs
8,5006,885 lbs5,780 lbs4,930 lbs
10,0008,100 lbs6,800 lbs5,800 lbs

Pulley Block

winch pulley block

The use of a pulley block may be helpful when using a vehicle recovery winch. First, using a pulley block as shown in the diagram can double the pulling power of your winch. To achieve this extra power, run the winch rope to an anchor point, such as a tree, where the pulley block is attached, and then back to a sturdy point, such as a tow hook, on the vehicle. Second, using a pulley block lets you pull more wire rope out from your winch so that the winch is pulling on the lower layers where its power is greater.


A stuck vehicle may not roll freely, which places extra load on the winch. Because of this, recommends purchasing a winch with a line pull capacity at least 50% greater than the GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight).

Note: Most trucks and SUVs will require a winch with a capacity around 6,000 lbs. However, there is little difference in price between some of the 6,000 and 9,000 lb winches. A winch with a capacity 3,000 lbs greater for a few dollars more may be an acceptable cost, because the 9,000 lb winch will not be working as hard as the 6,000 lb winch; therefore performance is improved and the motor life is extended.

Recovery winch Shop for a recovery winch

Trailer Winch Capacity

Winches are typically used on trailers to pull a boat, car, or tractor, etc. onto a trailer bed. Since the loads being pulled usually have wheels, the load (car, tractor, etc.) is considered to be a rolling load. Rolling loads are much easier on the winch, allowing the winch to pull more than its rated line pull capacity.

At, we recommend matching winch rating to the weight of the rolling load:

Weight of Vehicle = Recommended Winch Rating

With trailer winches, many things can impact the load placed on a winch:

recovery winch Shop for car trailer winches by weight capacity, below

2,000 lbs - 2,500 lbs Weight symbol
2,700 lbs - 3,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol
3,400 lbs - 4,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
4,400 lbs - 6,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
7,800 lbs - 9,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol
11,500 lbs - 12,000 lbs Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol Weight symbol

Know your Rolling Weight

The chart below will help determine the minimum Rated Line Pull (RLP) needed to safely winch a rolling load onto your trailer. Rated Line Pull or RLP is the weight the winch could pull perpendicular to the ground with a single line on the first layer of wire rope on the drum. To use the chart, first find the column that matches your percentage of slope or grade. This can be determined by dividing the amount of the ramps rise by its length. Then match the slope with the weight of your rolling load, round up, and locate the corresponding winch Rated Line Pull (RLP).

Slope percentage illustration

slope percent example

Rated Line Pull (RLP)Slope Percent
10 percent20 percent40 percent60 percent80 percent100 percent
1,000 lbs5,025 lbs3,401 lbs2,155 lbs1,664 lbs1,422 lbs1,285 lbs
1,500 lbs7,538 lbs5,102 lbs3,233 lbs2,496 lbs2,134 lbs1,928 lbs
2,000 lbs10,050 lbs6,803 lbs4,308 lbs3,331 lbs2,845 lbs2,175 lbs
2,500 lbs12,563 lbs.8,503 lbs.5,388 lbs.4,160 lbs.3,556 lbs.3,213 lbs.
3,000 lbs15,075 lbs10,251 lbs6,428 lbs4,991 lbs4,268 lbs3,854 lbs
3,500 lbs17,588 lbs11,905 lbs7,543 lbs5,824 lbs4,979 lbs4,499 lbs
4,000 lbs20,100 lbs13,597 lbs8,643 lbs6,655 lbs5,690 lbs5,138 lbs
4,500 lbs22,613 lbs15,306 lbs9,698 lbs7,488 lbs6,401 lbs5,784 lbs
5,000 lbs25,126 lbs17,009 lbs10,776 lbs8,320 lbs7,112 lbs6,427 lbs
6,000 lbs30,151 lbs20,408 lbs12,931 lbs9,983 lbs8,535 lbs7,712 lbs
9,000 lbs45,226 lbs30,612 lbs19,397 lbs14,975 lbs12,802 lbs11,568 lbs
12,500 lbs62,812 lbs42,492 lbs26,926 lbs20,825 lbs17,786 lbs16,071 lbs
16,500 lbs82,911 lbs56,089 lbs35,542 lbs27,489 lbs23,478 lbs21,213 lbs
A 10% slope is a rise of one foot in ten feet. All loads shown are for single-line operation and are based on first layer rope performance. You could experience a loss of up to 13% pulling capacity per layer of wire rope. Double-line operation with an optional pulley block approximately doubles the capacity of the winch.

Other Winch Size Considerations

Based on the weight of your rolling load and the slope of your trailer's ramps, you can find the minimum winch to do the job. But you should also remember that winches are rated based on the first layer of rope, where they have the greatest power. In practice, your winch will probably have more than 1 layer of rope on the drum when it is working and will be pulling at less than its maximum. Winches lose from 13% 25% of their pulling power with each wrap of rope on the winch drum. Because of this, recommends using a winch with a line pull capacity equal to that of the load being moved. You can increase the pulling power of a winch by using a pulley block. A pulley block can nearly double the winch's capacity by simply attaching the pulley block's hook directly to the load and the winch's hook to a sturdy mount near the winch.

Car trailer winch Shop for a trailer winch

Electric Winch Accessories

Winch Accessory Kits

Winch accessory kits include useful accessories, such as tree savers, recovery straps, pulley (snatch) blocks, shackles, cable dampers, and gloves... all in a convenient storage bag.

Winch Mounts

To mount a winch to a vehicle or ATV / UTV, you will need to install a mounting plate. These are available for vehicles and ATVs / UTVs.

Roller Fairleads

Roller fairleads guide the winch's wire rope and reduce its wear.

Tow Hooks / Loops

Tow hooks provide an anchor point for attaching a strap, cable, or rope to help in recovery situations. Some tow hooks bolt on and others can attach to a hitch receiver.

Tow Straps

Tow straps can be very useful tools for freeing vehicles from stuck situations

Pulley Blocks

Pulley (snatch) blocks can increase the effectiveness of a winch. Using a pulley block can allow you to pull more rope out of your winch so that your winch can operate from lower layers where it has more power. They can also allow you to double the rope back to your vehicle and double the winch's pulling power.

Wire Rope

Wire rope is available if you need longer or shorter rope, or if your old rope is worn.

Bow Shackles

Bow shackles let you connect different parts of a winching setup - recovery straps to pulley blocks or winch rope. Bow shackles are connected to bumper eyelets to provide attachment points for winching equipment.

Electric Winch Information

Minimum Vehicle Requirements - For any 12 volt winch installed on a vehicle or trailer, there are minimum electrical requirements. The truck, SUV or Jeep must have:

For frequent winching applications an auxiliary battery and heavy duty alternator are recommended. Using two batteries will allow for longer or more frequent winching periods without worrying about being able to start the vehicle afterwards. Installing two batteries will require a battery isolator.


To install a winch, you must consider wiring to power the winch and a mount to physically attach the winch to your vehicle or trailer.


Read more about wiring a winch

Electric winches need power to work. AC-powered winches simply plug into a standard 120V outlet. DC-powered winches are installed by running two wires to the battery. One goes to the positive post and one to the negative post. Winches usually come with the necessary wires and circuit breakers for installation. If you need longer wires, installation kits are available. If you want to set up a removable winch, quick disconnects are available for the wiring.

Winch wiring installation kit Shop for winch wiring installation kits

Quick disconnects for winch Shop for winch quick connects


The winch mount must be capable of handling the capacity of the winch. Many different styles are available to choose from. Custom fit winch mounts are available for ATVs. For a vehicle, the best system to use is a trailer-hitch winch mount. This type of mount can be easily attached to and removed from your vehicle. And if you have both a front and rear trailer hitch, the winch can easily be transferred from the front to the rear of the vehicle, making recovery from either direction an option. For a trailer, you should have a secure mount such as a steel plate welded to the trailer frame.

Hitch mounted winch mount for vehicles Shop for a winch mount for a vehicle

Winch mount for an ATV Shop for a custom fit winch mount for an ATV


When the winch operator takes the winch out of gear to pull out the amount of wire rope needed to get the job done. The freespooling option can save both battery power and time.

Mechanical vs Dynamic Braking

The mechanical style produces a stronger, positive braking action, which is more capable of holding a load. Dynamic braking uses the winch motor to add resistance to the drum. Dynamic braking is not strong enough to hold a load.

Worm Gears vs. Planetary Gears

A winch drum is rotated by either a worm gear or planetary gear. A worm gear train is where one gear is essentially a screw (the worm gear). As the screw is rotated, it turns the gears or sprockets connected to it. A planetary gear train is one with a single sprocket or gear in the middle (i.e., the sun). When the sun gear is turned, the 3 or 4 sprockets (the planets) around the center sprocket turn. And those 3 or 4 then make the larger sprocket surrounding them turn. A planetary gear is not as powerful as a worm gear, but can turn faster to generate more speed. Also, with a planetary gear train the "planet" gears can turn the "sun" gear, but in a worm gear train the other gears cannot change the direction of the worm gear. A worm-gear-operated winch cannot be reversed by the load it is pulling. Most winches use a planetary gear train. The Superwinch Heavy Duty Husky Series 2401A and 2404A use a worm gear.

Updated by: Raymond P.

Last updated: 6/27/18



Great article. I’d like to secure a 120V winch to a 4x4 or 6x6 post set in concrete, or to my home’s foundation. I’ll use the winch to bring a sled or cart up a steep grade with tools or other materials. Maybe a few hundred pounds. Any suggestions? Also possibly to pull a passenger or two… is that crazy?? Even possible?? Haha, thanks.

David B.


Hey Marc, here is a link to some AC powered winches. I'll let you browse them and pick your poison. Just remember that these winches are not meant to be used constantly and need a break, each winch will have a recommended duty cycle. Some are max 2 minutes some are 4 minutes, others need to rest 15 minutes. Just pay attention to the instructions/details, if you have any questions about a specific winch let me know. When it comes to passengers I can't say yes or no to that, you will have to be the one to determine the use of the winch.

Michael F.


i want to install a winch in the back of my ford falcon stationwagon for the boarding and departure of my disibility scooter weight 79kl. getting ramps will be also on the agenda. if you can advise me it would be great king regards, mike.

David B.


You have a Falcon station wagon!? That is awesome! I love the Ford Falcons.... I'd go with a Bulldog Winch Trailer Winch - Wire Rope - Hawse Fairlead - 3,400 lbs # BDW15017 . This guy has a powered in and powered out along with a free spool option. If your scooter is 175 pounds I think you could use the CargoSmart Ramp Plates - Aluminum - 8" Wide - Qty 2 # 3481231 and get some good wooden planks and make your own ramps. But if you want a premade set I don't blame you, go with the CargoSmart S-Curve Loading Ramp Set - Center Fold - Aluminum - 90" x 12" - 1,500 lbs # 3483018 .

Wayne O.


I am looking for the correct winch I need to pull a 12,000# motor out of a railroad engine so they can take it out to repair. It will be mounted on an Advance scissor lift that is 168 " long.

Etrailer Expert

Jon G.


Are you going to need a winch that uses a vertical pulling motion or horizontal pulling motion? I'm not very familiar with a railroad engine setup. Our winches that lift vertically are only rated for up to 2,000 lbs but we have some pretty heavy duty truck winches (horizontal pull) that are rated for more than the 12,000 lbs that you mentioned. Attached is a link to that selection for you to check out.

Tim K.


I want to mount a winch to help close my toy hauler door. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Etrailer Expert

Chris R.


An electric winch like the Dutton-Lainson # DL25200 would work really well for this type of application. Check out the answer page I linked below for more details on this kind of setup.

Al R.


Contrary to the norm we have a minivan that we converted into a weekend campervan with many "sophisticated" features and tech. We want to add a front winch, but we need info about which one will be the lightest one (less heavy) but at the same time strong enough to pull the minivan out of mud in a rainy day, hole, etc; just to recover it to keep going. Thanks.

Etrailer Expert

Chris R.


I can definitely find the lightest winch we have (at the right capacity) for your application, but I'm wondering if you could tell me the GVW of your van, or at least how much it typically weighs when loaded for your adventures.



Thank you; while waiting for response; we already bought one. The max weight of the minivan which we had put down a little bit without the seats for 6 other passengers, etc, is by factory 5000. The one we bought is 5500 lbs capable, because we actually did not wanted to add a super heavy winch; and it is only for light use, in case we get stuck in the mud one of those sudden rainy days. With a snatch block will be even better off in some circumstances: "ZEAK Advanced 5500 lb. Electric Winch Off Road Winch, with Gavanized Steel Rope, Mount, and Remote".



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