How To Pick The Best Winch

Updated Dec 9, 2014

Winch install bumper



by Bruce W. Smith

How big a winch do I need? A common question among first time winch buyers.

It’s better to have a lot more pulling power at your fingertips than too little.

At a bare minimum you should get a winch with the capacity twice that of your pickup’s loaded weight.

A 1/2-ton 4×4 pickup shouldn’t have anything less than a 10,000-pound-capacity winch, while a 4×4 dually diesel 4×4 should be set up with a 16,000-pound model.

Bigger is better on both.

The type of winch also plays a role in the size factor. Electric winches tend to overheat under hard use and take a toll on the vehicle’s battery system if the winch operator doesn’t pay close attention to what’s going on.

Electric winches are good for short pulls. But they all slow down on long, hard pulls as battery power drops. So if you plan on long, hard pulls with an electric winch, get the biggest one you can afford so it doesn’t have to work as hard.

Hydraulic winches, on the other hand, keep pulling strong no matter the load or duration of the pull. So you can get by with a less powerful one because they can pull all day long if needed.

The downside is they are a lot more expensive, the installation is more involved, and they don’t work when the pickup’s engine stops.