Our 4X4 2021 Winch Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations and Tips

Spend a lot of time off-roading or exploring different rugged terrains and you’ll inevitably get stuck at some point. One day you may get bogged down in mud or meet your match in form of a boulder that you can’t crawl over. When this happens, you’ll realize how invaluable a winch is. This tool can make all the difference between making it home for dinner or spending the night out in the middle of nowhere.

As one of the premier 4X4 auto shops in both Moab and St. George, Utah, we at Dixie 4 Wheel Drive get a lot of clients who ask about winches. Some want winches included as part of their custom jeep builds while others just want to know how to go about selecting the best ones for their rigs.

We decided to put together a few recommendations and tips for buying winches.

What to Consider When Choosing a Winch

  1. How much weight can the winch pull?

The first thing to take into account is the size of the winch you need. You should choose the best pulling size for your 4WD vehicle. When determining the size of the winch you’ll need, start by knowing your vehicle’s weight and the weight it typically carries.

A good rule to follow is choosing a winch with a weight rating that’s 1.5 times higher than your vehicle’s weight. This way, you’ll cater for the drag that’s always present when you’re either pulling a rig from mud or over an obstacle. Going for the higher weight rating is also a good idea because winches are rated on the maximum pulling power on the first wrap of cable on the drum. Consecutive layers wrapping around the drum result in a decrease in the winch’s pulling power so a higher-rated pulling power accounts for this.

  1. Your mounting options.

At Dixie 4 Wheel Drive, we regularly mount winches as part of the custom jeep modifications clients ask for. Before doing the mounting, we ask them to decide which of the 3 mounting options work for them. Keep in mind that a winch applies a lot of pressure and stress to the rig’s frame so the mounting site should be carefully considered.

The first option is a bumper-mounted winch which simply bolts-on to the top of an off-road bumper. The second choice is a multi-mounted winch. Here the winch is first mounted to a carrier then to a receiver attached to the bumper. This mounting point makes them less durable. The last choice is a heavy-duty winch bumper where the winch plate is built eight on the bumper. This mounting is strong and gives the winch plenty of support.

  1. An integrated vs. a non-integrated winch.

Several of our clients also wonder whether an integrated or a non-integrated winch would work for their rigs. This depends on the type of bumper the vehicle has.

An integrated winch e.g the Smittybilt XRC 12,000, will often give owners a hard time fitting them on aftermarket bumpers. This is because the solenoid control box is part of the winch, and these types of winches are also large. The only way it can fit into the bumper is if the bumper is equally bulky.

A non-integrated bumper on the other hand is more versatile and can fit onto most bumpers. This is because they come with a separate solenoid box which can be remote-mounted to a winch in front of the vehicle or fitted above the bumper. Others may prefer to mount the solenoid box in the engine compartment to save on space. This is the ideal option if you’re thinking of purchasing an aftermarket winch bumper someday.

  1. The cable composition.

Since a winch is meant to pull tremendous weight, it should be made from a tough and durable material. The two main options you can go for include winches made from steel cable or synthetic rope. Both materials have their pros and cons.

A steel cable winch is often durable, affordable, and easier to manage than those made from synthetic rope. The one disadvantage they have is that they are often heavy, adding considerable weight to the rig’s front. Those made from carbon steel are resistant to heat and friction but are sensitive to pinching and crimping. This type is also more expensive and heavier than synthetic cables. However, they can be interlocked for better performance.

Synthetic cables on the other hand are becoming more popular because they’re lightweight. One great advantage they have over steel cables is that they don’t store potential energy like the latter. So in case the cable breaks, it doesn’t turn into a potentially lethal projectile. The main disadvantage synthetic cables have is that they are susceptible to heat, UV exposure, abrasion, and chemicals. Additionally, they need to be cleaned every once in a while to remove dirt from the strands.

  1. Your budget.

The final thing to determine the winch you get is your budget. Different makes and models fetch varying prices because of the weight rating and cable composition. Some manufacturers such as Warn or Smittybilt provide a range of winches in different popular sizes so it’s easy to pick one that suits our needs and budget. If you’re just starting out, the best thing would be to strike a balance between a winch’s pulling power and the price so you end up with the very best winch you can afford.

Let Us Install Your Winch for You

Even top-quality winches will fail if they’re not properly installed. Here at our full-service 4X4 auto shop, we have the tools and trained professionals who have years of experience installing winches. They will be able to advise you on the best options for your rig as well as the type of care and maintenance they’ll need for longer shelf life. We also offer several trail and safety preparation packages to ensure that your 4WD vehicle is in the best condition both before and after hitting the trails.

Visit any of our auto shops for winch installation or just for some regular repair and maintenance. 

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