When you select a winch, the main thing you need to think about is how much weight you will be pulling. Since winches are usually used for pulling your car or truck out of a ditch or some other situation you’re stuck in, you want to start by finding the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of your vehicle. This is usually listed on the identification sticker on the body of your vehicle inside the driver’s side door.
Once you find your car or truck’s GVWR, use this equation to find the smallest winch you should get:
[GVWR] x [1.5] = [Minimum winch capacity]
This number gives you your starting point. Round up to the pulling capacity of the winch model that comes closest to this number. So, if your minimum winch capacity came out to 9,000 pounds, the 9,500-pound winch at your local Blain’s Farm & Fleet store is the lightest duty one you should get.
Don’t I just need a winch that can pull the weight of my vehicle’s GVWR?
Only if you are always going to be pulling on level ground. However, you almost never get stuck on level ground, especially if you are off-roading. You need a pulling capacity higher than the weight of your car or truck’s GVWR to pull it uphill, or to put up with the extra resistance from whatever mud or sand it’s stuck in. As with so many truck accessories, there is no such thing as overkill when you’re choosing a winch. You can never have one with too high of a pulling capacity, because you never know what you’re going to be trying to pull yourself out of, and you don’t want to get get stuck out on the trail.
You should also consider your need for water-resistance when looking at winches. Some winch models are “integrated,” which means that the solenoid and winch assembly are contained within one compact, sealed unit. Integrated winches are great for off-roading, because they don’t allow water to get to the solenoid and stop the winch.
All of these same rules apply to ATV winches. Be sure to have a winch with more than enough pulling capacity to ensure that you always have a way out if you get stuck on the trail.