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Choosing the Right Winch for your 4x4

Choosing the Right Winch for your 4x4

6 minute read

An important part of building the ultimate off-road truck or SUV is knowing how to choose a winch that is right for your build. A 4x4 winch is a vital piece of equipment that comes in handy for recovery or to avoid recovery by helping you manage difficult maneuvers on tougher terrain. There are quite a few winches on the market, so you have plenty of options when it comes to picking the one for your build. With so many choices, however, it can be tough to narrow down your options and ensure the winch you choose is the best for the job. 

Winch Types

The easiest part of how to choose a winch is the type. While both electric and hydraulic off-road winches are available, electric is by far the most cost-effective, easy to use, and widely available. Rather than using your steering pump, as with hydraulic winches, electric winches use a small but powerful electric motor to drive a spool of rope or cable as it retracts. They also offer a smaller installation footprint, comparatively, making them the smart choice for most 4x4 winch applications.

Sizing Up Your Vehicle

Superwinch - Tiger Shark 17500 Winch - 1517200

Superwinch - Tiger Shark 17500 Winch - 1517200


Tiger Shark 17500 Winch - 1517200A great solution for efficient and reliable towing with heavier loads. Superwinch Tiger Shark 17500 robust chassis adds more pulling...… read more

The size of your vehicle directly impacts how to choose the appropriate winch. You wouldn’t want an ATV winch on your Toyota Tundra, and a Jeep may not need the same SuperWinch Tigershark 17500 as Ford F-250. Rather than your wheelbase, which has a hand in determining your vehicle’s towing capacity, you’ll be primarily concerned with the gross vehicle weight. This is the weight of your vehicle, its passengers, and the weight it’s carrying on its axles, whether it’s cargo or the weight distributed from a towed trailer.

You can find your gross vehicle weight in a couple of ways. First, you can load up, head down to a set of truck scales, and get weighed. While highly accurate, this may or may not be representative of your usual off-roading setup. Second, you can take your curb weight and add the weight of your passengers and cargo, estimating where needed. This is less accurate and may fluctuate from trip to trip. How to choose a winch you know is ready for what you want to throw at it is to use the gross vehicle weight rating or GVWR. The GVWR is set by the manufacturer and represents the maximum weight your vehicle can manage, truck, passengers, and cargo, combined. 

Whichever method you choose, take this number, multiply it by 1.5, and round up to the next 500 pounds. This ensures you have a 4x4 winch with enough power to pull you out of trouble without unloading your truck all the way on the trail. As an example, the 2022 Ford Raptor has a GVWR of 7,050 pounds. Multiplying that by 1.5 would give us 10,575 pounds. Rounding it up to the next 500 pounds puts us at looking for winches that are rated to 11,000 pounds to ensure we have plenty of power when we need to use it.

Frequency Of Use

While you know how to choose a winch that can handle the weight you’re asking it to pull, there are different ways off-roaders use their winch, depending on their particular off-roading lifestyle, usual driving style, and the environmental conditions you’ll be using it under. Winches generate heat while in use, and powering through a near-maximum load generates even more. While a winch right at your proper level will be fine for emergency or occasional use, if you need to use a winch often to navigate rougher trails, pull yourself from extra deep mud, or in already warm temperatures, you may need a heavier winch or one with features that help mitigate the high workload.

Spooling Up Your Winch

A 4x4 winch doesn’t do you a lot of good if it can’t reach an anchor point to hook onto. Unfortunately, you can’t factor in every time you’ll actually use your winch in how you choose the winch for your truck or SUV. Instead, you have to consider your usual wheeling areas and how often anchor-ready points–large trees, rocks, etc.--are close to your route. In the end, more is generally better, but when you’re talking about an 80-foot cable, a difference of plus or minus 10-feet can easily be accommodated with accessories.

Winch Features To Look For

Warn ZEON 12-S Platinum Winch - 95960

Warn ZEON 12-S Platinum Winch - 95960


Warn ZEON 12-S Platinum Winch - 95960The Warn ZEON 12-S winch gives you a powerful recovery tool to help you get your off-road truck or...… read more

Your winch’s bells and whistles can absolutely be part of how you choose the right winch for your vehicle. Whether you choose a model that offers straight-forward power like the Rugged Ridge C12.5 or prefer the advanced features of a Warn ZEON 12S Platinum, with its synthetic line and wireless remote for controlling the winch and accessories, you’ll get a great pull, but they offer different usage experiences for their user. Only you can determine what features are a must-have for you.


Factor 55 UltraHook Winch Hook, Gray - 00250-06

Factor 55 UltraHook Winch Hook, Gray - 00250-06


UltraHook, GrayAll the benefits of closed-system winching with the versatility of having a hook. Originally developed to meet the needs of off-road racers who wanted...… read more

By itself, a 4x4 winch isn’t much more than a few pounds of metal hanging out on your truck. Knowing how to choose the winch accessories you need is just as important for winching success. You need a good hook for your winch, and the Factor 55 Ultrahook is a top-of-the-line piece of equipment that gives you a hood hold that’s versatile and tough as nails. You can never have too many shackles or D-rings to help you redirect your pull direction or provide a more solid connection for recovery. 

ARB Weekender Recovery Kit, Level 2 - RK12A

ARB Weekender Recovery Kit, Level 2 - RK12A


ARB Weekender Recovery Kit; Incl 17600 lb. Recovery Strap; 4.75T Shackles; Leather Recovery Gloves; ARB Compact Recovery Bag; - RK12AThe updated ARB Weekender Recovery kit sports a...… read more

Winch line extensions can give you a little more length when it’s needed for hard-to-reach anchor points. A recovery kit can get you started on some of these add-ons that will earn their place in your truck if an emergency happens.

Mount Up

Finally, you need a good place to mount your new winch. After learning how to choose a winch, this part should be easy. Plenty of options are available to fit your vehicle and winch. Entering your information at the top of the page when searching for winch mounts will help you find vehicle-specific models, like this SwarfWorks Hidden Winch Mount for the Gen. 2 Ford Raptor. Otherwise, browse our selection of mounts or take a look at adding an aftermarket bumper that is winch-ready. A good mount anchors the winch, giving you all the confidence you need for the biggest pulls.

We’re Ready To Help You Build Better

As experienced off-roaders, we’ve all been on one end of the winch or the other. If you need some guidance in picking your winch or need someone to talk you through an installation snag, give us a call. Our old-school customer service is available days, nights, and weekends to help you understand how to choose a winch, get it installed, and get to work using it. Order your 4x4 winch and accessories from Offroad Alliance today.

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