A portable 12 volt electric winch can be an absolute life saver. You may think of fat tires and 4×4’s and grill guards when I say winches…but that isn’t the case. A winch can be a useful tool on any vehicle. You can have a winch permanently mounted on your rig for any trouble you may have…or you can have a mounting bracket mounted to your car or truck and remove the winch to be stored in a trunk or toolbox until you need it. I have used them both ways.
If you slide off the road because of icy conditions, anyone with a heavier car should be able to get you out. (If you are not stuck in a huge drift or tangled in a fence or something.) It can help you pull your own car out if you can hook to a solid tree or pole. Winches are useful for many circumstances that come up.
We have even mounted them on trailers so we could pull dead rigs up onto the trailer. It is an amazing tool that is relatively inexpensive. In my opinion, every trailer that is designed to haul cars or atv’s should have a winch mount. If you have a 12 volt winch to assist in loading a car, you can ease it onto the trailer. It prevents having to gun it up the ramps and slamming on the brakes to prevent overshooting. Put the car in low and crawl up…no muss or fuss. .. no screaming or cussing.
We have had a couple over the years, and we have pulled people out of ditches, pulled ourselves out of bad spots, pulled game up the hill during hunting season, pulled logs to the truck for firewood, loaded cars to go to the repair shop and so much more. I will list the winches we have had over the years. and some of the features we liked and didn’t about each.
1. Powerwinch– Powerwinch is made in the US, and is a fairly solid winch. They were the first affordable smaller winch available. They are designed for loading boats onto trailers. They are all gears inside of a hard plastic case. They have plenty of power, but we have killed two by stripping the teeth off the drive gear. It all fairness we were trying to load something that was plenty far over the recommended weight limit. If you have a fixed location to mount and leave, I would consider this one. I wouldn’t make this one portable, just because of weight.
2.Champion – We bought a 2000 lb Champion winch a couple of years ago, and it has been a great little winch. It is a bit small for loading most of my pickups, though it can in a pinch. It is designed for small cars and ATV’s. It is a great helper for things you might use a come-along to pull. It assists in so many smaller moving jobs, like moving heavy stuff in the yard or pulling a dead tree off the road. It is small but mighty. And Champion makes several larger sizes, I am just telling you about the ones we have.
3. Badlands– We bought our 5000 lb Badland Winch at Harbor Freight this year. So far it has been great. It was easy to set up and mount. And it has done everything we asked it to do. My in-laws bought one last year. They bought the cordless controller also. That is a nice upgrade, that can be added to most heavier Badland Winches. Harbor Freight has a nice selection of winches and accessories. They carry most of the extras that make using a winch more versatile.
4.WARN – Warn winches are the standard by which all others are measured. The company has been around forever, and they are top dog for a reason. Their winches are the best. If you talk to guys who use winches in their work everyday, they will say buy a Warn. If you talk to guys who offroad all the time, they will say get a Warn. The only problem with Warn is the cost. They are out of some folks price point. They can cost 4x as much as a similar winch from a different brand. If you are not using it everyday, you might not want to invest that. But if you have the money, and its for emergencies, maybe you do.
I listed the ones that I have owned, and ranked them according to my experiences. If I had to buy a new winch tomorrow, it would be a Badland or a Warn, depending on the state of my checkbook.
History and Features
If you have never shopped for a winch, I will try to explain some of the features so you can make a more informed choice.
In the old days, winches were one directional. You would pull a button and the drum would be free. You grabbed the hook, and free spool the cable out to the length you wanted, pushed the button back in to lock the drum and used the control toggle to pull the dead weight. The control was usually located on the winch itself. This set up is fine if you are pulling a dead car to you and the winch, but if the winch is attached to the stuck rig, that puts you in the path of the moving vehicle and right next to the cable…not ideal.
Then power in/power out was developed. This allows you to pull a weight in (like onto a trailer), then at your destination it allows you to control the descent of the weight to its resting position. This is vastly better than giving it a push and hoping for the best. Most of these still have a free spool option, so you can run the cable out and get everything set without running the motor. This generation of winches also developed the remote. (Think about old RC cars with the remote and a leash. ) Remote means away from the winch, not cordless. Having the controls on a leash allows you to have better visuals, and to get away from the cable and out of the way of the vehicles that could be moving. Most of these control leads are between 6′ and 25′ long.
The newest innovation for winches is a wireless remote. You can plug a fob into the winch in the control lead port, and have freedom to move anywhere within 50′ of the winch. This can be a great help at times. These wireless controls are usually sold as an aftermarket accessory. They are not compatible with some older or smaller winches. Be sure to buy a winch that is compatible it you are interested in a wireless remote. I know Harbor freight has these for the bigger Badland winches.
If I am shopping for a winch, I would look at the loaded weight of my vehicle, and add at least a thousand pounds. (The loaded weight of your car is a car full of fuel, loaded with luggage, people and emergency gear.) That would be my minimum winch weight. If my car weighs 4000 lbs, I would buy at least a 5000 lb winch. Keep in mind that a car with a flat tire or a dragging brake creates a lot of resistance for the winch to overcome.
Most winches can pull more than they are rated for, but doing so can cause them to overheat which melts the guts out of the winch, or drains your battery which causes other problems. Buying a bigger winch allows the winch to work quickly and effectively, which extends the life of the winch and gets you unstuck faster.