There are many handy and fun accessories available for ATVs and UTVs. For the utility crown, the most common and popular is the winch. Whether it’s being employed to pull out a stuck vehicle or pull a heavy load from the bush, a winch has a lot of uses.

As with any accessory, selecting the right winch for you and your needs is key to getting the most from your purchase. There are also some key things you need to do to keep yourself safe while using one.

Picking the right one

I don’t want to seem like I’m just promoting one brand over another, but if you look at just about every ATV manufacturer and what they offer for an accessory winch, there is only one brand that keeps coming up—Warn Industries. Why is that? While some may argue that Warn stacks the deck, it is more a matter of being the industry leader.

But lets just look at the basics of winches for now and not at the brand name. There are several things to consider and the biggest is how much weight the winch is rated for. ATV/UTV winches come in ratings from 1,500 pounds to 4,500 pounds of pulling weight. You’ll have a hard time finding the 1,500-pound winches anymore. There wasn’t a lot of reason to go that route when the next-size winch was similarly priced.

So do you really need a 4,500-pound capacity winch for your side-by-side (SxS)? Maybe. It depends on what you want it to do.

First, look at the weight of your machine. For the purpose of example, I’m going to use a 2014 Kawasaki Teryx SxS. The Teryx has a curb weight of 1,558 pounds. Curb weight is the weight of the machine with all the fluids and such needed to operate, including a full tank of gas. This doesn’t include the driver and possible passengers, or any other gear. So right off the bat, 1,500 pounds wouldn’t work for the Teryx. Many manufacturers have a dry weight listed in the specs of your machine. Make sure you take the weight of the fluids and normal stuff into account when thinking of winches.

Secondly, look at what you haul with your ATV or SxS. A farmer hauling 1,000 pounds of feed is going to need a bigger winch than a weekend trail rider hauling a cooler full of snacks and beverages. Hunters, who are a huge market for winches, should consider how big the game animal they might be after is, or what other uses the winch might come into play with.

Third, look at the type of terrain you have in your area or areas you might go into with your vehicle. One of the major reasons to have a winch is for vehicle recovery when you get stuck. Going back to my test vehicle, the Kawasaki Teryx, I know that getting it stuck isn’t very easy, so given where I do most of my riding, what is going to cause the thing to get stuck? Most often that will be getting it hung up on a big log, or getting it stuck in snow.

The ProVantage series is Warn’s top-of-the-line offering.
The ProVantage series is Warn’s top-of-the-line offering.

The fourth area to look at is budget. I know, who likes to take pesky things like money into consideration? We don’t all have endless amounts of cash lying around, so when we buy something, it should be the right fit for what we can afford, right? That’s one of the major reasons to consider buying the very-best winch you can afford.

A friend of mine bought a winch for his ATV to use plowing snow. He found a $100 “brand-X” deal that was rated at 1,500 pounds. Considering that he was just going to use it for raising and lowering his plow, he thought he was good-to-go. After a typical Michigan winter, the winch was worn-out. The gears weren’t engaging and the winch was worthless. He then had to replace it with a $350 winch and has had no problems since.

The better winches, such as the Warn ProVantage, have heavy-duty gears, precision-machined internals, and a clutching system that keeps things smooth as can be. I’m not trying to sound like an ad for Warn’s products, but this truly is the best winch you can get, and it is what most ATV and SxS manufacturers carry as a “house-brand” winch. You spend the cash one time and have a winch for the life of your machine.

For my project Teryx, I went with Warn’s ProVantage 2,500-pound winch that I got directly through Kawasaki’s accessories division. I considered going with a bigger winch, but decided I really didn’t need to spend the extra money for winching power I really didn’t need.

The best reason to buy a winch through a dealership is that the manufacturer makes sure the winch fits the machine. In this case, the ProVantage is already set to attach right on the frame of the Teryx. Wiring the winch is a bit of a challenge, but if you get in over your head, the dealership can help. Some manufacturers sell so many winch kits with their ATVs that the machines come pre-wired for the installation. The Teryx wasn’t pre-wired, but the frame had the mounting point ready to rock.

I mounted the controls for the ProVantage in the dash of the Teryx. It makes it convenient if I mount a plow. There is also a port for adding a remote control.
I mounted the controls for the ProVantage in the dash of the Teryx. It makes it convenient if I mount a plow. There is also a port for adding a remote control.

Using a winch

There is a lot more to using a winch than just raising and lowering your snowplow, if you even have a plow. The main reason to have a winch is to pull you out when you get stuck. Notice I didn’t say “if” you get stuck. Other reasons revolve around dragging something out of a tight area that you otherwise couldn’t, like a cut tree, for example. There are a couple of methods for pulling to keep in mind.

The single-line method is the most common method for using a winch. A single-line pull means that you attach the cable directly to a tree or to the object you’re pulling. The pulling capacity of the winch does not change, meaning a 2,500-pound winch will pull 1,500 pounds with a single-line.

The double-line method, however, effectively doubles the pulling capacity of the winch and is achieved by using a pulley block. When using a pulley block, the winch’s hook and cable are wrapped around the pulley block and then attached back onto the ATV. The pulley block can be anchored on a secure object (tree) to pull your ATV, and the winch, out of trouble. The other method is to secure the pulley block to a heavy load that is then pulled toward the winch. In either case, a 2,500-pound winch will act like a 5,000-pound winch. This is why I didn’t feel compelled to buy more than a 2,500-pound winch.

Remember—don’t try to get too much from your winch. A steel cable that is stressed beyond its capacity will snap. The results can be devastating to anyone standing nearby. Most manufacturers recommend that when pulling with your winch, the smart thing to do is place a heavy blanket or coat over the middle of the cable to reduce the whipping action that is created when an over-stressed cable breaks. Consult your owner’s manual for details on use.

Happy winching!

Images by Derrek Sigler

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