Hitch mounted winches are a lifesaver when you get your jeep or truck irreversibly stuck. Off-road vehicles can handle a lot of rough situations, and traverse extremely difficult terrain, but even the most experienced off-roader will get immobilized from time to time. B
e it mud, sand, snow or an oversized rut, if you are seriously into off-roading, a hitch mounted winch gives you the peace of mind you need to overcome any obstacle.
Winches are not limited to just pulling vehicles out of difficult terrain. They can be extremely useful in a wide variety of other situations as well.
Your intended application will determine whether the winch is installed at the front or the back of your vehicle. You can use your hitch mounted winch to load and unload heavy items such as boats and vehicles onto and off trailers. They can, with the right setup, also be used to lift and hold items off the ground which is useful for removing jeep roofs and truck bed covers, and any heavy lifting you need to do.
There are three main types of winches, and they are differentiated by where and how they mount onto your vehicle. They are: hitch mounted winch plates, frame mounted winch plates and winch compatible bumpers, which can be either aluminum or steel. In this article we will be focusing exclusively on hitch mounted models, as they are the most versatile and require the least amount of installation.
A hitch mounted winch plate fits directly onto your existing hitch receiver. They can also be used on the front of your vehicle, but you will have to install an additional hitch receiver if you don’t already have one under your front bumper.
Hitch mounted winches are generally more versatile than frame mounted ones, and have the advantage of being easily removable when not in use. They are sometimes referred to as multi-mounted winches.
3 Best Hitch-Mounted Winches
|Ranking||Product Name||Pull Power||Horsepower||Weight||Review||Price|
|#1||WARN 37441 XD9000i 9000-lb Multi-Mount Winch Kit||9.000lbs||4.6HP||111.3lbs||Read Review|
|#2||Superwinch 1145220 Terra 45 ATV & Utility Winch||4500lbs||1.6HP||22.1lbs||Read Review|
|#3||Champion Power Equipment 10587 Winch with Speed Mount Hitch Adapter - 10,000 lb Capacity||10.000lbs||3.6HP||143lbs||Read Review|
Finding a Hitch Mounted Winch That Works for You
An electric hitch mounted winch can be an extremely valuable addition to your vehicle, and can set you back a pretty penny. This is why it is important to take care when choosing the model you want to buy. If you opt for a model that does not have the level of performance needed to pull you out of a tricky situation, you might find yourself truly stuck.
There is no one winch that will be perfect in every conceivable situation and setup, so the first step towards making the right choice is to clearly define what you need from a hitch mounted winch. Hardcore off-roaders who regularly take on rough terrain will need a significantly different winch than a truck owner who just wants that extra peace of mind.
Here are a couple of key questions you should ask yourself before picking up that credit card.
Can My Vehicle Support a Winch?
This is an important first question to ask yourself, as winches require a lot of juice, and might drain your car’s electric system if it is not beefy enough. To operate a 12 volt winch safely, there are some minimal electrical requirements that your SUV, truck or jeep must meet.
For starters, your vehicle must have at least a 60 amp alternator; otherwise your battery could get drained. The battery itself needs to have at least 440 cold-cranking amps, with some manufacturers recommending at least 660. It is always a good idea to check the specific minimum requirements with the manufacturer before making your purchase.
How Often Will You Use Your Winch?
How frequently you plan on using your winch will affect the model of winch you should choose. Occasional, casual users will probably not have to go for the most powerful model. If you do plan on winching a lot, a more powerful model is recommended as it will be less prone to wear and tear caused by frequent use.
Using your winch regularly, and for prolonged periods of time might also require extra hardware. An auxiliary battery and a heavy duty alternator are a good idea if you want to be able to start your vehicle after all that winching. Installing an additional battery will require a battery isolator.
Is Winching Speed Important for You?
If you plan on using your winch for auto-recovery, chances are that winching speed is not on the top of your list of priorities. On the other hand, if you need to perform a task frequently, like winching your boat on and off your trailer into the water, you might want something that gets the job done faster.
The speed of winching depends on what kind of gearing your winch has. The first gearing option is a worm gear, where one gear is shaped like a screw whose rotation turns gears or sprockets that are connected to it.
The second option is a planetary gear train. In this setup one gear, located in the middle, turns three or four sprockets that, in turn, make a larger sprocket around them rotate.
The worm gear is more powerful, but turns more slowly. The planetary gear has less pulling power, but can generate significantly more speed. The planetary gearing system allows for movement in both directions, while the worm gear cannot be reversed by the load it is pulling.
What Will You Use Your Winch for?
One specific winch model might be more suited to some uses than others. Hitch mounted winches generally fall into one of two categories; they can be either recovery winches or trailer winches.
As the name suggests, recovery winches are used to get your ATV out of a sticky situation when it gets stuck in rough terrain. This can be done either by looping the cable around an immovable object, like a tree, or by using another vehicle.
Trailer hitches are used to pull loads onto trailers, and are quite different in performance and characteristics. The manufacturer will usually state if a winch model is more suited to ATV recovery or trailer use.
What is Your Rolling Weight?
If you plan on winching anything with wheels onto your trailer, it is important to know the rolling weight of your load. Pulling something up a slope requires significantly more power than winching horizontally, as you are overcoming gravity. The greater the angle of the slope you are winching on, the more power your winch will need to produce to pull your load.
To find out the minimum rated line pull you will need from your trailer winch, you will need to know your gross vehicle weight as well as the grade of your ramp. The gross vehicle weight is the curb weight of the vehicle you want to tow plus the weight of all the items in that vehicle. The grade of your ramp is the number you get by dividing the height of the ramp by its length.
Now that you know both your gross vehicle weight, or GVW, and the grade percentage of your ramp, you have all that you need to determine your minimum rated line pull. There are many charts and tables available online to help you work out how much line pull you will need for different loads at different gradients.
Selection Criteria: How We Ranked the Best Hitch Mounted Winches
When you start researching hitch mounted winches, you will come across a lot of statistics and measurements. While some parameters might be instrumental to your final decision, others might not be that important to you.
To help you differentiate between the models on our list, we have chosen a set of selection criteria that is universal for any winch. These characteristics are: hauling capacity, weight, horsepower, power source, cable length and cable material. Here is a breakdown of these metrics, and how they affect performance.
The pull power is the amount of weight your winch can safely haul, and in the world of winches, bigger is usually better. Larger winches are usually more heavy-duty and have better performance than smaller models. A rule of thumb is that your winch should have a hauling capacity of at least double that of the weight of your vehicle.
A high-quality, powerful winch will not be light. The weight of your winch can be an important metric in situations where you plan to mount and dismount it regularly, or if your vehicle is itself light and could not support an ultra-heavy winch.
A heavier winch puts more day to day strain on your vehicle, so your hitch needs to be in ship shape. If you have no weight restrictions, heavier does tend to mean better.
Once you have decided on how beefy your winch needs to be, the next thing to consider is how you want to power it. The two most common types of winches are electric and hydraulic.
There are also manual winches available. But we will leave them off our list and focus on the more powerful options.
Hydraulic winches hook up to the steering pump of your car and rely on that hydraulic pressure to power the winch. They are quite a challenge to install correctly, so they are recommended only for more committed users. In addition, they are often slower than their electric counterparts. That being said, they do have some advantages over electric models.
- First, they do not use your vehicle’s battery, so they are more reliable and there is no risk of draining your battery and leaving you immobilized. Another advantage of hydraulic models is that they are more waterproof than electric ones, and thus better suited to wet and muddy conditions. All of this high performance comes at a cost, as hydraulic models are priced above electric ones.
The motor of an electric winch is powered by your vehicle’s battery. They are cheaper and quicker than hydraulic models and have accelerated winding speeds, but can drain your battery. You can protect against this by installing additional batteries for backup.
Modern electric winches are easy to install and quite simple to use, with some models even having remote controls. The most important thing to check before buying an electric winch is if your battery rating provides enough voltage to power both your winch and your vehicle. In addition, your alternator output should also be high enough to meet the needs of your electrical system.
The performance of any motor is defined by how much horsepower it produces, and winches are no exception. The amount of horsepower varies from model to model, but anything above four horsepower can be considered a powerful motor. It is generally better to go for a more powerful model, even if you do not anticipate needing that much power in the immediate future.
The length of your cable is a measure of the maximum reach of your winch, but also has a major effect on its pulling power. The power of your winch decreases with the length of cable you are pulling, and will be significantly depleted when winching at maximum length.
The strength ratings on all winches are rated for the first few feet of cable, i.e. the first wrap of drum, where the pulling power is greatest.
Another reason you should not necessarily overload your winch with line is that excessive cable length can leave your winch more prone to damage, especially during extreme angle pulls. This happens because the winch line does not spool correctly. It can end up spooling on one side and touching the winch’s spreader bars, and this can overload it and damage both your cable and your winch.
That being said, there will be situations where you will need a good length of cable. For example, if you are stuck in a rut in the middle of nowhere and the nearest tree or other immovable anchor point is some way away. If this is the case, there are many winch line extensions you can buy and use when necessary, without permanently overloading your winch.
Many experts recommend choosing a shorter winch line than the one that is factory supplied. Ideally, the line should be 10’ – 20’ shorter, which will not only increase the efficiency of your winch, but will also ensure correct spooling and minimize the possibility of damage.
Any hitch mounted winch is only as good as its cable, as this is the single most important and delicate part when utilizing your winch. Cable snapping is a worst case scenario that can lead to serious damage and injury.
Whenever your winch is under pressure, it is important to be aware of the danger zone and keep well clear of it. If you must walk over your cable, always step on it and then over to avoid any chance of devastating injury.
There is quite a lot of debate among winching enthusiasts over which is the superior cable material. Steel represents the old-school traditional approach, while synthetic materials are being used with increasing frequency. Both materials have their unique advantages and drawbacks.
Steel is the most affordable and ubiquitous option currently available on the market. These cables are extremely durable, strong and long lasting.
People also like them for their resistance to abrasion and resilience to damage that friction induces. They can take a lot of punishment.
The downside is that, if it does snap, a steel cable can cause some devastating damage and injury. That is because it retains a lot of force that rapidly releases in the event of a break.
The synthetic cable, on the other hand, retains a lot less energy if it snaps. They are a lot lighter than steel cables and are not prone to rust. However, they do not cope so well with abrasion.
In addition, synthetic lines are a lot more easy to handle than steel ones. However, pros recommend synthetic lines for users with more experience. That is because they are more prone to snapping than steel lines if you do not use them properly.
Even so, companies still rated them as safer than steel cables. A good tip is to start off with a steel line, then transition to synthetic as you gain more winching skills and experience.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How do I Maintain my Winch?
Doing routine maintenance on your winch is just as important as maintaining your vehicle. Winches are extremely prone to the accumulation of debris and dirt, so routinely washing down and cleaning your winch is necessary.
Even if you do not see any dirt, it is important to inspect your winch regularly for signs of wear and tear and replace any damaged parts as soon as they are discovered.
If you notice any signs of corrosion, use a coat of adequate protective product to nip corrosion build-up in the bud. Pay special attention to the motor and gear box, as corrosion to these parts can cause the most damage in the long run.
It is also important to regularly check that the clutches are in tip top shape by releasing and setting them during wash down and inspection. You should also do an occasional greasing of the clutch cones using waterproof grease.
Last but not least, you should always keep an eye on the condition of your cable. It is the weakest point of your setup. It also has the biggest potential for damage if it fails.
A visual inspection of your cable is a must before and after every use. Be on the lookout for spliced wires or fraying. Also watch for other signs of damage and wear and tear. If you notice anything irregular, it is always better to replace the cable than to risk damage or injury.
Why Should I Weigh the Cable?
An experienced winch operator weighs down the cable for every winching without giving it a second thought. This is an extremely important safety measure that it can be easy to overlook. So it is good to know exactly why this should be a necessity rather than an optional precaution.
Whether you are using a steel or synthetic cable, you should plan for the worst case scenario. That would be a snap in the line.
In the event of a cable break, an enormous amount of energy releases explosively. It can even be potentially deadly. Weighing the cable down will prevent the cable from flying dangerously through the air in if the line lets go.
You can use almost anything to hold down the cable: be it a professional winch weight or a heavy tarp or blanket. In a pinch, you can even use another rope or strap hung over your cable.
Having a heavy object over your taut cable has the additional advantage of making the cable more visible, increasing the safety of any potential passers-by that might otherwise not see the cable.
Are Gloves Necessary When Winching?
Winching involves a lot of force, friction and moving parts, so a moment of inattention can lead to all sorts of injury. Wearing gloves while winching will go a long way towards protecting your hands from burns and more serious injuries. Ropes, cables, hooks and other winch parts can exert a lot of friction, so never grab any part of the winch with your bare hands when it is in operation.
How Do I Re-spool the Cable?
Once you are done winching, all of that cable needs to go back onto the winch in a safe and organized way. If you do not re-spool correctly, you risk an ugly looking winch at best, and serious damage and wear at worst.
Before you first use your winch, it is a good idea to re-spool your cable, as it does not come pre-tensioned (re-spooled under load) out of the box. This should ideally be a two man job, as you will need to guide the rope/cable neatly on the drum.
The easiest way to re-spool is to secure your cable to another vehicle or immovable object and slowly activate your winch. A slight incline is desirable, as this will put just enough tension on your cable and rope to secure a snug wrap.
Keep winching until you have almost come to the end of your cable, then detach it and pull on the cable using gloves while continuing to winch. These last few feet do not need to be under a lot of tension, as you will pull them out the next time you need to winch.
Can I Use a Tow Ball as an Anchor Point?
When looking for an appropriate anchor point, you might want to use a tow ball or hitch of another vehicle. This is an extremely bad idea. You should never use a tow ball as an anchor point, under any circumstances.
A tow ball is especially for taking a lot of downward force only. A winch under full load can rip the tow ball clean off. That would turn it into an extremely dangerous projectile.
Can I Pull From an Angle?
If you pull from an angle, you are risking damage to the cable or the winch itself. The angle, however slight, will cause your cable to improperly wrap around the roller. That in turn increases strain and weakens your whole setup.
Pulling from an angle also decreases the total force your winch can output. Ideally, your anchor point should be directly in front of your vehicle. That is even if it is further away than one at an angle. If you really have no other choice, winch at an angle but be careful not to damage your winch or cable.
How Long Can the Winch Run?
You should avoid running your winch in continuity for a prolonged period of time, for a variety of reasons. First, extended winching can cause your winch motor to overheat, and this can lead to a show stopping failure.
Second, and more importantly, prolonged winching can drain your car battery. If you are using an electric winch, make sure your ignition is on. A good rule of thumb is to let your winch cool down after 30 seconds of winching, then continue after a short break.
Can a Winch be Used as a Hoist?
Winches and hoists use vastly different types of breaking systems. Pros do not recommend that you use a winch as a hoist. Winches have dynamic breaks that serve to automatically hold the load by utilizing winch gears to provide resistance. This means that a suspended load could slip, or the gears could be damaged.
If you absolutely must use a winch to hoist, do not hoist more than one fifth of the winches’ pulling weight. Hoists are especially for the job of lifting and holding heavy objects, so it is always better to use the right tool for the job. As with any hoist, make sure you maintain a people-free zone beneath and around the item you are hoisting.
There are a mind-boggling number of winches to choose from. It is easy to get lost in the stats. We have gone through a lot of models, read the reviews, watched the videos and compiled a list of our favourite winches.
Each product review contains both the high and low points of each model, as well as an overview of user experiences and reviews as well as any special considerations that might come with each model.
Research & Reviews
Our #1 Pick: WARN 37441 XD9000i 9000-lb Multi-Mount Winch Kit
- Pull Power: 9.000 lbs.
- Horsepower: 4.6HP
- Weight: 111.3 lbs.
- High points: Reliable high performance winch with a lot of power. Limited lifetime warranty.
- Low points: Vague installation instructions. Very pricey.
Our number one pick is the seriously heavy-duty WARN 37441 XD9000i 9000-lb. Multi-Mount Winch. With a maximum pulling capacity of 9000 lbs., there is no winching situation that you will not be able to handle. The beefy 4.6 horsepower series sound motor puts out a lot of torque and power at an impressive no load retrieval line speed of 38 feet per minute.
The multi mount winch kit easily plugs into any standard two inch class 3 receiver hitch. It connects to your vehicles electronics via Quick Connect plugs. A limited lifetime warranty backs it up.
This winch model also comes with a sturdy no-nonsense remote. It has a 12 feet lead so you can activate your winch from a safe distance.
Warn has been producing quality off-road winches for over 70 years in the U.S. So they offer quite a lot of peace of mind. That is especially when you compare them to off brand models.
Warn winches perform consistently well in all weather conditions. They consist of high quality materials, without flimsy plastic pieces.
The WARN 37441 is a perfect choice for full size rigs and heavier recovery situations. All of this performance does come at a hefty price tag at over a thousand dollars.
Are you a casual off-roader or simply do not need extremely high performance? If so, this winch might be overkill for your needs. However, it is probably the last winch you will ever need.
What Reviewers Say
The WARN 37441 XD9000i 9000-lb. Multi-Mount Winch Kit received universally glowing reviews. People have hailed this model as a top tier product.
Installation is relatively simple. Users did not report any major setbacks during installation.
The one pet peeve that popped up was that the installation manual is somewhat lacking. Fortunately, there are instructional videos online that take the guesswork out of the initial setup.
Some reviewers needed to use the winch both on the front and rear of their vehicle. They reported that the winch was straightforward and simple to move from one hitch to another.
It is important to note that the winch comes with just one wire kit. So if you want to use it on both front and rear you will have to purchase another one in order to wire everything up.
Versatility is a word that pops into mind when reading user reviews. People used this winch for a wide variety of jobs. Those included tasks from felling trees to auto recovery. That was in addition to winching loads onto trailers.
The cable that comes with the winch is a generous 125 feet. So there was no need to purchase additional cables or extensions.
Features and Considerations
Before buying this model, make sure you get a detailed measurement of how much space it will take once mounted. There are some models of vehicle where the control box can partially obscure the passenger side parking or turn lights.
The winch comes with most of the hardware you will need for installation. But prepare to purchase additional nuts, bolts and screws.
There are some square nuts that do not come pre supplied. However, are an integral part of the installation.
The Next Best: Superwinch 1145220 Terra 45 ATV & Utility Winch
- Pull Power: 4500 lbs.
- Horsepower: 1.6HP
- Weight: 22.1 lbs.
- High points: Light and affordable, easy to install and use.
- Low points: Low pulling power, not for extreme winching.
The next best model on our list is the Superwinch 1145220 Terra 45 ATV & Utility Winch, and it earns its place on our list thanks to its extremely high value for money. On the low end of the winch price range, this small winch can pack a lot of punch. If you do not plan on winching more than 4500 lbs., you cannot go wrong with this model.
The Superwinch 1145220 Terra 45 ATV & Utility Winch has extremely low amp draw and is highly efficient so you will not have to worry about draining your car battery. The winch uses a wide planetary gear and oil pocket bronze gearings, so you can winch light loads pretty fast. The winch comes with 55 feet of quarter inch steel wire rope. That is not that long, but sufficient for casual users.
What Reviewers Say
There were situations when the winch was not up to the job. However, in all these cases the loads exceeded 4500 lbs.
A thing that came up often in reviews was how quiet the winch is, which reviewers found to be very interesting and valuable. As a light winch for occasional use, there were no significant complaints.
Some users found issue with the mounting of the circuit breaker. It exposes the body to 12v and requires some additional isolation.
However, this problem is quite easy to fix. You can use any isolating material to keep the circuit breaker from coming in contact with metal.
Features and Considerations
At its price point and performance characteristics, the Superwinch 1145220 Terra 45 ATV & Utility Winch is best utilized for trailer winching and use on ATVs. You can also install the winch on the bed of a pickup truck for pulling motorbikes, ATVs and boats onto your truck.
Our Next Favorite: Champion Power Equipment 10587 Winch with Speed Mount Hitch Adapter - 10,000 lb Capacity
- Pull Power: 10,000 lbs.
- Horsepower: 3.6HP
- Weight: 143 lbs.
- High points: Great value for money. Quick and easy to mount. Extremely durable.
- Low points: Extremely heavy, prone to rust and corrosion if not well maintained. Can be unreliable for extremely frequent use.
The Champion Power Equipment 10587 Winch is a real heavyweight, weighing in at almost 150 pounds. It is however extremely easy to attach and remove from your hitch receiver.
That is, if you are strong enough to lift it on your own thanks to its unique speed mount hitch adapter. With a pull power of 10,000 lbs. it is one of the strongest winches on our list.
The remote control comes with a six foot lead. The winch speed is around 4.6 feet per minute when fully loaded at 400 amps.
This model has a unique clutch system that ensures easy free-spooling. This winch is compatible with any front or rear end class III hitch receiver.
This model comes with 85 feet of 3/8 inch galvanized aircraft cable. It is strong and sturdy enough to safely tow oversized loads. The gear reduction ratio is 216:1, which is impressive for such a relatively inexpensive winch.
What Reviewers Say
Most of the reviewers commented on the extreme weight of this model, and highly recommended you enlist a pair of helping hands to help with installation. The installation itself is extremely simple, as the winch quickly and easily slides into the hitch receiver, tool free.
This winch is great for first-time winchers. It comes with everything you need to begin right out of the box. This includes the hitch mount, pulley blocks and all the wiring needed for installation.
Features and Considerations
For its price, the Champion Power Equipment 10587 really does provide an enormous amount of pulling power. However, it does not necessarily stand up to strenuous everyday use. If you need to winch heavily on a daily basis, you are better off going with a more expensive model.