ATV & UTV: Winch Buying Guide

A winch is something you don’t need until you REALLY need one, so having one ready to go is always nice. It doesn’t matter if you get stuck in the mud, moving game, or getting some branches out of the way a winch is a must have for any ATV or Side by Side owner.

What winch should you buy?

This is always the next question I get asked. Everyone who owns an ATV knows they need a winch, but what is the best winch to buy?

What Size Do You Need?

All the winches you get have a size rating on them. Usually, the name describes the size of the winch you’re looking at. So a Superwinch Terra 35 (Amazon Link Ad)tells us that it’s a 3,500-pound winch. Some manufactures will place the 3,500 pounds in the name, but always make sure to double check the size rating.

What size you need depends on what you put it on. For example, a little 400cc ATV will need less of a winch than a 1000cc side by side.

Can you put a big winch on your ATV? You can go as big as you want to go so long as it will fit on your machine. There is no real point to put a 6,000-pound side by side/truck winch on your ATV because there is a good chance it just won’t fit in the mounting area.

3,500-pounds for ATV and 4,500 pounds for Side by Side. It really is that simple. I have two golden numbers when it comes to my machines, 3,500 for ATV and 4,500 for Side by Side. These are the just-right sizes for any machine, and I highly recommend sticking to these numbers.

3,500 or 4,500 is just too big? If you think 3,500 or 4,500 for a machine is too big, then we can figure out how low we can go.

To find out how much winch you need you will need to know the weight of your ATV or Side by Side.

The weight is something that most people don’t put to memory, so how do we figure this out? Well, you got to pull up the specs on your machine. I find the easiest way to pull up specs of my machine is to simply Google it. Let say I have a 2016 Can-AM Maverick xRS Turbo and I wanted to know the specs. I would type this into Google like so “2016 can am maverick xrs turbo weight”. This usually takes me to the PDF or somewhere on the site where I can find the weight of the Side by Side.

The machine in the example above has a dry weight of about 1,400 pounds. Keep in mind that this is the dry weight which means the weight of the machine without any fluids. You got to factor in fluids, rider weight, and any cargo weight you may carry.

I like to take the dry weight and round up to the nearest thousands and then double that to get what a good size rating for an ATV or UTV. So if we round 1,400-pounds up to 2,000-pounds and then double that we get 4,000-pounds for a winch.

This is why I use the golden number of 4,500-pounds for Side by Sides, but if you can find a 4,000-pound winch, it will work too.


How Much Should You Spend

How much you’re willing to pay can significantly affect what size winch you can get. The greater the pulling pounds, the more it will cost.

You can get 1,500-pound winches and all the way up to 6,000-pound winches with prices varying in-between them.

To be honest, where the prices are on winches these days I wouldn’t consider anything lower than 2,500-pounds.

Who Makes The Best One?

There is a lot of different manufacturers of winches and each with the pros and cons. Here are 3 top winches companies that I recommend in order of popularity according to me.

  1. Warn (Amazon Link Ad)
  2. Superwinch (Amazon Link Ad)
  3. Viper (Amazon Link Ad)

Don’t get me wrong, but I really do think you’re just paying for a name when you buy Warn. I have started to put only Superwinch on all my machines because they do just as good and often at an excellent price too. It’s not only me doing this, but big name ATV manufacturers are starting to ship Superwinch on their stock machines too.

Viper used to be the go to winch if you needed a good affordable winch, but Superwinch has done an excellent job covering all fields.

If you’re looking for a good all-around winch company, then I would go with Superwinch (Amazon Link Ad).

Before You Install

Before you start to install your winch you got to make sure you have the correct mounting bracket (Amazon Link Ad) for your ATV or Side by Side. Every manufacturer is different so make sure you get the correct one.

Is It Hard To Install?

I use to work at an ATV dealership, and I have had my fair share of installing winches on many different ATV’s and Side by Sides. I would say installing a winch on an ATV is not hard at all, in-fact I say removing the panels on the ATV is the hardest part.

Every manufacturer and every model are a bit different for ease of install. The good news is that many of the modern ATV and Side by Sides have become stupid easy to install since some come pre-wired. Since they’re pre-wired, all you got to do is place the winch in, set the contactor, and pop the button into place.

To understand how easy it is to install a winch its best to know how it works…

How an ATV winch works: A winch is very simple, you press a button. This button supplies a very weak current from the battery to the main contactor-relay. This powers up an electromagnet and attracts a contactor to it so that they can touch. Once the contactor touches, this completes the high-current side of the contactor which sends a massive amount of current from the battery to the winch so that the winch can move. Which direction the winch moves depends on the button you press and which contacts are connected due to pressing the button.

—>If any of that “how it works” was confusing don’t worry, the wiring is color coordinated. So red goes to red, blue goes to blue, and green goes to green.

Important: If you do plan to install a winch follow the direction closely and make sure to completely disconnect the battery from the ATV. I have a scar on my hand from installing something on an ATV because I didn’t disconnect the battery.

What Can You Use A Winch For?

If you don’t have a winch, you got to get one. It’s not a matter of if you get stuck, its a matter of when. Plus part of the fun is getting stuck!

A winch is used a lot more than just getting you out when you get in a rut. A winch is one of those things that spring into action when you least expect it. For example, my neighbor had a tree fall and needed it out of the way. Since I’m the only one with anything that is capable of moving such an item, the winch went to work and I got a few bucks because of it.

Let’s not forget about when old-man winter comes around and you need to plow some snow. Most plows require you to have a winch installed to raise and lower it.

Winch For Snow Plow: If you do plan on using your winch for snow, I’ve found that the best winch for snow is not found in the cheap models. Please, I have too many horrible stories of a cheap winch for a plow giving out because of the gears breaking in the cold. The snow and cold can be awful on winches, and I found Viper (Amazon Link Ad) to make some of the best winches for snow plowing.

A lot of guys will think a cheap 1,500-pound winch will be fine for snow plowing, but those little cheap ones are the first to go in such a condition. 

A Little Story: I’ve installed so many winches that I even custom installed one on the back of my ATV. I have a picture of it right below. I always had to move brush and other small objects and I found it easier to back up to them and hook my winch up and then drive forward. I don’t recommend anyone do this, thought it would be interesting to some.

winch on back of atv

What Are You Forgetting?

So you know what winch you want, what else could there be that you would need?

A Synthetic Winch Rope (Amazon Link Ad)!

Unless you enjoy small cuts on your hands (wear gloves anyways) then you need Synthetic Rope.

I know it sounds crazy that “rope” can work just as fine as cable, but it does! It works so well that many winch manufacturers are shipping with the Synthetic Rope already on. If you winch didn’t come with it then it’s worth it to pick one up.

I also have some tips on how to use a winch here. I also go into detail about how to increase the pulling power of your winch with some accessories.