Winch Tech – An In-Depth Look at Winches

Winches are a quickly growing product market in the off road parts industry. Along with big name companies like Mile Marker or Warn winches offering up contributions, smaller niche-market companies are beginning to join the fray.

While the general premise of off road recovery and utility has remained the same, new advancements in winch technology make choosing the right winch more difficult than one might suspect.

Whether it’s a military-grade Mile Marker hydraulic or sophisticated X-series Warn winches, it’s no secret that a winch is a complicated piece of equipment, but then who could expect any differently.

Here we’ll take a closer look at several parts that make up a winch, taking into consideration more technical factors that normally go overlooked when ultimately deciding on one to purchase.

The Framework of a Winch

Think of a winch as its own individual vehicle with its own internal components. Listed here are the interrelated pieces that come together to deliver enough power to pull a few tons out of a jam.

Keep in mind that items like winch rope, fairleads, or other such universal winch parts are not the focus here, but rather parts that are factors in the makeup of a winch.

Drivetrain

Winches come in different drivetrain configurations, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. While there is no do-all universal drivetrain system that can handle anything and everything that comes its way, the good news is it’s hard to make a wrong choice.

Here are the 3 types of drivetrains most commonly found in winches:

Spur Gear: The basic design of a Spur Gear winch dates back to the 1960s, yet still remains a practical choice today. Spur Gear winches excel at providing dependable winching with a faster line speed than other drivetrain types; however, this comes at the cost of less stability when holding loads, particularly without a strong brake.
Worm Gear: Think of Worm Gear Drivetrains as something of a polar opposite of Spur Gear drivetrains. They specialize in holding and lowering heavy loads, making them ideal for industrial and workman application — you’ll find many tow trucks equipped with Worm Gear drivetrains. On the other hand, the main drawback is their slower pulling speed.
Planetary Gear: Planetary Gear drivetrains are like the healthy median between Spur and Worm Gear ones. They offer middle-ground line speed and load holding, which is more than enough to handle most any situation. Additionally, Planetary Gear drivetrains have been optimized over the years. Their more compact and lightweight composition makes them the most cost-efficient of the 3 drivetrain types. On the downside, heat-accumulation, particularly in or around the brake components, is something of an issue with Planetary Gear drivetrains and should be monitored closely during operation.
Motor
As if different drivetrain types didn’t complicate a purchase decision enough already, a winch motor is also a factor in choosing your winch. Thankfully, there are only two kinds of winch motors to consider.

Permanent Magnetic (PM): Permanent Magnetic motor winches are for those who don’t find themselves in dire recovery situations very often. They produce a decent amount of pulling power with more energy efficiency, and also typically cost less. Many lower capacity model Smittybilt, Superwinch, T-Max and Warn winches to offer PM motors. Unfortunately, PM motor winches might not have the steam to get you out of the most difficult and heavy duty jams. They also don’t hold up well in colder weather and are less tolerant to heat buildup during a strenuous pull.
Series Wound (SW): For the hardcore off road enthusiast needing some major pulling power, an SW motor winch is built to handle the toughest of recovery jobs, and even holds up well in adverse weather. Many high-performance feature-packed Mile Marker and Warn winches to come equipped with SW motors. On the other hand, the added performance of an SW motor winch typically makes them more expensive, and sometimes requires upgrades to your battery, alternator, or other electrical components in order to achieve its true performance potential.
Electric vs. Hydraulic Winches
Ah, the age-old argument of electric versus hydraulic winches. Really, there’s no sense in getting worked up over which one is better, since both are fine products for getting the job done, and both have their limitations as well.

Electric Winches An electric winch is exactly as its name would suggest: it is electrically powered by a vehicle’s battery, and as a result, its duty cycle is limited by the amount of juice in your battery. Oftentimes, it is wise to run your engine while operating an electric winch to prevent your battery from fully draining. For heavier duty electrics, upgrades to your battery, alternator or other vehicle components may be a good idea as well.
Hydraulic Winches A hydraulic winch is powered by a vehicle’s power steering pump. What this means is that they are capable of an extended, seemingly endless duty cycle for longer pulls and a persistent flow of pulling power. Particularly for older vehicles, it’s beneficial to make sure that your power steering system is in stable and working order. Check the fluid and change it if necessary, and also test the power steering pressure to ensure that you get maximum performance from your winch.
In Closing
There’s a lot to take in when it comes to winches, and yet everything discussed in this article is still just a small part of what makes up a winch. But after having an idea of what they are all about, now comes the fun part in shopping for one and putting it to use.