Making sure you get there and back By Casey Cordeiro Photos by Casey Cordeiro and the manufacturers
There are several accessories that are “essential” items to have on your ATV or UTV. Depending on the terrain you ride, those essentials can change somewhat. Our essentials are a spare tire, fire extinguisher, first-aid kit and helmet, and protective safety gear for every rider. Not everyone thinks of a winch as essential, but it is something that every off-road vehicle could benefit from having!
Some of you are yelling at these pages saying, “I don’t need a winch; I ride in the dunes!” You know what makes it so much easier to get a tipped vehicle back on its wheels? You guessed it, a winch. If you primarily ride trails back east or, even more fitting, in the mud, then you’re already familiar with the value of a winch.
Most modern four-wheel OHVs don’t come with a factory-installed winch, winch mount or a purpose-built bumper to mount a winch unless it’s a special edition. In order to properly install a winch, you need either a mounting plate or a very strong and well-built front bumper that is purposely made for winching.
We are going to highlight bumpers, winch mounts and winches that are purpose-built for your ATV or UTV. Almost all ATV and UTV brands have an accessory division that sells winches and mounts specific to their own vehicles.
WINCH MOUNTS & BUMPERS
There are two main ways to mount a winch to your ATV or UTV. Either via a thick metal mount with dedicated mounting points designed to attach to the frame of your vehicle, or a purpose-built bumper made to mount your winch and handle the stresses a winch puts on a machine.
Many winch mounts are available from either the vehicle manufacturer, an accessory manufacturer or the winch manufacturer directly. For those without a bumper, thick metal winch mounting plates ensure that your winch doesn’t rip out of your vehicle under high-stress situations, like pulling your vehicle out of the mud. The winch mount also features an attachment point for the fairlead. With so many varieties of winches, manufacturers can’t make a universal winch mounting plate.
The second way to mount a winch to your vehicle is via a front or rear bumper. Make sure that you are pairing your winch with a bumper built to hold up to pulling the amount of weight that your winch is rated for—2500, 3500, 4500 pounds, etc. It should be sufficiently gusseted where the winch mounts to it. You want a nice flat plate to mount your winch to, but make sure the flat plate is securely attached to the bumper with extra tubing (or plating) and thorough welds.
Look for sturdy attachment points from the bumper to your vehicle. If you really want to do this right, upgrade all the mounting hardware to grade-8 bolts for ultimate strength.
Some bumpers have winch mounting points on the bottom in a more traditional location and some have the plates located higher up. If you’re a mud rider or plan to use a snowplow attachment, you aren’t going to want your winch mounted low by the front differential of your vehicle. It will be buried in the mud if your machine is buried in the mud.
The topic of winches and which winch is right for you is a whole article in itself. We won’t get into efficiencies, line-pull ratings or line speeds. We’re going to go through the basics so you know what to look for in a winch. With so many options, you should know that there are quality and feature differences with each winch on the market.
First, how do you know what winch capacity you need for your specific vehicle? We always recommend that you opt for more capacity than needed. You need to know that the max capacity of your winch is measured when the line is completely unwrapped from the drum (say it’s a 4500, so it has a line-pull force of 4500 pounds.). With each layer that the line wraps around your winch drum, you lose line-pull force. For example, if you have a Warn Axon 4500-S winch, which is a popular option for many new UTVs, you have 4500 pounds of pulling power on the first layer of line wrap around the drum, which means that the rope is all the way out at almost 50 feet in length. By layer four of the wrapping, which is the maximum number of wraps for this particular winch, the maximum pull is at 2810 pounds. With each wrap around the drum, the winch line is getting further away from the center of the drum, thus reducing available force that the motor has on the line. Basically, what we’re saying here is that you want enough pull on the last wrap to be able to handle your vehicle. For most of the time you are winching, you don’t have the entire 50-foot line pulled out. If you have a modern UTV, most of which weigh between 1200 and 2000 pounds, you’re going to want at least a 3500-pound winch, which has a maximum pull of 1975 pounds with the line all the way in (from an Axon 35-S as an example). That’s barely enough to handle most modern two-seat UTVs and will be underrated with larger four-seat UTVs. You’d want to go with a 4500 in this situation. It’s never a bad thing to overestimate your needs. Buy it once and get more capacity than you think you need. Keep in mind that mud and all the goodies that we take with us on the trail add machine weight, too.
Another thing you want to look at is the build quality of the winch you are going to buy. Some are IP-rated for waterproofing, such as IP-68-rated. If you’re going to be in mud or inclement weather while riding, you’re going to want stainless steel hardware and a good IP-68 waterproof rating. To further enhance the reliability of your winch, look for a winch that has a built-in contactor so you reduce the chance of an electrical failure out on the trail. The clutches, motors and electronics are all things that matter, too.
While most winches operate the same, there are also some new innovations that you should be aware of. One company that is bringing many innovations to the winch market isn’t a winch company at all; it’s actually Polaris. Their Pro Heavy Duty Series lineup of winches, which include pulling power ratings from 2500 to 6000 pounds, include industry-first technologies that make your winching life easier and safer on the trail. The first is the Rapid Rope Recovery feature, which speeds up the re-spooling activity by up to five times faster. Faster re-spooling means you can quickly get into the driver’s seat again. The Pro Series Auto-Stop feature automatically stops the re-spooling of the winch when the collar touches the fairlead. This is a great safety feature, and it also prevents driveline stress and over-spooling on the winch. The last thing to mention is their wireless remote, which works up to 50 feet away from the vehicle.
Last but not least on the features-to-look-for list, you should look for a winch with a good warranty. There are many trusted companies with great winch warranties, but some don’t have good warranties. Make sure you have confidence in the winch you are buying and trusting out on the trail.
When we look at the different winch manufacturers, we first have to talk about Warn. Not only has Warn been in the game for an extremely long time, but they are trusted for their reliability, quality and the great parts used on their products. This is especially true with their new Axon series of winches, which condenses the entire package significantly. The Axon series has an internal contactor and minimal wiring, meaning your installation is quick, easy and painless. Plus, the entire Axon winch lineup is compact and ready to fit almost anywhere on any vehicle. Yes, Warn winches are typically more expensive, but we believe you get what you pay for. We have the most experience installing and using Warn winches.
In addition to Warn, there are many other winch manufacturers to choose from. For instance, 4 Wheel Parts has really elevated their winch offerings in recent years with the Smittybilt brand. Plus, 4 Wheel Parts locations are in nearly every state, so you can probably find one close to home. You’re also going to find many more options on the internet. Go with the best one you can afford. You don’t want to be stuck out on the trail, that’s for sure.
Last but not least, what about cable versus synthetic rope? It mostly comes down to your riding environment. There are pros and cons to both. If you play around sharp objects all the time, cable might be the better choice for you. Otherwise, synthetic is easier to deal with.
Here is a list of trusted manufacturers, which include winches, winch-mount bumpers, dedicated winch mounts, and 2-inch receiver mounts (if you need a portable solution).
Aprove has three winches that are made for ATV and UTV use.
Assault has winch-mount bumpers on the way, but they do sell bumpers that are made to work with frame-mounted winches, and they have openings for a fairlead for a clean install.
CHAMPION POWER EQUIPMENT (CABELA’S): www.champion
Champion has a wide range of winches in pulling ranges suited for OHVs but offers no mounts.
COMEUP WINCH: www.comeupusa
Comeup has a lot of heavy-duty automotive winches, but they have a Cub Series for powersports applications.
EMP does sell Viper winches, but the company is bigger in winch mounts and winch bumpers for most all popular brands.
FAB FOURS: www.fabfours.com
Fab Fours is better known in the automotive side, but the company does make winch mount bumpers for Polaris machines.
HARBOR FREIGHT TOOLS: www.har
Harbor Freight sells Badland winches for ATV and powersports use. It has a hitch mount and a mounting plate that appears universal.
HIGH LIFTER: www.highlifter.com
High Lifter has a few winch mounts but many more winch-mount bumpers. The company sells Viper winches.
KFI PRODUCTS: www.kfiproducts.com
KFI is another company that sells winches, winch mounts and winch-mount bumpers. Bumpers are limited to Polaris and Arctic Cat, but there are a large variety of winch mounts, including hitch mounts.
Kolpin has winches as well as winch mounts.
MOOSE UTILITIES: www.moose
Moose calls its winch line Aggro, and it has a variety of sizes and winch mounts.
MOTO ALLIANCE: www.motoalliance
Moto Alliance is the source for Viper winches and winch mounts.
NORTHERN TOOL + EQUIPMENT: www.northerntool.com
Northern Tool has a nice variety of winches, but only a universal mount and a hitch mount.
While many ATV and UTV brands offer winches, Polaris has its own Pro HD winch brand, and it has some innovative features that are unique. Naturally, the accessories division has mounting options as well.
QuadBoss has house-brand winches in various sizes, as well as a wide variety of winch mounts.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ATV: www.rocky
RMATV’s house brand Tusk has winches and winch mounts, but it also sells a variety of bumpers and mounts from other brands, as well as Polaris and Warn winches.
Smittybuilt is better known for automotive winches, but it does have a line of ATV winches.
Black Ops is the SuperATV winch brand, and the company has a large variety of winch-mounting plates. It has winch-mount bumpers, including some winch-mount rear bumpers.
To no surprise, Superwinch has a variety of winches that are suitable for ATVs and UTVs. The company also has an extremely wide range of winch mounts.
In addition to tough, quality winches, WARN sells winch mounts and winch-mount bumpers for ATVs and UTVs.
By reading this article, you can tell that there are many options for both winches and winch mounts on the market. We’ve started your research. Now, head over to your local parts shop, powersports dealer or the all-powerful Google interweb and conduct more research on your specific vehicle.