Electric Winch Horsepower – How Much HP Do I Need?

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On the surface it would seem like choosing an electric winch motor would just be a  matter of reading the spec sheet. “Hmm…let’s see…my Jeep is about 4800 pounds, and this one says it’ll pull 4800 pounds.” So, it must be the one. Right? Wrong.

A spec sheet for a Warn.

The rule of thumb is that your electric winch should be able to pull 1.5 times your vehicle’s gross weight. What that means is you take your vehicle’s gross weight…let’s say 5000 pounds…and multiply it by 1.5. Your total would be 7500 pounds, and that should be your winch’s minimum capacity. Not total. Minimum. Recommendations for maximum capacity can go much higher.

There are some other very important details to think about besides just the winch’s capacity in proportion to your vehicle’s weight:

  • How many people will be in your vehicle when you’re pulling?
  • How many racks and “cool” add-on’s” did you add on?
  • Do you carry lots of extra gas?
  • How well can the winch pull layer by layer?
  • Does it have a “free-spooling” feature?
  • Will it drain your battery before it gives out?

Even an electric winch rated at 10,000 lbs. won’t always pull 10,000 lbs. The spec sheet numbers come from a winch’s pulling strength with one layer of winch cable. So the winch motor’s capacity is greatest when it’s pulling 1-2 layers of cable. As you continue to wrap more layers around the drum, the pulling power diminishes.

We haven’t even started to talk about where, when, and how the winch and its motor will be used. Different owners are doing different things, so capacity for one guy in a Jeep on the trails of Moab won’t be the same for 2 guys, 2 ladies, 2 dogs, 3 coolers, and four backpacks in a Land Rover on the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Don’t forget there are men (and maybe some women) who make a living or at least a habit of going where no vehicle should go. They end up sideways between two boulders on a regular basis. Or they find mud and slime in the seats all too often. Their electric winch pulling power needs will be extremely different from the guy and his date who want to go “off-road” around the city lake.

And, of course, many people are moving to the synthetic winch cable instead of steel which can make an electric winch motor’s job much easier especially when it comes to mud and other debris.

So, how much HP do you need?

You need as much as you can safely install and as much as you can afford. Good news is nowadays there are many more models of electric winches available, and you can install one on just about any vehicle with universal mounting kits. They’re much easier to install or remove, and they have horsepower combined with rugged durability to stand up to those “oops” moments…or maybe even those “yeah! alright!” moments.

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