Used Winch Buyer’s Guide

A fellow off-roader (we’ll call him Spike) was the kind of guy who didn’t want to buy anything new because he knew it had too many “kinks” to iron out. This included the used winch he bought for the ‘98 Jeep Cherokee he rebuilt with his own hands and tools.

Used Winch

Used winches can be a great way to save money, but only if you know what to look for.

So when it came time to get the winch for his “new toy”, he searched all the usual websites, auto trade mags, and classifieds. Once he found the one in his price range he drove to the seller’s house, saw the winch in the garage, knew it was the right size, bought it and took it home.

It lasted about three trips into the backwoods and broke…And it left him 3 feet deep in the middle of a mud hole for an hour waiting for someone to help winch him out. He wasn’t happy…the passer-by wasn’t happy, his passengers weren’t happy, and it made for a very disappointing trip.

Spike could have saved himself a world of troubles by going through a simple checklist of what to look for when buying a used winch. We’ve compiled a simple, yet very effective list of things you should look for. Go through this list anytime you want to buy a used winch (or most anything else for that matter) and save yourself a huge headache.

Give It A Top To Bottom Inspection

Look at the overall condition of the winch itself. If it’s a painted winch, how does the paint look? Is it rusty? Especially the bolts and mounting gear. What’s the condition of the cable? Find out if it’s the original, and if so, how old it is. If it’s a synthetic winch rope, be sure and look for fraying and/or tears. Then look for a fairlead and see if there’s a lot of wear. And don’t forget the condition of the controller. These can all be great indicators of how well the previous owner took care of the winch.

Next comes the testing. Be sure and use at least a jumper cable test to verify the winch works. It doesn’t matter if it looks great if it won’t pull. So inspect the housing and really check out the wiring and solenoid packs. Any crimps in the wiring could be a potential break. Also look for “hot spots” on the studs. This indicates arcing, and that can lead to serious motor problems.

OK…let’s say you’ve checked out the things we’ve listed and the winch seems to be in good or great working order. There are still a view other considerations before opening the bill-fold or checkbook. Not all these things will matter to everyone, but still they’re worth mentioning so you’ll have a good idea you got what you came for.

  • Does the winch have a reverse? If you don’t like to free-spool, this is important.
  • How about a manual brake and clutch?
  • What type of drive? spur, worm, planetary…which one do you prefer?
  • Does it have a new or rebuilt motor? And is it set up with a remote switch?
  • And look closely around the cooling fins. Too much build up could spell trouble.

You can save yourself a bunch of money on a winch, if you follow these guidelines and find a “diamond in the rough”. You may find an excellent deal that just needs some cleanup and attention. But you’re gonna need to use your eyes, hands, and a checklist to avoid being a Spike in the mud.