Winch Capacity Ratings – What Do They Really Mean?

Maybe you’ve heard some of the horror stories of people going 4-wheeling, getting stuck, and suffering the agonizing defeat of a winch breaking in the middle of their vehicle recovery. It not only “kills” a good time…it’s potentially dangerous and deadly.

Warn VR8000

You can buy the Warn VR8000 winch above for about $500 (click for details), but is 8k lbs enough?

If you go “off-road” enough, you know you’ll eventually need the use of a good winch. And you wanna know when you do, it’ll handle the load. There are several things to consider when you buy a winch including:

  • GVW…gross vehicle weight
  • Starting input torque
  • Running input torque
  • Rated input speed
  • Full Drum or Maximum Layers
  • Rated Line Pull
  • Rated Line Speed…and more

You’ll also need to think about the conditions you’ll be in. Will you be pulling out of mud or working in steep terrain? Getting out of sandy river bottoms? How much gear do you carry on your trips? Additional passengers, etc? Can you use a snatch block?

If this all sounds complicated and boring, don’t worry. We’ll help you sort it out.

Where Do They Get The Rating Number?

Let’s say the capacity of a winch is rated at 6,000 lbs. That means the manufacturer used a static load with only one layer of wire rope around the drum. Each time a new layer is wrapped you lose about 13% to 25% of the winch’s capacity. In other words, the more “rope” on the drum, the less pulling power. This has a lot to do with the accuracy of the winch capacity rating, and like the popular weight loss supplements advertise…your results may vary.

So, determine your vehicle’s curb weight (see your owner’s manual), and add the weight of the gear you’ll have on it and in it. This will be your GVW. Then the general rule of thumb is to multiply your GVW by 1.5, and you’ll know at least the minimum capacity needs for your winch. For example…a vehicle with a GVW of 4500 X 1.5 = 6750. So your winch’s minimum capacity should be 6750 lbs.

There’s Your Number…Now What’s Your “Twenty”?

Now, keep in mind the conditions you’ll be in. As we mentioned before they’ll have a lot to do with how effective your winch will be. For example…mud can be particularly tricky because of its suction force. The extra pulling from mud can easily exceed the

GVW X 1.5 rule. And if you’ll be in steep terrain or winching your way out of tight spots several times a trip, you’ll put extra demand and stress on your motor and cable capacity.

You can increase the capacity of your winch by getting familiar with things like a snatch or pulley block and the fairlead. If your winching distance isn’t too long, you can virtually double your winch’s capacity by using the snatch or pulley block…not to mention how much longer the motor will last with the reduced wear and tear.

One Final Tip

Most trucks and SUVs will be fine with a winch capacity around 6,000 lbs. Since there may only be about thirty dollars difference between a 6,000 lbs. winch and one rated at 9,000 lbs. you might as well go with the upgrade if you can afford it. The small difference in price buys you a winch that doesn’t have to work as hard as the lower rated one. And that can significantly increase motor life.

Then you’ll be out there in the great adventure much longer.