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Massive Multi-Winch Shootout

Test Winches
Robin Stover | Writer
Posted July 1, 2011

Eight Winches, Ten Tests, One Winner

Getting unstuck while four wheeling is a rite of passage everyone must experience to be considered a trail veteran. Whether mired in deep mud or wedged between two rocks, the vehicle extraction process can induce feelings of frustration, humility, and even desperation. However, even in the worst stuck scenario, one can avoid all of those displeasures by deploying the pulling power of a trusty winch. No 4x4 is complete without one, and no other mechanical contraption comes close to accomplishing the job a winch is designed for.

Historically, winches were considered implements of necessity, rarely used by the average person, and the last thing anybody would associate with vehicular mobility. However, that all changed in 1945 when brothers Claude and Rayburn Ramsey of Ramsey Tool and Die Company figured out how to package their Model 101 winch, a shaft-powered unit, to the front of World War II-era Jeeps. The concept was simple and effective, allowing drivers the ability to self-extract a stuck vehicle from snow and mud with a one-direction pull. Fast forward some 70 years, and winching technology has come a long way. Millions own and operate winches regularly, and they come in hundreds of configurations and intended uses. However, not all were created equal, and consumers must face the task of figuring out what specific type and size is best for their 4x4. Generally, we recommend picking a winch that is capable of pulling one and a half times the weight of the vehicle it’s mounted to. This allows a margin of safety for the winch and operator, plus it ensures capability as each additional layer of cable is spooled to the drum.

Among the most popular class of electric winches, are those that are rated between 8,000 and 9,500 pounds—perfect for popular midsize vehicles such as pickups, Jeeps, and Blazers. We set out to evaluate a group of eight to see which model was the most recommendable. Our goal is to provide you with the most comprehensive information available to simplify the task of winch selection. As such, we developed an arsenal of tests that would push each unit well beyond the manufacturers’ recommendations and specifications. Think of this shootout as the Top Truck Challenge of winches.

The Players (in alphabetical order)
Bulldog Alpha 9300 (9,300-lb electric)
Engo E9000 (9,000-lb electric)
Harbor Freight Badland 9000 (9,000-lb electric)
Kodiak Bruin (9,500-lb electric)
Summit Racing SUM-930002 (9,000-lb electric)
Superwinch EP9.0 (9,500-lb electric)
T-Max EWI9500 (9,500-lb electric)
Warn 9.5xp (9,500-lb electric)

(Editor’s note: Mile Marker and Ramsey were also invited to submit winches for this shootout; both declined our invitation.)

The Testing
Each unit would be scored on the following ten categories:
1. Packaging (Was unit adequately protected for shipping?)
2. Exterior labeling (Are visual warnings easy to comprehend?)
3. Instructions (Content, clarity, pictures, and detail)
4. Power-to-weight ratio (Actual stall weight vs. weight as tested)
5. Ease of use (Clutch engagement, plug quality, remote control feel and function)
6. Noise during operation (decibel level @ no load)
7. Submersion (How does water effect operation?)
8. Power wire quality (Strand count, size, coloring, insulation)
9. Speed and efficiency (How fast and how far?)
10. Stall test (Where do they stop pulling?)

Multi-Mounts for All
We picked Warn to supply the Multi-Mounts because they are manufactured in the U.S., and come fully assembled with electrical pigtails that make wiring hookup a snap. The Warn units feature robust construction that virtually eliminates the possibility of deflection. The unit shown here is rated for a 9,500-pound winch and weighs just over 23 pounds fully assembled.

Our Power Source
We assigned a brand new, fully charged, deep-cycle, BlueTop Optima battery to each winch. While the Optima BlueTop is offered in both a deep-cycle and a starting version, we chose the deep-cycle version because it supplies 750 cold cranking amps and features a 120-minute reserve capacity, which helps it handle hundreds of deep discharges without cutting into the lifespan of the battery—perfect for heavy winching scenarios.

Safe and Sound
In the effort to keep ourselves safe, and to ensure apples-to-apples evaluations, we installed a 100-foot length of 5⁄16-inch Master-Pull synthetic Superline. This rope has a 21,000-pound rating and would ensure the safety of our staff. Superline installs in place of the standard steel wire cable supplied by most manufacturers. Next, while spooling in the rope on the drum of each winch, we used a decimal meter to see how much noise each unit produced while operating at no load. Sound levels varied significantly between the different units, and where you might associate quietness with quality, the next part of our test would prove otherwise.

Noise Level As Tested
Brand dB level (no load)
Bulldog 80
Engo 83
Harbor Freight N/A
Kodiak 79
Summit Racing N/A
Superwinch 90
T-Max 79
Warn 81

As each of the ten winches arrived at our test facility, we took notes on how each brand prepared the unit for shipping. Winches are heavy objects, and proper packaging techniques can make the difference between the unit working as intended or filing a damage claim. We were surprised with how well thought-out some of the packages were, while others arrived with damaged boxes and jumbled contents.

Prior to operation, each winch was inspected for anomalies. Next, each unit was weighed with and without cable to see how manufacturing variances affected overall mass. With each unit’s weight recorded, we then mounted each unit to a Warn multi-mount cradle for ease of transport and testing. Some modifications were necessary to allow some of the winches to bolt up to the Warn Multi-Mounts, but with a little drilling and grinding, we were able to make each winch fit.

Winch Weight (without cable)
Brand Weight As Tested (lb)
Bulldog 50.9
Engo 49.4
Harbor Freight 52 Kodiak 56.7
Summit Racing 68.5
Superwinch 62.8
T-Max 54
Warn 53.9

Submersion Test
Submergibility is a factor we believe is paramount to a trusty winch. As such, we wanted to test each unit under water to see if any ill effects would surface during and after a dunking. To do so, each winch was connected to its corresponding Optima battery to power out the drum of steel cable. This would allow each drum to spin freely with no interference. Much to our surprise—two of the units did not work right out of the box, the Summit and Harbor Freight models—requiring us to retire them from the competition. Next, we lowered each winch into a large stainless-steel water tank, one at a time, and ran each continuously, at no load, for a period of ten minutes. We took notes on the amount of air bubbles that came from each unit and we took notes on changes in both sound and water color. Most of the units tested emerged unscathed from the bath, but one model, the Kodiak Bruin, would no longer spool in or out after the test.

Brand Observations
Bulldog No ill effects
Engo No ill effects
Harbor Freight Failed prior to test
Kodiak No ill effects during test, failed to operate afterward
Summit Racing Failed prior to test
Superwinch No ill effects
T-Max Made unusual sounds during first two minutes of test
Warn Contaminated water with bronze-colored substance

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