Nuts & Bolts: Winch Speed

Nuts & Bolts

What’s a good compromise between winch rating and line speed? I’ve found that the line speed of the winch I’m using is inadequate for the trail riding I do. In other words, when I’m helping my current winch with the truck in gear, I find that I have to stop frequently and let the winch catch up. It’s a 12,000-pound winch, and the vehicle is a Toyota truck on 37s. I’m thinking of going to a lighter-duty winch in order to get more line speed.
Robert K.

The answer depends a lot on the type of off-roading you do. Let’s tackle the winch rating first. A 12,000-pound winch is overkill for a Toyota for trail use, but it’s on the heavy side for mud bogging. The rule of thumb is that you want a winch capable of pulling 1 1/2 times the weight of your vehicle. This is because your winch needs to be able to pull your truck plus overcome whatever resistance the truck has encountered. Popping up and over a rock often just takes a little tug, while getting stuck frame-deep in a 150-foot mud hole is very different. For trail use, an 8,000-9,500-pound winch is just about right for your truck.

While heavier winches often have a slower line speed than their lighter-duty equivalents, there’s no direct correlation between winch rating and line speed. We’ve found that line speed depends much more on the quality of the winch itself. One of the many dirty little secrets about the cheap imported winches that have flooded the market in recent years is that they are painfully slow. Those manufacturers have figured out that people mostly pay attention to the weight rating of the winch and ignore the other important specifications like line speed and amp draw. If you are an overseas manufacturer and you need your crappy Chinese motor to pull 12,000 pounds so you don’t get nailed for false advertising, the cheapest way to get it done is with more gearing. This in turn means slower operation.

The better plan of attack with winch shopping is to compare all the specifications, but unfortunately the published specs can be misleading. For example, Warn’s ( Zeon 8 winch has a rated line speed of 11.7 feet per minute while drawing 255 amps for a 4,000-pound pull. A Zeon 12 winch has a line speed of 9.3 fpm while drawing 209 amps. These specs jibe with our real-world experience—the 12,000-pound winch is slower, but not substantially slower. Meanwhile a certain import winch manufacturer publishes similar numbers for one of its winches, but it has been our experience that real-world performance by that same winch is very different. As with many things, there’s often a reason why a product is cheaper. At the end of the day, we have never felt like we had to wait on a Warn winch to do its job, which is why most of our rigs have a winch with a big red “W” on it.