A solid UTV Winch is one of those things you know you need only when you don't have it. Imagine driving around with the first spring air or the first burst of chill. Maybe it's the beginning of hunting season or the end of a very long winter, and you just want to get out and feel the air on your face.
Then it happens.
The front end of your UTV finds that soft patch under an innocent-looking pile of snow and sinks up to its axles. Getting mired is only one of many possible scenarios on the trails that make you understand just how much a quality winch comes in handy. But how do you choose the best winch for the job?
In this article, we'll review the best UTV winches available on the market today, giving you the stats and information necessary to make the best decision for your UTV. But first, you should start thinking about what you need your winch to do.
As you know, UTV stands for Utility Terrain Vehicle, also generally called a side-by-side. To get the most out of your winch, think about what “utility” means to you, as that will guide many decisions about how big and powerful you need your winch to be.
Are you picking up fallen branches from your favorite trails? Are you moving that 12-point buck to a proper drainage hoist? Each use has its own winch requirements, but you should always remember that a good winch is best when you least expect to need it. Don't be afraid to get a winch more powerful and with more features than you think you need because they do become handy when you least expect it.
If you've considered winches before, but haven't bought one, chances are you've heard the name Smittybilt. They're one of the most popular manufacturers of UTV winches, producing winches and winch ropes for UTVs that regularly feature in many best-of lists. The Smittybilt 98510 is no exception to this trend, offering a lot of concentrated power in a small package.
The most notable thing about the Smittybilt 98510 is its advertised weight limit. This durable beast boasts a weight limit of 10,000 pounds, suitable for every UTV made and more than a few larger vehicles like Jeeps and Trucks. The 3-stage planetary gear operates at 6.6 horsepower, giving it plenty of power to get through most obstacles.
The unit is waterproof and amphibious, which means it works even when it's submerged, should that misfortune ever happen to you. Smittybilt have also included a remote switch on a twelve-foot lead for those moments where you'd prefer not to get too close to the work at hand. It's a durable, tenacious platform that will easily handle any task, but some people have reported that the pins on the control box are a little frail and prone to snapping, so take care of them.
Another terrific feature of the Smittybilt 98510 is the included synthetic winch rope, which is stronger and more durable than most metal cables. This winch rope makes the entire unit lighter than metal cable competitors and immensely increases its safety features. You won't have to worry about the devastating effects of a sudden metal cable snap.
Weight: 16 lbs
Cable Material: Synthetic
Cable Length: 98.5 feet
Remote Control? Yes, but not wireless
High weight limit⎯10,000 lbs⎯handles most vehicles and obstructions easily
Remote switch on a 12-foot lead for easy use when you can't⎯or don’t want to⎯get too close
Waterproof rated to IP68
Control box pins may snap and require replacement
Another UTV winch on the more expensive end of things is this heavy-duty unit from Superwinch, who also feature prominently in many best winch reviews every year. Unlike the Smittybilt, however, this unit won't drain your battery with high amps and substantial horsepower, operating with a still respectable 1.6 horsepower. But despite having less power, Superwinch doesn’t skimp on any of the other necessary features for a sturdy winch.
Superwinch have included an exciting set up for their three-part planetary gear. All of the individual gears are much larger than their competitors and made of solid steel with oil pockets machined in, making sure that the entire system keeps functioning smoothly and providing longer life. This is just one small detail that makes the Superwinch such an excellent choice.
Another feature is Superwinch's inclusion of a 55-foot synthetic rope which offers a ton of tensile strength, though not as much as the Smittybilt mentioned above. This model only pulls 4,500 lbs, which is usually more than plenty for almost every UTV, but might not be enough for larger jobs and projects like removing trees and stumps. Fortunately, you won't have to worry about any catastrophic failure of the cable because of the synthetic materials used.
The Superwinch 1145230 is a universal winch and includes everything you need to safely install it, including a rolling fairlead to make sure the line spools out properly. It also adds 10 feet of rubberized cable on the rope, providing grip on the drum and reducing the chance of overheating and abrasion. Finally, there are two switching options available: the cabled remote or a handlebar-mounted switch.
Weight: 18.96 lbs
Cable Material: Synthetic rope
Cable Length: 55 feet
Remote Control? Yes
Universal mounting installable on any UTV
10 feet of rubberized cable helps rope keep traction
Customer service isn't as good as it should be
Smittybilt 97495 XRC GEN2
If the Smittybilt and the Superwinch options above feel a little out of your price range, but you still want that sort of power, the Smittybilt 97495 should fit your needs nicely. On this model, Smittybilt replaced the expensive synthetic cable with a metal cable, making the unit much more cumbersome but still powerful enough to hoist loads up to 9,500 pounds.
The kit comes with all the materials you'll need to install this winch on your UTV, including all the wiring, which the manufacturer recommends using to make sure you get the best possible operation. There is an automatic brake in the drum to prevent any loads from slipping, which is handy when you're in a tricky situation. And it includes a remote control for when you can’t⎯or don’t want to⎯get too close to the operation.
Like the other Smittybilt unit above, this one is waterproofed and aquatic, allowing you to use it even when it's completely submerged. But with the metal cable, it weighs significantly more, which can be a problem on some UTVs. Metal cables are also somewhat dangerous to operate at times, so take care to wear gloves and make sure not to exceed the recommended weight limit⎯though with 9,500 pounds, that should be easy.
Weight: 78 lbs
Cable Material: Metal cable
Cable Length: 94 feet
Remote Control? Yes
Heavy-duty 9,500 lb load capacity
Has many options for more carrying capacity
Control box pins may snap
Metal cable somewhat cumbersome and dangerous
Superwinch 1130220 LT3000ATV
Are you looking for a cheaper version of the Superwinch with the synthetic rope? Good news! Superwinch also offers this winch with a metal cable featuring many of the same additions that make the 1145230 model so exceptional. Like its synthetic version, it provides a 12-foot remote and a mountable rocker switch on the handlebars as well as all the wiring and accessories needed to install it on any UTV.
At 1.2 horsepower, with a low amp and a permanent magnetic motor, it's less potent than the Superwinch listed above. At 19.84 lbs, it also weighs more due to the metal cable. But it does include an aluminum rolling fairlead and mounting bracket to help your line spool cleanly, reducing the risk of fouling.
The metal cable supports up to 3,000 lbs, which is still enough to handle most loads effectively. It also provides automatic, dynamic braking in the drum to prevent any loads from slipping, as well as a two-year limited warranty should anything go wrong.
Cable Material: Metal
Cable Length: 50 feet
Remote Control? Yes
Mechanical and handheld remotes provide a variety of operation
Completely sealed magnetic motor prevents against rain and moisture
Roller fairlead helps prevent line fouling
Exposed circuit breaker wires
Coming in at the most economical end of our list is this model from Champion, which has no business having as many terrific features as it does for its extremely low price. You might not think it possible, but it does boast the ability to tow up to 3,000 pounds on a 46-foot metal cable, which is a lot for such a compact and affordable winch.
If a 3000-pound weight limit isn't enough to excite the budget-conscious buyer, Champion also loaded it with mechanical and dynamic braking in the drum to prevent slipping loads, a roller fairlead with a mounting plate, and a handlebar remote control. The cable is a respectable 46 feet long, and the entire winch has a two-year limited warranty.
The Champions motor isn't as powerful as its competitors, though, operating at only a single horsepower, but it can still reel in at 4.3 feet per minute while under a full load. Unfortunately, the included handlebar remote is pretty large. Customers report that they've had difficulty installing it due to its size.
But if you're not looking to break the bank and only conceive of needing a winch in emergencies, this might be the winch for you.
Weight: 22 lbs
Cable Material: Metal
Cable Length: 46 feet
Remote Control? Yes, handlebar remote
Extremely affordable and powerful for the cost
Two-year limited warranty
Roller fairlead and mounting plate included
Control switch may not fit the handlebars
ATV Winch FAQ
How Big of a Winch do I Need for My UTV?
To begin with, defining “big” in terms of a UTV winch can be a little bit misleading. “Big” means a lot of things, but concerning winches, it can either mean how heavy the unit is or how much it can pull. The individual weight limit of winches isn't dependent on its actual size, however, because many of them have synthetic rope rather than a metal cable, making them lighter and smaller.
If you're thinking “big” in terms of how much weight you intend to carry, it's helpful to think of the total weight of the UTV as well as the additional weight from obstructions or the load you're towing. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the total weight of the UTV by 1.5 to 2, which gives you the proper weight limit of the winch that you should aim for.
Keep in mind that any winch with a metal cable is likely to be heavier than one using synthetic rope, and you then have to deal with the added problem of the metal cables potentially fraying. They're great tools to have, but make sure you wear gloves and never exceed the weight limit.
How do I install a winch on my ATV?
If you haven't spent time working on and modifying your ATV, you might look at the wiring fresh from your new winch box with concern and a little trepidation. Luckily, most kits come with complete step by step instructions about how to install it properly. However, unfortunately, many packages do not come with a mounting kit included, as those are often specific to your brand of ATV, so you may want to start with buying a mounting plate.
The first thing to do is to mount the winch. Install the mounting plate onto your ATV and mount the fairlead bracket to the front of the winch; that way, it's all set up once you get it connected to the battery. Once you install the mounting plate, you're all clear to mount the winch on top of it. You may need to pre-install the winch unit and slide the mounting plate underneath it to make sure you have the proper clearance.
Next, disconnect the battery. Find a keyed hot lead and mark it. Once you've done that, you can disconnect the battery.
Then, mount the rocker switch if your unit has one on the handlebars. Make sure you leave enough wire that the handlebars turn freely. You can usually use the same wiring brackets for the electrical controls already existing on your handlebars to secure the rocker switch.
Run the wires from the winch and the rocker switch to the battery. The main connectors should be marked red and black for positive and negative.
Install the remote mounting bracket. Most people attach it to the center, but you can install it anywhere you like. Make sure the wire for the remote is secured.
Finally, run the wires into the toolbox area where you'll mount the solenoid and connect it. Reconnect the battery and test it to make sure everything is working correctly, and that you have no difficulty operating the machine.
Does a winch need a fuse?
With the amperage generated by a winch, you might think you need a fuse to make sure everything operates safely without overheating. Fortunately, winches usually provide heavily insulated cables which connect directly to the battery to protect against overheating. Also, most winches operate at low amps and have internal circuit breakers to prevent excessive overheating, so you shouldn't need to install a fuse.
Buying your first winch system for your ATV, UTV, or side by side shouldn't be a cause of headaches and hand-wringing. A good winch is nothing more than another tool to make your utility vehicle even more useful out on the trail, so you shouldn't need to fret too much about the choices offered or how to install it.
Hopefully, you've found some of the answers you need on this page and you now have a better idea of what you're looking for and how to install it. But if you're still thinking it over, feel free to read the reviews of these products from people who've already done it. Call up the customer service lines or sales departments of the various suppliers and ask questions, as that's one of the best ways to get the real low down on what people experience after purchasing a winch.
As we mentioned above, a winch is a tool you barely know you need until you really need it. But like all tools, take care to use it and install it properly. Each different winch system has its own quirks and characteristics you might like, and some you don't. But always take proper precautions around them to guarantee your safety and proper operation.
As we've mentioned several times before, never exceed the weight limit recommended on your UTV winch or winch rope, particularly with metal cables. If you follow the instructions and guidelines these manufacturers recommend, there's no reason you can't have years of enjoyment and fun getting yourself out of whatever messy situation you put your ATV in.