What’s a winch (and how it works)

winch (noun): a device for hauling or lifting; made up of a rope, cable or chain wound around a horizontal rotating drum and turned by a crank or motor and typically mounted at the rear of a towing vehicle.

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Winches have been helping humans maneuver objects for millennia. They’re so old, ancient Greeks used them to lift heavy objects, hoist bridges and in major architectural projects. And this old-school technology is still more than useful, especially when your vehicle is stuck.

So what makes up a winch? A winch contains several different components, each with a singular purpose to aid in a broader goal. The basic components are:

  • A CABLE WIRE: Most likely a steel cable or synthetic wire that will be wrapped around a drum to prevent entanglement. The cable can be anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length.

  • A DRUM: A drum is circular in shape and allows the wire to be neatly wrapped around it. A spool within the winch allows the drum to rotate in a circular motion, winding the cable in or out.

  • A MOTOR: The motor powers the drum to turn so that it can pull in and wrap the wire around itself. While not all winches include a motor, most vehicle winches are electric and include a motor to speed things up considerably.

  • A GEAR TRAIN: This component takes the power from the motor and converts it into pulling power, giving the winch the ability to pull in any kind of heavy material.

These pieces come together to make the complete winch work. The cable wire is pulled out and attached to the object you plan on towing.

Once attached, the motor is turned on to turn the spool and pulls the cable back towards the vehicle and neatly around the drum. The item being towed comes along for the ride.

It’s worth noting that there are different types of winches, and depending on the weight of your vehicle, you’ll want to find your winch accordingly. Some winches can only handle up to 500 pounds, while others can handle far more than that. Basic winches can be bought online for as low as $100. Of course it all depends on the durability of a winch, how much weight it can handle and what you will be using it for.

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