Choosing The Right Winch For You- Winch Buyer's Guide

When choosing the most necessary aftermarket accessories to put on your ATV or side-by-side, a winch is right up there with a roof and windshield. No matter whether you have an ATV or a side-by-side, a winch is a must because as they say, “you only need it when you need it”. Winches are not just for when you get stuck, but they can be used for other tasks. Best of all, winches give you the confidence to know that you will not only be able to enjoy your adventure but also make it back. This is more even more true when you ride alone. But which winch is right for you and your ATV or side-by-side? This article should make choosing the right winch straightforward.


Winch Size- Pulling Power

Winches for ATVs and side-by-sides are available from 2000 lb. to 6000 lb., and what size you need depends on both the weight of your vehicle and what kind of riding you do. There are some general rules to choosing the right winch.

ATVs need a winch somewhere between 2000 lb. and 3500 lb. In our experience a 2500 lb winch is the sweet spot for an ATV winch for general use. If you love to ride in the mud and regularly are hitting deep mud holes, then a 3000-3500 lb. winch is your winch. The additional weight of the mud on the ATV along with the suction of deep mud require more pulling power.

UTVs and side-by-sides are heavier and need more pulling power in the range of 3000 lb. to 6000 lb. with 3000 lb. being the minimum size winch. For general riding in a two-seat side-by-side we recommend a 3500 lb. to 4000 lb. winch. If mud riding is your thing then think 4500 lb. to 6000 lb. If you have a four-six seat side-by-side then think 4000 lb. to 4500 lb. winch for general riding and 5000 lb. to 6000 lb. for mud riding.

Wide Spool Viper WinchRegular Spool Viper Winch

The wide spool winch on the left is wider than the standard winch on the right.


Regular Or Wide Spool

Beyond the pulling power rating there are regular winches and wide-spool winches. The difference between the two is simply the length of cable that fits on the drum of the winch. Wide spool winches are wider and can hold more feet of cable than a standard winch. Because they are wider, a wide spool winch has a different bolt pattern where it attaches to a winch mounting plate than a standard winch. In addition, a wide spool winch may not fit into the mounting space of your particular ATV or side-by-side. If you decide you want the additional cable a wide spool winch can provide, choose a winch mount plate that fits your ATV or side-by-side, and it will show whether or not the mount plate will fit a wide spool winch. For the most part, most wide spool winches will not fit ATVs and side-by-sides that are mounted inside the vehicle and not on an external bumper. Not to worry as you can always buy cable extensions to be used with your standard winch.

Synthetic Winch CableSteel Winch Cable

Synthetic winch cable and steel winch cable.


Synthetic Or Wire Cable

There are two cable types to choose from on ATVs and side-by-sides. You can choose metal wire cable or synthetic cable, and there are pros and cons to each. Metal wire cable is less extensive, will not fray as easily, is much heavier, requires gloves to touch, stores energy while being stretched, and lasts the lifetime of the winch. Synthetic cable is more expensive, extremely light, floats in water, stronger, can be handled with bare hands, can fray with lots of use, and must be replaced after several years. Which one is right for you? In most applications the synthetic cable has so many benefits over wire cable that it is the way to go. The only exception would be if you do a lot of winching where the cable drags over the ground or across objects during winching. This can cause a synthetic cable too fray to the point of compromising its strength. The crazy thing is you can tie a knot in a broken synthetic cabe and keep winching. In most cases you will not need to replace a synthetic cable for many years if ever.

Cabled Handheld Viper Winch ControllerWireless Viper Winch ControllerDash Mounted Rocker Switch Viper Winch Controller

Here is a winch cabled remote, a wireless remote, and a dash-mounted switch.


Picking A Switch

All winches come with a switch of some kind that controls the winch. A cabled handheld rocker switch is the most common. ATV winches many times will come with a handlebar rocker switch in addition to a cabled rocker switch, and some winches even come with a remote controlled switch allowing you to be anywhere around the vehicle while still controlling the winch. Another switch you might want as an accessory is a side-by-side dash mounted switch that allows easy control of the winch without the need of connecting a different switch. All of these switches are available as an accessory if you want a different kind or additional switch.

Viper Winch Roller FairleadViper Winch Hawse Fairlead

The roller fairlead on the left for steel cable and the Hawse fairlead on the right for synthetic cable.


Roller Fairlead or Hawse Fairlead

Different winch cables require different fairleads on the winch. A steel wire cable winch will use a roller fairlead while a synthetic cable will use a hawse fairlead. When you choose a winch it will come with the correct fairlead, but in the event you want to take a steel wire cable winch and put synthetic cable on it, you will need to change the fairlead.

ATV & Side-By-Side Winch Mount Plate

Choose Your Winch Mount Plate

After choosing your winch you will need to choose a winch mount plate specific to your ATV or side-by-side. The winch mount plate is designed to bolt to the frame of your ATV or side-by-side in order to provide a place to bolt your winch to your vehicle. In some rare cases your ATV or side-by-side might not require a mount plate because your vehicle has the winch mount built into the frame with the spacing and bolt holes in the right place to mount a winch. This is called a "winch ready" ATV or side-by-side. If that is the case, then when you look at mount plates for your year, make and model, the winch mount plate will notate that. Many ATVs and side-by-sides are "pre-wired" for a winch meaning there is wiring in the front of the vehicle that will provide power to aid in the mounting of a winch to your ATV or side-by-side. That does not mean that you will not need a winch mount plate. In most cases you will need to order a winch mount plate in addition to your winch. You can find winch mount plates for all different ATVs and side-by-sides or choose your vehicle store and then choose the category for Winches & Recovery. If you need help finding the correct winch mount plate, then just give us a call, send us an email, or open a chat.


Additional Accessories

There are some additional accessories for your winch that you may want to consider keeping aboard your vehicle on your adventures.

Extra Cable

Having 50-feet of cable on your winch may sound like a lot, but it never hurts to have more than enough. Yes, we have been in that situation where it wasn’t enough to get us to that tree we needed to pull our side-by-side out of the mud. Having an additional cable to give that much more distance can be a great thing to have in your cargo box.

Snatch Block

Snatch Block

Most of the winches we sell come with a snatch block which serves several purposes. First, it doubles the pulling power of the winch using good ole` physics principles. Next, it allows you to change the direction of the pull.

Rubber Line Stopper

Rubber Line Stopper

These go on the end of your winch line between the hook and the winch itself. This serves a couple of purposes. First, it allows you to keep tension on the hook without sucking it too far into the winch through the fairlead. Secondly, this also means the hook will not dangle and rock back and forth while riding. We offer two versions of the rubber line stopper. One version requires you to take the cable off and run the cable through the stopper. The second version doesn’t require doing that making installation a little easier, particularly when the winch is already installed.


We Have Winches & Winch Accessories

We sell many different winches and have one that will fit your needs along with the right winch mount plate for your ATV and side-by-side. You can Shop Winches or choose your vehicle store, pick your make and model, and choose the Winches & Recovery category. If you have any questions about the perfect winch for you, just give us a call at 214-774-2848, shoot us an email at, or open a chat window. We are here to help you.