With a winch, every road becomes passable for your 4WD which is why every driver goes for the winch that will allow them to enjoy the best of their 4WD off-road experience. While the fame of PTO winches has diminished with the increase in power of electric winches, the PTO winch vs electric winch argument is not going away any time soon. If you are a veteran off-roader, then you are probably no stranger to different types of winches. It is still important for every driver to understand the difference between these two types of winches and when to use them.
Types of Winches
PTO (Power Take-Off) Winch
These are some of the earliest types of winches that have been used on tractors, trucks, and large vehicles for decades. They depend on the rotation of the engine for their power so their capacity will be as high as the power of your engine.
The winch is controlled by your vehicle’s gearbox so you will use your clutch or remote control to engage and disengage the winch. They have to be bought independently because it won’t come with the car. You will have to contact the manufacturer with details of your vehicle before they can get you a compatible winch.
While the PTO winch relies on your engine, it doesn’t always have to be the case if you have the hydraulic motor. Hydraulic winches are similar in function to PTO shaft winches as they both rely on the engine. Not all hydraulic winches use PTO shafts though. These winches, therefore, don’t need adjustment to your gearbox. They also allow you to use the winch while using your gearbox to drive which is a lifesaver of sorts.
This is the most popular type of winch in the market with improvements being made every day to increase their power while making them less tasking on your batteries. They rely on your car battery’s power to turn the spool and winch your vehicle. Traditionally, electric winches were not exactly faultless because they could run your battery dry in the middle of nowhere. Alternators and more powerful batteries have helped bridge the problem though. More powerful electric winches are also coming out from different manufacturers with nearly as much power as PTO winches.
This is the most rudimentary version of winches available in the market that you can still use to recover light vehicles. All it needs is someone who can turn the shaft to get the spool turning and the recovery will happen. However, it is a hard job because it all depends on the power of the person turning the winch.
PTO Winch VS Electric Winch: The Ultimate Guide
Electric winches sound like the new great thing but PTO winches still have their advantages that many off-roaders could really enjoy. It all comes down to how each type of winch is powered. Engine power is more sustainable and it will get heavier loads out of a stuck position than battery power. However, if the engine runs out, then that is the end of recovery by PTO winches.
Electric winches will recover your vehicle as long as the battery has enough juice to keep the motor running. You run the risk of draining your battery if it is not powerful enough to perform the whole recovery though unless you have a backup battery or an alternator. Electric winches get the job done but they are suitable for quick recoveries and lighter loads.
Your choice of the winch, therefore, comes down to the size of vehicle you are planning to recover, the environment you are driving in and the quality of battery and alternators available to you. PTO winches give you more power but less convenience while electric batteries do quick efficient recoveries but their power is limited. So each type of winch has its pros and cons as discussed below:
Comparing PTO and Electric Winches
Both types of winches work best when mounted to the front of your car but that is about as far as their similarities go. To get a PTO winch installed, you will have to get a professional that can connect the winch to your gearbox. The winch also has to be compatible with your vehicle and that may need communication with the winch manufacturer. An electric winch on the other hand is very easy to install. It only needs to be connected to your battery when it is time to recover and that doesn’t need any mechanic. Electric winches can also be easily transferred from one vehicle to another.
With PTO winches, the power comes from your engine. Once you engage the winch with your clutch, your gearbox will drive the engine which in turn drives your winch instead of the tires powering the recovery. The size of the pull will depend on the speed of the engine. Electric winches only need a power source with a voltage that matches that of their motor which the car battery can do. If you have multiple recoveries to do or a tough one, you have to use a backup battery because the winch takes up a lot of power from one battery.
While using a backup battery and an alternator may extend the amount of time an electric winch keeps running, it can’t do much about its capacity. An electric winch only runs at one speed and that speed will only be sustained as long as your battery has juice. A PTO winch on the other hand remains as powerful as the engine it is running on. A more powerful engine means a higher capacity for the winch and the period of recovery is sustained as long as the engine runs. PTO winches are therefore better suited for long and tough recovery projects.
Advantages of PTO winches
- PTO shafts allow you to use the winch at multiple speeds set by your gearbox which makes it easy to adjust speed depending on the resistance.
- PTO winches always offer maximum power as long as the engine is running which makes recovery quick and easy.
- The entire recovery process depends on engine rotation so there is no burden on the battery and other vehicle resources.
- You can only disengage the winch when your recovery is done which makes it safer.
- The motor of PTO winches cannot be hurt by water immersion.
Disadvantages of PTO Winches
- You cannot recover using a PTO winch if your engine is not running.
- It is expensive because you have to make the order separately and have a mechanic mount it.
- Most versions don’t allow you to drive during recovery which can be a challenge if you are out of room after recovering.
- The winch can only pull forward if mounted on the front of the vehicle. The winch will stop if you try to change direction.
Advantages of Electrical Winches
- Electric winches are easy to install and transfer from vehicle to vehicle and can be done at home.
- You can use an electric winch to recover a vehicle with a dead engine as long as the battery has power.
- Electrical engines are widely available and optimized for performance so you don’t have to look too hard to get one.
- They are often light and you can use them alongside the rest of the functions of your vehicle.
Disadvantages of Electric Winches
- The motor can’t survive immersion into water.
- It draws too much power from the battery so you need a secondary battery
- The power from the battery cannot be sustained for long periods which limits recoveries to short projects.
- It is just 12V of power so there is a limit to the size of load it can recover.
Safety Tips When Using Winches
- Always add weight to your cable or rope when winching to keep everything down if it snaps.
- Always hook the cable with the hooks facing upwards so that if it snaps, it doesn’t fly upwards.
- Use hooks that have a locking safety latch.
- Use snatch blocks for tough recoveries and always avoid jerking.
- Carry a tree saver or another hooking application for your winch and avoid hooking your cable or chain onto itself.
Electrical winches are getting better by the day and almost everyone with a 4WD can get a perfect one for their vehicle. PTO winches are still powerful and a great alternative if you need to do heavy-duty recovering that a 12V battery may not sustain. It is still true that electrical winches are cheaper and easier to buy and use than their traditional counterparts and therefore the better alternative. You should always check the weight capacity of the winch and adhere to safety regulations before using it.