How Does a 12-Volt Winch Work?

jeep off road mud recovery with electric winch

At first glance, a 12-volt winch does not seem very impressive at all. It’s quite small, but don’t let the size of this machine fool you. The 12v winch is capable of pulling out just about anything you need. From a car stuck in the ditch to an ATV stuck deep in the mud, having this tool will save you a lot of time and money (as you won’t need to call a tow truck).

So, how does a 12-volt winch work? Electric winches use specific wiring that connects the battery to the device. Once connected, the vehicle battery will power the winch, giving it the force needed to pull very heavy loads at just a push of a button.

You can either wire your 12v electric winch to your vehicle’s battery directly or you can wire it to an auxiliary battery that’s specifically used to power the winch. Either way, having this device can be a life saver for just about anyone. However, in order for it to be beneficial, you need to know how it actually works.

What are Winches Used For?

Winches are a dream tool for anyone who has a truck or does work in construction, lawn maintenance, or just about anything that requires moving tons of heavy equipment. Winches are used to lift, move, or pull objects that cannot be moved by other means, such as by manual labor.

People use winches to for the following:

  • Winches can be used to move or pull trees
  • Winches can be used to pull vehicles that are stuck in mud or ditches. For example, a trailer can be pulled by an electric trailer winch.
  • Winches can be used to tow a boat
  • You can use a winch to move large rocks and cement
  • You can use a winch to pull stumps from the ground
  • You can use a winch to move or heave equipment

How Does a 12-Volt Winch Work?

If you’re in a situation where you can’t free your vehicle or ATV, using a 12v winch or trailer winch is going to make doing so seem like a breeze. But before you can hook it and press “go,” you should know how and why a winch works, as well as the proper way to use one.

It’s also important to make sure you’re using a good quality winch made by a reputable company that’s known for sturdy, strong products. This is an instance of “you get what you pay for,” and it’s worth it to purchase a pricier product if the quality is better. A good example of a quality electric winch is this: AC-DK water proof electric winch kit. It offers great quality with good reviews.

ac dk waterproof electric winch kit isolated on white background

12 Volt Winch Set Up (Basic Front Mount)

A winch can be hooked up to just about any vehicle you own, as long as the battery has a 60-amp alternator and a cold crank amp of at least 440.

  • Take the winch and attach the positive wire to the power post
  • To the winch’s negative ground post, you’ll attach the negative ground wire
  • Run both wires through the front of the winch to the engine
  • Attach the positive wire from the winch to the positive post of the battery (attach within line of the circuit breaker)
  • Attach the negative wire from the winch to the negative post of the battery

Yes, it’s as simple as that!

Set up will be a little different for each vehicle or mount, but similar.

How a 12 Volt Winch Works

Now that you have your 12v electric winch set up and it’s attached to whatever large object you’re intending on pulling, it’s time to hit the button.

  • The power button on the winch will send a signal to its solenoid, letting it know if you are letting out slack or pulling the rope back in.
  • Then the motor will then spin the rod attached to its gear box.
  • From there, the electric gear box engages the spool of synthetic rope, causing it to spin.
  • The spool rotates and pulls in the slack from the wire rope, connecting your vehicle to whatever you are trying to pull.
  • Once engaged, the winch will then pull with maximum amount of force, moving the object toward your vehicle.

What is a Winch Made Of?

Now, let’s take a look at each part the winch is made of. Each of these components is important to providing the necessary torque and rotation in order to make the machine work properly.

Switch or control panel: This is the switch or button that can be found on the winch or vehicle dashboard that will turn on the winch and direct it. You might be able to find a remote control panel or wireless control device.

Winch spool: The spool is what holds the wire or rope and allows it to roll out or wrap up as it rotates.

Solenoid: The winch’s solenoid is what gives the motor power and directs the spooling of the synthetic rope or wire rope, whether it pulls in or extends out.

Winch gear box: The winch gear box provides excess power output from the motor. This is going to help pull objects quicker and with more ease.

Winch motor: The winch motor is the power source for your winch. It gets its power directly from your vehicle’s battery, providing the energy it needs to pull at great force.

Winch break: The winch break stops the winch when it’s not in motion.

Note: Running the winch motor for too long will use a lot of power and drain your battery quickly.

Breaking it Down

Now that we know all the parts of the winch, let’s break them down a little further. Each part has its own job and is made up of its own components. Let’s take a deep dive into your winch and see how it’s able to complete the jobs it’s used for.

Winch motor: The most common type of winch motor is a “series wond.” (There is also a permanent magnet, but it’s not used often anymore.) There are 4 connections on a winch motor:

  • Ground
  • Armature
  • Field Winding (F1)
  • Field Winding (F2)

The wind creates a magnetic force around the armature of the motor. After the winch starts, the solenoid connects power from the battery to F1. F2 then connects that power onto the 12v armature. On the other side of the amature, it’s connected to the ground.

Gear box: The majority of gear boxes are planetary gear sets. This is an elaborate construction of multiple gears that work simultaneously in different directions, creating a strong pull to release or a pull back of the spool.

Spool: Think of a threading spool; the winch spool has the same job! It holds the rope or wire wrapped in a tight, simplistic location. This is the part of the winch that spins in either way.

Switch: The switch is simply the power button for the winch. It will turn the power on and off and will also send signals to the winch, letting it know if it should be constricting or loosening. There are multiple types of switches, but they are all simple to use. You might be able to find a remote control switch if you prefer wireless remote control machinery.

new electric car winch with steel cable


Setting up and using your winch is not difficult, however using it improperly can damage your winch, your vehicle, or even yourself. Anything with an extreme amount of power and force is dangerous, and to combine its use with moving tremendously heavy objects amplifies the harm it can create even more. Bear these tips in mind:

  • Keep the winch free of debris. Always clear debris from the winch line. If dirt, sticks, pine needles, etc. get stuck in the wire, it can cause it to frey continuously. This will weaken the wire, and at some point it can snap. When the winch is in the pulling position, it can whip the wire backward, harming anyone or anything in its way. It can also let loose of anything it’s pulling, which can be just as dangerous.

If your rope is looking thin, replacing it is fairly inexpensive and could save your life. You can easily purchase these ropes in hardware or home improvement stores, or even right on

  • Wear gloves while working with the winch. Always wear gloves when handling a winch line. Pulling the winch rope can hurt your hands while trying to control the re-spooling or trying to maneuver the rope. Also, never hold onto the winch while it is in use; you can get your hand pulled in and wrapped up in the winch.
  • Pull straight forward. When you hook up to the object you’re intending to move, try to pull the object head on. The winch is designed to pull straight through, so trying to pull at too much of an angle can cause less force and uneven balance.
  • Fix stripped winch gears. Always check the winch’s gears. If your gears are wearing down or stripped, they’re going to slip and not pull your wire or rope. Keep your gears oiled and changed out if they are stripped.


The winch has been a heaven send for many people. Whether you’re an ATV user or work from a construction site, this little tool can pack a powerful punch, helping you to do the heaving lifting or pulling of any large object. Being so universal, it can go anywhere and move just about anything, saving you time and energy in strenuous situations.

James with daughter on the trails

About James...

Hi, I’m James. If I’m not working on this site, you can often find me outdoors roaming the trails. I’m an avid hiker, mountain biker, and overlander. I’m excited to share my passion for the outdoors with you.