The winch is one of the most important Jeep parts you’ll want to invest in. Unless you’re buying a pimped-out, used Wrangler loaded with aftermarket Jeep parts, you’re not going to find one with a stock winch on it. This means one of two things:
- You’re going to have to pay a hefty fee to get your winch installed, in addition to the winch’s cost itself, or
- Install the winch on your own.
We figure that you’re here because you want to save some cash and take the latter approach.
First, it’s important to note that if you’re installing a hydraulic winch, these steps do not apply to you. Electric winches are most common to Jeep Wrangler owners, and the installation process for an electric winch is much simpler than it is for a hydraulic one. Here, you’ll learn how to install an electric winch on a Jeep Wrangler.
Electric or Hydraulic: Which One Do I Need?
If you’re still in the buying process and want to know which winch is best for you, we’re going to suggest the electric winch. Hydraulic winches are incredibly powerful, which is why they’re a popular choice for truck drivers. You need a winch that can handle at least 1.5 times the weight of your own vehicle, but when you’re driving a Wrangler, the average electric winch can handle this much and more, rendering a hydraulic winch unnecessary.
Hydraulic winches can take twice as long to install on a Wrangler, unnecessarily complicating the self-installation process. Electric winches are also much quicker than hydraulic ones, deeming them the best option for off-roading adventures. Whether you’re pulling out another Jeep, or your buddy’s ATV, these quick-acting electric winches help keep the trail line moving right along.
Tips for Installing an Electric Winch on Your Wrangler
Now, that you’ve bought your electric winch, it’s time to begin the installation process. First off, we’ve got a few tips.
#1 – Make Sure Your Bumper is Strong and Sturdy: If you’re driving a modern Wrangler model, the odds are that your stock bumper is strong enough to handle your winch. You’ll definitely want to make sure you purchase a winch mounting plate though if your bumper doesn’t already include one.
#2 – Read the Specifications on All Relevant Parts: Your bumper will have a max weight rating, as will your winch plate. Before you order your electric winch, make sure the bumper and plate can handle your chosen winch’s max capacity. If you try to pull 8,000 pounds with a bumper/plate combo that can only hold 6,000, prepare to lose your bumper.
#3 – Read Manufacturer Guidelines for Specific Instructions: Each winch is different. While most brands follow the same general rules, make sure to view the manufacturer guidelines and check for any specific instructions.
How to Install an Electric Winch on a Jeep Wrangler
While the exact tools required for this job will depend on the winch you purchase, you won’t need anything more than some basic hand tools to complete the installation. As long as you have a ratchet, socket set, and some wrenches, you should be able to get the job done without any problems. However, make sure you read the instructions your winch came with before you get started, so you don’t discover halfway through that it needs a specific tool you don’t have.
Step 1: Prep Your Jeep
The first step in installing a winch is to get your Jeep ready. Depending on what sort of bumper you have and any other modifications you have made, you might need to disconnect some parts to clear the mounting area before you get started. In certain cases, you may even need to drill holes to secure the winch, although there are plenty of bumper/winch combos where everything will line up and you just need to pop in the bolts.
The most important part of this step is to attach the fairlead to your bumper––the slot that the winch cable is fed through. While some bumpers will have an integrated fairlead, most of them only have a slot, sometimes covered by a removable plate. You need to make sure to install a reinforced fairlead, or you could end up damaging the cable or your bumper.
Step 2: Mount the Winch
A winch is heavy and may cause damage to your grille or bumper if dropped. It is generally a good idea to have someone help you out when positioning the winch on your Jeep. If you are worried about scratching the paint, you can add a temporary protective material such as masking tape to prevent damage.
Don’t worry about torquing down all the bolts at this point––there are still a few steps left to complete, and you don’t want to find yourself undoing and redoing things. Just hand tighten everything to keep the winch in place as you complete the installation.
The order in which you mount the winch and thread the cable through the fairlead will depend on your exact winch/bumper setup, so be sure to get this straight before you start bolting things down. It is often easier to get the cable sorted out first since the winch will be taking up space and may make it harder to get the cable through the fairlead.
Step 3: Connect the Wiring
An electric winch is run off your Jeep’s battery and needs to be connected to the positive battery terminal. Although not strictly necessary, given that a steel bumper will usually serve as a functional ground on its own, most electric winch kits will also include a wire to be connected to the negative battery terminal. Many winches will include lettered wires and terminals to make the wiring easy. If your wires aren’t numbered, stick to the traditional color-coding method––red is positive and black is negative.
While you can simply attach the cables directly to the battery terminals, it is always a good idea to include a fuse between the winch and the positive terminal. This will keep the battery from overloading if the winch shorts out. To be doubly safe, you can install a solenoid or manual quick detach setup for the positive cable so that the winch is only energized when you need it. For a really professional set up, wire the solenoid to one of the internal AUX switches so you don’t have to pop the hood to power the winch.
It is important to note that you cannot wire an electric winch directly to the AUX switches––while it may seem like the simplest approach, the factory switches cannot support the electrical draw of a winch.
Step 4: Finish the Install
Once you make it this far, it’s time to torque down all the bolts to spec and ensure your winch is securely mounted. Remember that it will have to support the full weight of your vehicle or anything else you want to pull, so it is a good idea to double-check everything. You may even want to use a paint pen to mark the bolts so you can see if they start backing out.
Finally, reinstall anything that had to be removed to mount the winch, making sure that nothing will interfere with it. You don’t want the winch to try eating something the first time you turn it on. Then it is time to test out the system and check to make sure it all works as expected. When you test the winch, make sure to unwind it almost completely and then use it to pull your vehicle until there are only a few feet of cable left. This will pretension your winch and keep the cable on the drum from getting pinched.
Final Considerations for Your New Winch
If you’re using a synthetic line (and you should––it’s far lighter and safer than steel cable) and you don’t plan on uninstalling and reinstalling your winch as needed, invest in a winch cover. Sunlight will cause synthetic lines to deteriorate, dramatically reducing their strength. Even if you are using steel cable, be sure to unwind it and check it regularly. The last thing you want is for something to go wrong when your Jeep gets struck.
Finally, there’s not one specific way to install a winch. The process we reviewed today is one of many. Just make sure that you’re paying attention to manufacturer instructions and that you complete your electric winch installation safely and successfully. Always be careful when handling your winch’s wiring, as well as its rope housing.
Congrats! Now no matter how muddy it gets, you’re ready to hit the trails!