Winch Gears & Motors Explained

Winches come in three different types of gear systems. We’ve stated the type of gear and the various features that will affect your choices. Here is a brief overview of the gearing types used in winches.

Winch gears convert a high speed, low force electric motor output into a low speed, high torque pulling machine.

Planetary Gear: Planetary gear is actually a set of gears on or inside a larger gear. The best features of planetary gear are their compact size, low cost, and low weight. They have a power transfer efficiency of 65 percent. They are in the middle position of spun and worm gear types for amp draw and drivetrain friction.  They are used to turn the input in the same direction as the output and make drastic gear ratios possible.

Planetary gears look a little like the sun with some revolving planets. That’s why they are called “planetary gear”. Sun gears turn on a fixed center and planetary gears turn on a movable center.

Nowadays, most winches on the market are planetary types. They are the most commonly used gear train and they have some clear advantages. They are most popular for automatic transmissions. They are used in bicycles for controlling pedaling power and also used for powertrain between an electric motor and a combustion engine.

If you’re looking for a planetary gear winch then you can read our article: best winch guide.

Worm Gear: Worm gears are not as strong or efficient as planetary gears. These gears run at about 35 to 40 percent efficiency.

The worm gear is made of two parts: The worm gear and the pinion. Winches with worm gear are good at lowering a load under power, and is very good at load holding, with a minimal brake needed.

Because of lots of gear reduction of Worm gears, they are far slower than the spun or planetary types, especially unloaded.

Spun Gear: This type of gears consist of two wheel-shaped gears, a smaller one and a large one. This gear system has a power transfer efficiency of 75 percent. They are inexpensive to manufacture and perform very well which make them one of the most cost-effective types of gearing.

Spun gear type winches are fast but have fairly low amperage draw for their line speed. They need a strong brake to hold the load. Warn 8274-50 is the only spun gear winch still on the market.

Winch Motor Type

Winch motors are another important components of a winch. Winches use two types of DC motors. They are permanent magnet motors(PM) and series wound motors(SW). All winch motors have a set of coils inside them which is called an armature. Inside the armature, there is either another set of coils or a set of permanent magnets, called the stator. Permanent magnet motors use magnets to rotate the rotor or armature and run the engine.

Applying a voltage to the coils produces a torque in the armature and result in motion. The higher the horsepower rating the motor has, the more power and torque it will have. The horsepower of the motor has a direct effect on pulling power and line speed.

Permanent Magnet Motors

Permanent magnetic motors stator uses permanent magnets and there are no field coils. This types of motors overheat easily which causes the motor to slow down. But they cause very little strain on the battery. They are better suited for light to medium duty winching jobs as they tend to generate more heat and overheat. They can’t be used for very heavy winching.

As permanent magnet motors have the tendency to overheat, winching time and load should be carefully monitored. The magnets used in permanent magnet motors can lose their field strength over time and repeated use. They also have the tendency to lose power in extremely cold weather.

Series Wound Motors

Series wounded motors have another set of field coils inside the armature. This type of motor use field coils to generate a magnetic field. Because of this extra effort, they use more current than permanent magnet motors. But they don’t heat up easily like permanent magnet motors.

Series wounded are found in heavier duty winches and they tend to be more expensive. Permanent magnet seen on the lower priced winches. They draw some 10-15 percent fewer amps than the heavier duty series wound motors. Permanent motors are perfectly fine for the occasional wincher or careful wincher. Series wounds are the best choice for heavy duty or cold weather use.

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