• Steven E. Overmyer

How to Choose Between a Synthetic Rope Winch or Steel Cable Winch

Steel Cable Winch vs Synthetic Rope Winch

So you've purchased an ATV or a UTV and now it's time for the fun part: decking it out with mods. Whether you purchased your ATV from Outdoor Powersports or somewhere else, we've put together a helpful guide for determining which type of winch you should get for your new toy.

Steel Cable Winch

The Pros

The steel cable winch has been the go-to for years. Because of their rugged and durable construction (made from aircraft grade steel), they work great for terrain that is muddy, sandy, or otherwise pretty messy. 

Unlike synthetic rope, a steel cable line is very unlikely to fray under these conditions. On top of that, if you're off-roading in wintery conditions with lots of precipitation, these cables don't retain water like synthetic rope does. This means that even if it's below freezing, your steel cable won't freeze-up. 

The Cons

Unfortunately, steel cable lines can actually damage your winch over time, if you're not careful. As the cable gets naturally worn from use, it is likely that it will begin to fray or otherwise become damaged. As damaged cable moves over the winch roller, it will begin to damage the winch itself through erosion and scratching. 

Furthermore, one of the biggest drawbacks of a steel cable winch is that it there is a constant possibility of a cable-snap. Cable snaps typically happen because of a frayed cable, and can cause serious injury or death, especially if the cable is bearing a significant weight or tension. 

It's always important to inspect your cable before each outing, and especially  before each use, for any frays or rust. A quick inspection before each use can seem tedious, but it's definitely worth the time, as it can help prevent damage to your vehicle, your winch, and you.

Synthetic Rope Winch

The Pros

Synthetic rope is inherently safer than its steel counterpart due to the way that the synthetic material stores energy. These ropes are far less likely to snap like cable, and even if they do, the energy that it stores is so low that the consequences are very minor and injury or damage is unlikely. 

Synthetic rope is also much more kind to your winch and is unlikely to cause any damage, even if used improperly. Synthetic rope does not kink like cable does. 

The Cons

The biggest downside to using synthetic rope is that it can fray very easily against rough material, such as rock. Additionally, synthetic rope absorbs heat very easily, so combining a hot day with fraying from rocks may lead to a broken line or weakened rope. The rope holds heat so well that, combined with the heat generated by the motor and brake on your winch, can actually lead to damage of the winch over sustained usage.

Although synthetic rope does not kink, it is prone to tangles or knotting, so it's important that you're careful with the slack in your line and how you roll and unroll your rope.

Our Recommendation

For the casual off-roader, we think that synthetic rope is probably your best choice. If your winch rarely gets used, synthetic rope is a great option because it's not going to rust or degrade over time. However, if you're using your winch frequently or in rough conditions (wintery weather, rocky terrain, etc), then we suggest purchasing a steel cable. It's important that you buy the winch with the correct weight requirements for your vehicle. We've written a handy blog about how to choose the correct one. Click here to read that blog post.

Where to Buy

We have a huge catalog of accessories for your off-road vehicle, as well as a massive inventory of pre-owned ATVsnew ATVsused UTV's and new UTV's.

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