ATV winches are powerful, reliable, and compact little units that can pull a substantial load. The most common mounting position is at the front of the vehicle at knee height. But there may be times where alternative mounting positions or winch orientations would suit your specific need better.
In this post, we’ll be looking at installing an ATV winch up-side-down, installing a winch on the cargo racks, or rear-mounted on the hitch receiver.
The compact yet powerful ATV winch features also make them attractive alternatives when you need some DIY pulling power on your truck bed.
Can you mount a winch upside down?
Sometimes you may not be able to find a suitable mounting spot for the winch in its standard orientation. But then you notice that if you turn the winch upside down, it fits perfectly. This leaves the question: Can an ATV winch be mounted upside down?
Most ATV and UTV winches can be mounted upside down, as long as you make sure the rope or cable still spools in on the side of the drum closest to the base of the winch. There are exceptions where the winch manufacturers do not recommend mounting the winch upside down. Refer to the installation manual or ask the manufacturer directly to ensure your specific model can be mounted in the desired orientation.
Since no one answer fits all to this question, I asked some of the major winch brands if their ATV and UTV winches can be mounted upside down and if there are any special considerations you need to take into account for a successful install.
Mounting Warn ATV and UTV winches upside down
According to Warn, most of their ATV and UTV winches can be mounted upside down if needed.
The gears and brake mechanism will work fine regardless of which way the winch is oriented.
Warn offers winch mounting plates that are designed specifically for various ATV and UTV models. Some of these plates do mount the winch upside down.
Warn truck winches mounts either with the foot facing down or the foot facing forward. In both cases, the cable should spool in from the bottom of the drum.
This does not necessarily mean that a truck winch cannot be mounted upside down, but you should refer to Warn for advice on your specific model.
Mounting Superwinch ATV winches upside down
According to Superwinch, you should not mount any of their ATV winches upside down. They did not specify why they provided this recommendation.
Mounting a SmittyBilt ATV winch upside down
According to Smittybilt, you can mount their ATV winches upside down, as long as you make sure the winch is operating in the same direction and rotation as it would if mounted right side up.
Mounting a WinchMax ATV winch upside down
For ATV owners based in Europe, I find that UK-based WinchMax provides the best deal if you’re in the market for a budget-friendly alternative to Warn.
I asked Winchmax, and they replied that there is no problem to mount the winch upside down, as long as the rope is fed onto the winch drum in the same way as when mounted in the normal orientation – under the drum.
Things to consider if you want to mount a winch upside down
Here are a few things to consider for a successful winch install if you plan on installing your winch upside down.
Make sure the rope or cable spools correctly
The single most crucial aspect of installing a winch upside down is making sure the winch rope or cable still spools according to the user manual’s directions.
Always spool the rope or cable to the drum from the drum’s side closest to the base of the winch.
In normal orientation, this would be from the bottom of the drum. When the winch is mounted upside down, the rope or cable should spool from the drum’s top.
To achieve this without changing winching direction, you need to flip the winch sideways with the motor facing the opposite side.
If you install the winch so that the cable spools on the wrong side of the drum, you introduce excess forces that the winch and mounting bracket were not designed to handle.
Some winches have drain-holes to drain water
Either the winch solenoid or motor housing may have drain holes to drain out any water that may enter. Some Warn winches have drainage slots built into the drum support.
When you flip the winch upside down, the drainage will end up at the top of the winch, where it will do no good.
Consider making new drain holes or relocating the solenoid so that it remains in the correct orientation.
Is your winch a worm gear winch or planetary gear winch?
Electric winches use one of two gear styles to transfer the motor’s power to the winch drum; planetary gears or worm gear.
Planetary-style winches use grease to keep the gears lubricated. The grease will stay on the gears regardless of the winch orientation.
Worm gear winches, however, use oil to keep the gears lubed. When you turn this style of winch upside down, the oil may no longer be able to reach the gears, causing them to wear fast.
You could also get oil leaks, as the gearbox is only designed to be used in a specific orientation.
Note: Some winches are designed to operate feet forward, while others are designed to operate feet down. Refer to your user manual to determine if your winch needs to be in a specific orientation to work properly.
Make sure you have proper access to the engagement lever
The engagement lever or knob is usually placed for optimal access when the winch is oriented with the drum on top. When you flip the winch, you may find that the lever ends up in an awkward position, making it hard to operate.
It may become harder to monitor the winch rope as you spool back in
With the drum at the bottom of the winch, it may become harder to visually make sure the winch rope spools back nicely onto the drum and not on one side, possibly causing a jam. Here are 6 ways to untangle a stuck or jammed-up winch.
Can you reverse polarity to make the winch turn in the opposite direction?
Technically you can make the electric DC motor in your winch turn in the opposite direction by reversing the polarity, but that does not mean you should.
The automatic winch brakes will not work and may become damaged
The winch has an automatic brake to hold back when spooling out under load and hold the load when the winch motor is not activated.
The brake on all planetary gear winches and some worm drive winches are designed to work in only one direction.
If you switch direction, the brake will no longer be able to hold back as you winch out.
Also, when you winch in, you will be overpowering the brake that keeps trying to stop the drum from turning. This will cause the brake to wear fast or fail.
Note that some worm drive winches have brakes that can be reversed to operate the winch in a different orientation. Refer to your user manual to learn if your winch has this feature.
The winch drum cable retainer is designed to retain the cable in only one direction
Installing the cable in the opposite direction may cause a loose cable and possibly damaging it, causing it to break.
The gears may be designed to pull only in one direction
The gears in most winches are optimized to handle higher stress loads in only one direction as you pull in. If you switch the motor’s direction, you will stress the gears in which direction they are designed to free spool outwards.
The brushes on the winch motor can be designed for a specific rotation
On some but not all winch motors, the brushes are designed to pull in a specific direction. The engine may still work if you reverse polarity, but it will not perform optimally.
Can you switch the winch direction by using “in” as “out” and “out” as “in”?
Winding the drum in the opposite direction would fix the issue with the rope being at the drum’s top.
But this should be avoided as it will cause many of the same issues as hardwiring the winch motor to run in the opposite direction. The most critical issue being brake failure.
Most winch user manuals include a clear warning against switching winching direction.
Check this post to learn how to properly install a winch rope or caple to the winch drum.
Can you mount an ATV winch on the hitch receiver?
Mounting your ATV winch to the hitch receiver can be a good option if you’re looking for a solid yet detachable rear mounting position for the winch.
Many manufacturers offer brackets that will fit your winch and attach straight to your ATV’s two-inch receiver.
Make sure to get some extra same gauge cable like the one that came with your winch, along with some heavy-duty quick connect plugs. By using plugs, you’re able to remove the winch when not in use quickly.
Can you mount a winch to your ATVs cargo racks?
I would rather use the hitch receiver as a mounting spot as most cargo racks are not designed to handle a winch pulling load.
However, some manufacturers offer brackets for specific models, such as this one for a Yamaha Grizzly.
Can you mount an ATV winch to your truck bed?
An ATV winch can be a nice accessory to pull, let’s say an ATV, onto your truck’s truck bed. However, it will require some mechanical know-how, as you will have to fabricate a bracket to hold the winch in place.
Make sure you make the bracket strong enough to handle the rated pulling power of the winch. This video will give you some ideas on how to go about a project like this.
Can you mount an ATV winch on a truck?
There should be no issues using an ATV winch on a truck, as long as the truck is not too heavy for the winch rated towing capacity.
A small ATV winch on a large truck will not work, while a larger ATV winch on a small or medium-sized winch may be a good alternative.
Check out this post to learn what size winch you should get for various vehicle sizes.