How to Wire an ATV Winch (With Wiring Diagram)

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A winch is one of the most power-hungry accessories you can get for your ATV, so it’s crucial that the wiring is correct. 

Wiring a winch so that it turns on is relatively simple. But wiring a winch so that the installation is safe, reliable, long-lasting, and won’t damage the ATV’s electrical system takes a bit more effort.

This guide covers all aspects of wiring an ATV winch but does not contain detailed instructions on physically mounting it to the ATV. 

Related: Winching 101: How Does an ATV Winch Work?

atv winch wiring diagram
Basic ATV winch wiring diagram.

Note: This guide covers general installation steps for ATV winches based on manuals from various top brands. Your winch’s wiring harness might have minor differences, yet the fundamental steps are similar.

Remember that while many winches share a similar wiring structure, the color coding and connectors can vary.

Use the manual specific to your winch model for the most accurate installation. Ensure that your winch’s design aligns with the methods described in this guide.

Safety Precautions – No, Seriously, Read These!

Always use caution when working with electricity and observe the safety instructions below. Failing to do so could lead to serious injury, death, or vehicle damage.

  1. Wear eye protection.
  2. Remove all metal jewelry.
  3. Disconnect the positive battery terminal before working on the electric system.
  4. Batteries contain flammable gasses, and sparks from touching a positive wire to the ground could cause an explosion. 
  5. Do not lean over the battery while connecting wires.
  6. Be careful not to cause a short when working with metal tools near the battery terminals.

NOTE: These warnings only consider the wiring aspect of the winch installation. Please refer to the winch installation guide or owner’s manual for other important safety warnings before operating the winch. 

How to Properly Run the Wires

These guidelines apply whenever you run wires or cables for the winch and its controls.

A winch draws a lot of power, and if the insulating outer layer of the wiring becomes damaged for any reason, it could cause a short to ground. Possible hazards include a powerful electric burst, fire, and damage to the vehicle’s electrical components. 

Apply these guidelines to reduce the risk of damaging the wires:

  • Whenever possible, use existing routing paths.
  • Never route electrical wires across sharp edges.
  • Never route electrical wires through or near moving parts. Example: Drive shafts and suspension components.
  • Never route electrical cables through or near any high-heat parts. Example: Exhaust and engine.
  • Never route wires where they may get pinched or wear from abrasion.
  • Never route wires across battery terminals. A damaged wire can short out the battery.
  • Always insulate any exposed wiring and all-electric terminals using the supplied terminal boots, shrink wrap, or electrical tape to prevent accidental shorts.

1. Mount the Winch to the ATV

This guide does not detail how to mount the winch to the ATV physically, but the winch should be mounted before you begin wiring. 

The best option is to get a vehicle-specific bolt-on winch mounting kit with instructions and everything you need to install the winch securely to the ATV.

Related: Alternative ATV Winch Mounting: Upside Down? Truckbed? Hitch? Rack?

2. Prepare the Contactor Mounting Location

The winch works by transforming electrical power into mechanical power. The contactor is an electromagnetic switch that controls the power of the winch. The contactor has two primary functions. 

  • Firstly, it’s an important safety feature that disconnects the winch from the power source (battery) when the ATV is unused. This helps prevent unintended operation of the winch. It also prevents the winch from draining the battery when not in use.
  • Secondly, the contactor controls the winch’s movement. It directs power to spool the winch in, out, or stop based on the commands from the handlebar rocker switch or the remote.

Where to Mount the Contactor

The winch contactor should be installed somewhere that meets the following criteria.

  • Close to the battery.
  • As dry and clean as possible, water can damage the contactor by corrosion.
  • At a safe distance from a heat source such as the exhaust or engine. Too much heat can melt the contactor or reduce its service life. 
  • A location with sufficient clearance from all metal structures, such as the frame tubes. When working on the contactor, you want to ensure tools do not cause a short between the contactor and ground (the frame, engine, etc.)

The optimal location varies with each ATV, but good spots include:

  • Inside, on top, or on the side of the front or rear storage box, 
  • Underneath the seat.
  • In front, close to the battery.

For the contactor and winch to work properly, the contactor must be installed correctly. All the wires in the winch wiring circuit connect to the contactor.

Drilling the Contactor Mounting Holes

Ensure you’re not drilling into fuel lines, the fuel tank, brake lines, electrical wires, etc. 

DO NOT mount the contactor yet. Attaching the wires to the contactor before mounting it permanently to the ATV is easier. 

3. Mount the Handlebar Rocker Switch and Route Wires

The handlebar switch is typically located on the left handlebar to prevent interference with the thumb throttle. 

If you have to reposition some of the original ATV control to make room for the rocker switch, ensure you do not compromise the vehicle’s safe operation. 

Ensure the selected mounting position provides sufficient clearance against all vehicle controls and that the clamp does not tighten over brake lines or cables. 

TIP: A piece of electrical tape around the handlebars will prevent the mounting clamps from rotating. 

Once the handlebar switch is mounted, route the wire harness to the location you’ve prepared for the contactor. 

Route the red wire to the back of the ignition switch.

NOTE: Please refer to the guidelines at the beginning of this guide on how to run the wires properly

OPTIONAL: If the winch comes with a wired remote, find a suitable location for the remote socket, drill out the required holes, and mount the socket. 

4. Connect the Red Rocker Switch Wire

The red wire (usually 20ga) from the rocker switch must be connected to a fused wire with power only when the key is turned ON. 

Most ATVs have a spare key-controlled accessory circuit suitable for this purpose. 

Use a test light or multimeter to verify that the wire only has power when the key is ON. 

Most kits include a wire splice to make the connection easier. Use to splice the red switch wire into the power wire. Wind the connection with electric tape to protect it.

Before securing the cable with zip ties, ensure the cable is not obstructing the handlebar’s full range of motion. 

OPTIONAL: If the winch comes with a wired remote, route the wire harness to the contactor location as you did with the rocker switch wiring harness. Also, splice the red wire into the same key-controlled accessory circuit.

5. Install the Main Wiring

The main winch wiring consists of four heavy gauge wires. The wires are colored, but not all winch brands use the same color coding.

NOTE: Please refer to the guidelines on properly running the wires at the beginning of this guide. 

Some brands use red and black wires from the battery to the contactor and red and black wires from the contactor to the winch.

Other brands use red and black wire from the battery to the contactor but blue and yellow from the contactor to the winch motor.

  • Red wires are always positive “+.”
  • Black wires are always negative “-.”

The contactor terminal layout can also vary between winch brands, so you must get familiar with your connector before connecting the wires. 

The connector and winch motor terminals are usually labeled “+” and “-” or color-coded to make it easier to know which wire goes where. 

atv winch contactor solenoid


  • If you swap the battery power wires, the battery positive may short to ground.
  • If you swap the winch motor wires, the winch turns in the wrong direction.

How to Connet the Main Wiring

  1. Slip the supplied terminal boots onto all main wire connectors. Do not skip the terminal boots, as they are critical to prevent shorts and possible injury or death. 
  2. Attach all four main wires to the contactor according to markings or color coding.
  3. Attach the contactor to the position you prepared earlier. 
  4. Route the wires to the winch motor and the battery according to the guidelines for proper cable routing. Secure the wires with zip ties. 
  5. Attach the wire connectors to the winch motor terminals according to the color coding or markings. 
  6. Slip the terminal boots over the terminals and connectors.
  7. Connect the control wires from the rocker switch to the contactor according to the color coding or markings. 
  8. Check once more that the wires do not cross any sharp edges or moving parts or are in contact with components that get hot. 
  9. Attach the black negative wire securely to the negative battery terminal
  10. Attach the positive red wire securely to the positive battery terminal.

The winch is now connected, but DO NOT use it until you’ve performed the final system check.

6. Perform a System Check

  • Check all the wiring once more and ensure all loose wire ends are wrapped tight and zip-tied.
  • Check that all wire connections are tight. You should be able to pull on the wire without it coming loose. 
  • Check that all the supplied terminal boots are installed and that there are no exposed wiring terminals. You can use heat shrink or electrical tape if you don’t have enough terminal boots.
  • Check all fasteners to ensure the winch is fastened correctly. 

CAUTION: Winches are extremely powerful and can cause serious injury if not used correctly, especially for those new to winching. It’s vital to learn safe winching techniques before operating your winch. Please read the provided winch instructions or refer to our detailed, step-by-step guide on winching with an ATV.

7. Test Winch Operation

To test the winch, turn the ignition key to the ON position. 

  • Tap the “OUT” button to verify that the winch activates and spools OUT.
  • Tap the “IN” button to confirm that the winch activates and spools IN. 
  • Also, check for proper remote function if available.

Suppose the winch spools IN when it should spool OUT; the wires coming from the contactor are likely wired wrong. 

Switch the winch motor connectors and test once more. Do NOT continue to spool in when the rope has bottomed out, as this will damage the winch. 

Related Questions

What Gauge Wire Does ATV Winches Use?

What gauge wire your ATV winch needs depends on the engine size and how much electricity it draws. 

Most ATV winches use 8-gauge or 6-gauge wire, where 8ga is only used in the smallest 1500lb and some 2500lb winches, and 6ga is used in the more powerful 2500lb to 4500lb winches. 

Related: What size ATV winch do you need? (with examples)

Can You Wire a Winch Directly to the Battery?

Some people wonder how you can wire a winch without using a solenoid, but that is not something I recommend you try.

In short, you cannot wire a winch directly to the battery as you won’t have a way to turn it on or off. It is also not safe and will likely drain the battery.

Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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