What is a PTO Winch? All You Need to Know

pto winch

Winches have been one of mankind's handiest inventions for pulling or lifting tasks. These simple, old machines have evolved significantly over time, becoming more sophisticated, but they all still work on the same principle. Nowadays, winches come in different varieties, each designed for specific tasks.

Vehicle recovery winches are equally diverse, from electric to hand-operated worm gear winches. A Power Take-Off winch is one of the types that stands out from the other, not only cause it runs faster and more efficiently but also for its unusual operation. So let's get right into why a PTO winch should be the next item on your wish list.

What is a PTO Winch?

It's a type of winch that draws power from a vehicle's gearbox transmission. This sets it apart from electric winches that use a car battery (to run electric motors) or hydraulic winches that use pressure. Drawing power from gearbox transmission comes off as a bit complex, but how PTO-driven winches work is actually pretty straightforward.

How Does a PTO Winch Work?

Most PTO winches are connected directly to a hydraulic pump that allows mechanical force to be distributed throughout the vehicle's hydraulic fluid system. A hydraulic motor receives the force and converts it into rotational force to reel the winch.

However, the PTO winch does not connect directly to the gearbox since the hydraulic system stands between the gearbox and winch. But just like other leveraged machines, when you pull down and apply pressure on the lever, the PTO winch starts to reel in. The PTO continues to pull until it gets to a certain level of tension where it stops automatically.

Releasing or retracting the cable back into the winch is as easy as pressing down on the lever. It releases pressure from your side of the PTO winch line, allowing the slack to be taken up again without necessarily moving anything. This makes for very easy lifting and pulling that only needs one person's hands.

You can engage or disengage the winch using the clutch and remote control. However, different manufacturers provide different manuals for operating their PTO winches. Therefore, ensure you always refer to the user manual that comes with your winch.

How Is It Different from Other Winches?

As mentioned previously, the power source differentiates a PTO winch from other types of winches. Drawing power from the gearbox means it only works when the engine is on, just like electrical winches. Besides that, a PTO winch works fairly the same way as most other types of car winches.

Mechanical PTO winches are usually installed in trucks and tractors because they have areas than can fit them. Therefore, you need to provide the manufacturer with your vehicle specs to allow them to the right or compatible PTO winch for you.

PTO Winch Weight Capacity

That being said, performance is what truly sets PTO winches apart. A PTO winch is as powerful as the engine it's attached to since its power comes from the gearbox transmission. The same force moving your car along the road is the same one applied to the winch instead.

When to Use PTO Winches

PTO winches are usually most effective in situations where there isn't enough room to turn around and hitch up to another vehicle. They are also great for loading ramps, unloading cargo and pretty much any task that involves heavy-duty pulling power without the need for an extra person to help out with the process.

In other words, a PTO winch is the go-to option in situations where a hydraulic winch or an electric winch cannot get the job done.

Installing a PTO Winch

Image Source: flickr.com

As you probably expect, installing this type of winch is a highly technical and skilled job. It's hugely recommended to seek out a professional for installation unless you're particularly confident in your mechanical engineering skills. This is especially because installing a PTO winch involves tinkering with the gearbox, and getting this wrong can be a costly mistake.

Who Is A PTO Winch for?

PTO winches are built for large trucks and tractors, mostly because of their heavy-duty applications. Since they can pull as much load as the vehicle they are attached to, PTO winches are incredibly useful in professional work environments.

Ultimately, they're more practical for workplace settings than vehicle recovery. Nevertheless, they're no doubt one of the most powerful portable winches you can install in your vehicle, especially if you are huge on offroading and overlanding.

It only follows that we should look at the advantages and disadvantages of a PTO winch to help you determine if it meets your needs and wants:

Pros of PTO Winches

  1. They can run all day. This is because PTO winches are designed to be workhorses so that they can keep going for hours without strain for heavy-duty tasks. In contrast, running an electric motor winch continuously for too long drains the battery pretty fast.
  2. Variable speed control. You can control power output since these winches draw power from the gearbox. Therefore, you're not stuck on one winch speed.
  3. Versatility and Control. Variable speed also makes PTO winches tightly versatile. You can crank up the speed when you have a lighter load or slow it down when lifting a fragile load.
  4. Plenty of Power. Drawing power from the gearbox means PTO winches are powerful enough to pull some pretty heavy loads. Serious heavy-lifting is an equally valuable addition to their work-horse-like nature.
  5. Easy operations. These winches only require one person on-site to operate.

Cons of PTO Winches

  1. Shear Pins. Shear pins are an important feature in PTO winches, and they can easily break if you overload your winch. These pins are quite fragile and an absolute nightmare to fix.
  • Alternatively, you can replace the shear pin with a sturdier concrete nail, but it's still significantly inconvenient.
  1. No engine, no winch. It's all good that PTO winches run off the engine until something goes wrong with the engine. For instance, if you might be in trouble if you're relying on a PTO winch for recovery in a situation where the engine won't run, say if you hit something or at a high altitude.
  2. Winch or wheels. As long as the winch is engaged, you cannot put power on the wheels. Therefore, you can only run one tool at a time, which can be incredibly frustrating in some situations that need both to work simultaneously.


PTO winches are not your typical car winches but are still an excellent option to consider if your want to accomplish serious heavy-lifting without needing an extra person on site. PTO winches are also faster and more efficient than other types of winches.

That being said, PTO winches also present notable downsides despite their undeniable working capabilities. It would be important to weigh both pros and cons as well as compare them to electric and hydraulic winches before making a choice. Ultimately, it whittles down to what you're willing to trade off to meet your needs and demands.

Featured Image Source: flickr.com