How Does A PTO Winch Work? [Power Take Off Winch 101]

A friend in need is a friend indeed! When you get stuck with your vehicle in the middle of nowhere, no one other than your winch will come to rescue you.

Winches have been around for thousands of years, but you should know that PTO winches are the current wonder of winching technology.

If you own a PTO winch, most probably you have gone through several thoughts including how does a PTO winch work?

Knowing this will not just help you to buy a genuine PTO winch, but also to maintain your winch the right way. And this is exactly what our today’s article is all about.

So, just go through the whole discussion in one single scoop and thank me later.

What Is A PTO Winch?

PTO Winch

The term PTO winch stands for the full form Power Take-Off winch. It is fairly common that many people don’t know about PTO winches and their mechanisms.

In short, PTO winches are a special kind of winch that relies on power from the engine gearbox instead of a hydraulic or electric motor.

A special characteristic of this type of winch is that they are extremely faster and more capable compared to other types of winches.

Also, their work efficiency is at a totally different level too. As a result, when one of these bad boys is paired with a vehicle, they can accomplish heavy towing and hauling tasks smoothly.

However, you can’t use PTO winch until and unless your 4 wheeler is designed to have one or preinstalled already.

These winches are mostly used in utility trucks, tractors, and off-road vehicles. They were also used in sports cars earlier, but with time they are becoming less common in such vehicles.

How Does A PTO Winch Work?

In a real-world scenario, you’ll see PTO winches are just being used mostly on heavy vehicles such as tractors and trucks.

Manufacturers of most trucks keep a specially designated area in the trucks to mount PTO winches.

But you’ll not commonly see any vehicle manufacturer providing a pre-attached PTO winch with a vehicle. This means that you’ll have to find a PTO winch that is compatible with your vehicle by yourself.

Before installing a PTO winch, large mechanical shops will ask for your vehicle’s in-depth specification data. It is because they are going to use your vehicle’s gearbox to mount the PTO winch.

If your vehicle specifications match up with a PTO winch in their inventory, the mechanical shops will install the PTO winch on your vehicle.

You will most probably have a remote control to engage the PTO winch into action as well as to disengage it. Also, you can have your clutch controlling the PTO winch too.

Although most PTO winches work in this fashion, there are some exceptions as well.

So, it’s always recommended to read the user manual of the PTO winches to be able to take full advantage of them.

As we have mentioned above, the PTO winch will be connected to your vehicle’s gearbox, but there won’t be a direct connection.

There will be an additional hydraulic system that will occupy the middle ground of the PTO winch and the gearbox.

Hydraulic systems are an array of multiple tubes that are filled with hydraulic fluids.

They work similar to electric wires, the only exception is that, unlike electrical circuits, they host fluid flow.

To describe the mechanism of a PTO winch in a single sentence, the PTO winch gets its power from the native gearbox of the vehicle.

So when you are using a PTO winch, you must have your vehicle engine turned on. This is the key aspect of PTO winches.

Power Capacity Of A PTO Winch

Since a PTO winch runs on the power of the vehicle’s native engine, the more powerful vehicle you have, the more powerful your PTO winch will be.

A lot of aspects come into play when measuring the power capacity of a PTO winch. Every specification of your vehicle’s engine and its gearbox defines the capacity of a PTO winch.

Key specifications such as engine RPM and the piston size of an engine play immensely major roles in determining the strength of a PTO winch.

But, in any case, you can be sure that your PTO winch is capable of pulling your car out of any pit.

It is because your PTO winch is powered by your car itself. So, it’s only normal that your vehicle engine will be able to provide enough power to carry its own weight.

How To Use A PTO Winch: Step-By-Step Guide

Before using your winch, it is always mandatory that you use proper safety gear and follow extra precautions.

In order to operate a PTO winch successfully, you’ll have to keep yourself protected at all costs.

Now follow the below steps to put your PTO winch to work:

#1. Attaching To An Anchor Point

Finding An Anchor Point

If you ever find your vehicle stuck in a pit, the first thing to do is find a suitable anchor point that can withstand your winch’s pull.

Usually, a large tree or a huge-sized border can work as an anchor point to pull a vehicle with its winch.

Attaching Or Hooking To The Anchor Point

At this point, you’re going to hook the winches wire into the anchor point. There are many ways to do this.

In most cases, you can wrap your winch’s wire around the anchor object and hook the wire’s terminal clip with the wire.

#2. Recovering Or Lifting The Vehicle

Starting The Winch

After you have made sure that your car winch is firmly connected to a reliable anchor point, it’s time to mobilize the winch.

Startup your winch with its control unit and get it prepared to pull. Sometimes in cold weather terrains, the winch gets too cold and becomes unable to operate.

In cases like that, it’s better to wait for the winch to get heated.

Pulling And Recovering

Now, by the power of the winch, you can start pulling your vehicle towards the anchor point.

Use the winch’s control unit in a proper manner to get the best performance out of the winch. Remember, it’s counterproductive to overload the winch by commanding it to work very fast.

If your vehicle is a heavy one, it’s going to take longer to completely recover it from a stuck position. That’s that. You have to be patient and have faith in your winch’s mechanical power.

#3. Detaching From The Anchor Point

Unhooking The Wire

When you have pulled your vehicle out of its predicament, your vehicle will have reached the anchor point.

Now you have to safely hook the winch’s wire from its anchor point. To do that, you might have to use your hands.

In some models of the modern PTO winches, there is automatic hooking and unhooking capability. But in case you are unhooking the wire by your hand, don’t forget to wear work gloves.

Re-reeling The Wear

Now that the wire’s job is done, it’s time for you to re-reel the wire in. Use the winches control unit for this. And just like that, you have recovered your vehicle with your PTO winch.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Type Of Winch Is Better?

In terms of raw power, PTO winches are on the top of the scale. Compared to hydraulic and electric-powered winches, PTO winches have proven to be more reliable and mechanically capable.

As we have mentioned above, the raw power of the engine is used in a PTO winch. As a result, its capability is unparalleled compared to other types of winches.

Is There A Downside To PTO Winches?

The only downside of PTO winches is that they cannot operate if your engine is not running. This means if your car engine is completely damaged, you cannot use your winch to recover your vehicle.

In this field, electric winches excel in performance. Because electric winches run on battery power, they can perform independently without taking help from the vehicle’s engine.

Do PTO Winches Have A Dedicated Motor?

No. since a PTO winch runs by the mechanical power that is transmitted from the vehicle engine’s own gearbox, it does not need a dedicated motor to operate.

In electric winches, there is a dedicated motor that runs on a battery.

But in the case of PTO winches, the need for a dedicated motor is absent. As a result, there’s no dedicated motor in a PTO winch.


At last, it is safe to say that PTO winches are the ultimate tool of reliability and functionality.

Because PTO winches can generate large amounts of power without having a separate motor or power generation unit, this type of winch is simpler in terms of construction.

As a consequence, most vehicle owners choose PTO winches over other types.

There you go, congratulations! You just finished the whole discussion on “how does a PTO winch work”.

I hope this discussion comes in handy at any point in the future. Good luck and see you again.