What Is an RC Winch?

Dan Cavallari

The term "RC winch" may refer to two separate devices: one is a small device mounted to RC or radio controlled cars, while the other is a full-size device mounted to the front of off-road vehicles or heavy-duty trucks. The purpose of an RC winch is to haul the vehicle forward should it get stuck, or to haul heavy items using the vehicle's weight as an anchor. The winch features a cable wrapped around a drum or pulley several times; as the pulley turns, the cable is fed out, and when it turns in the other direction, it is retracted, thereby pulling the vehicle or the object.

Large RC winches are used on tow trucks to support the weight of wrecked cars.
Large RC winches are used on tow trucks to support the weight of wrecked cars.

The difference between the RC winch and a standard winch is the manner in which it is controlled. A standard winch will feature a hand controller connected by a cable or wire to the winch body and motor. The operator must stand near the winch, within the length of the controller's cable. An RC winch, however, uses radio waves to communicate with a receiver mounted on the winch body itself. The user can therefore stand in any location within the controller's operational zone and control the winch from a safe distance.

While some winches are hand-operated, an RC winch is motor-controlled. The motor can be electric, as is the case with most off-road vehicle winches as well as ATV winches, or it can be gasoline or diesel powered, which is the case with some larger industrial winches. The RC winch controller can work with either type of winch as long as that winch system is designed to work from a radio controller. Sometimes aftermarket radio controllers can be installed to standard winches to convert them to RC, though in most cases, the winch comes from the manufacturer with RC capabilities.

The size of the RC winch motor as well as the size of the cable will dictate how much weight it can haul. The weight capacity should not be exceeded, as this can result in damage to the unit and potential injury to the user. Smaller winches are usually used on ATVs, while larger ones are used on off-road vehicles. Much larger ones are sometimes used on tow trucks and wreckers to support the weight of a disabled automobile, though these are not usually radio controlled units. Instead, the control box is mounted on the side of the truck or at the rear of the vehicle.

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