It takes a lot of moving parts on your winch to get the job done and your vehicle pulled out to safety. The winch gear (or drivetrain, as it’s also called) is what converts the high-speed, low-force power produced by your electric winch motor into a low-speed, high-torque pulling force.
How do winch gears work?
Most electric winches on the market today use a planetary gear system, which is similar to the gearing used for the automatic transmission in your vehicle.
It’s basically a set of gears inside a larger gear. The “planetary” gears revolve around a “sun” gear in the center.
The two other main types of gears are spur gears and worm gears, neither of which are widely available in offroad winches.
The spur gear is composed of a pair of gears, one bigger than the other. The bigger gear connects to the motor shaft, and the smaller gear connects to the winch shaft. Spur gears are fast, smooth, and quiet.
The worm gear is composed of a pinion and worm gear. It operates based on a line of contact rather than a point of contact. Worm gears are common for tow trucks but are much slower than spur and planetary gears.
Planetary Winch Gears
Why are most electric winches designed with a planetary gear system? Planetary gears are compact in size (which allows the winch to fit in tight mounting spaces), lightweight (the less weight hanging off your bumper, the better), and low cost (which gets passed on to the consumer).
Most 12V winches with planetary gears use a brake inside the center of the drum. This can generate a significant amount of heat during long pulls. To reduce the possibility of damage from an overheated winch, most winch manufacturers recommend allowing the winch to cool down every so often during heavy-duty operations or a long period of winching.