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An ATV winch is a device mounted to the front of an all terrain vehicle, or ATV. This device feeds out cable that can be wrapped around a solid object to help pull the ATV forward should it get stuck in mud, snow, or other treacherous conditions. The ATV winch works in much the same way as larger winches designed for full-size trucks and off-road vehicles, but the weight capacity is usually much lower and the unit itself tends to be lighter than other models. In some cases, however, full size winches can be mounted to an ATV.
The cable of the ATV winch is wound around a wide pulley numerous times; when the pulley moves in one direction, the cable is fed out, and when it moves in the other direction, the cable is retracted. A built-in motor controls the movement of the pulley, and the motor is controlled by a user with a hand control unit. This unit usually plugs directly into the ATV winch system, though in other cases, the hand controller is a radio unit that transmits to a receiver mounted on the motor housing without the need for a cable or wire. Most controllers are fairly simple units, featuring a feed button, a retraction button, and a kill switch that will stop the movement of the cable and pulley in case of an emergency.
If the ATV gets bogged down in snow or mud, the user can dismount the vehicle and feed out cable from the ATV winch. He or she can then secure the cable around a tree or other solid object and use the hand controller to begin retracting the cable. This will pull the stuck vehicle forward, and sometimes the user can mount the vehicle again and use the drive forces of the ATV combined with the pulling force of the winch to work through the mud or other difficult terrain.
Sometimes the ATV winch is mounted at the rear of the ATV instead of at the front. This is usually done if the ATV is used to haul items such as logs or boulders. The cable can be secured around such items, as a hook is usually mounted to the end of the cable to make looping and securing possible. Securing logs or large boulders in this way must be done carefully to avoid potential injury or damage to the ATV, and the weight capacity of the unit should never be exceeded.