I think I need a winch


I think I need a winch!

Okay last time you went out you managed to get stuck (with a girl in the car), you had no shovel to dig yourself out or ropes and shackles so had to get Farmer John to hook you up behind the tractor and tow you out. For this he demanded $100 and a bottle of whiskey before he started... It happens farmers and other fully equipped vehicles come across someone new to the sport and unprepared (jealous of the girl in your 4wd) so they make you learn a costly lesson.

One thing you need before winches are RATED RECOVERY POINTS! these are points that will indicate and show stress before they fail and they fail in a predicted and controlled way! I have once had to run a rope through the drivers and passengers windows behind the A pillars to recover a vehicle in a river (no hooks and you had to use a shackle to attach to a tow loop under the car while standing in 1.2M of fast flowing water) we got them out started a fire and got them warm but the 4wd needed major work on one A pillar all for the sake of fitting a hook in a place you can reach.

When will it be used?

This may seem fairly obvious its for when you are asked to pull out the hedge in front of the house by your partner! What are you looking for something for off road competition? Trips to the woods for hunting? or just the occasional light use on track or field? This will partially dictate the winch you buy.

  • In competition you need a fast primary winch PTO or Hydraulic because they can run fast and are strong and will want a backup electric (add extra batteries and a bigger alternator to charge the batteries faster) to let your winch if your primary has a issue, remember in competition you don't have the time to stop winching and let the batteries recharge.
  • For general offroad use where speed is not as important and you don’t want to go to all the expense of up-rating your electrics, a single electric winch will do with just a higher amperage battery. If you want to lead other vehicles or be tail end charlie you need to be more self sufficient and have a decent self recovery option. 
  • Hand winches some people think they are ancient but they are small in space and very useful especially in a group if you are somewhere in the pack following or as a backup to the electric.

What size winch? How big is your vehicle?

This calculation is relatively easy just get everything in the 4wd your girlfriend, her handbag, food, the dog, all the beer, the camping stuff, then find 4 bathroom scales. Drive onto the scales and add them all together lol – get from the manufacturer the gross weight of your vehicle – that is the weight fully loaded then multiply that by 1.5 to allow for inclines, mud suction, river flow etc, you can also add a pulley to halve the speed but double the pulling power.

If you are going to enter off-road competitions you need to at least double your gross weight but remember the bigger the electric winch the faster you will be using up precious battery life also in competition or recreation don’t try and save money by buying too small a winch and burning out the motor.

Look at the line speed of the winch and how it is measured, good winches tell you the line speed and pulling power of each wrap of rope, cheaper imported brands measure the power on the lowest wrap and the line speed on the top. You can save some money but if your 9000 pound winch requires 300m of line to be out to be 9000 pound and you remove only 50 and have to double line pull as it is only 6000 pound on the final wrap you may want to know. Get the spec sheet to me and I can have a look and explain.

Here is one real life example: 10,500 pound winch 9.75FPM line speed.
Layer              1               2              3              4
Line Speed   6.42FPM    7.3FPM      8.42FPM    9.75FPM
Rated Pull   10,500lbs   8,500lbs    7,400lbs    6,400lbs

Hydraulic, PTO, Electric or Manual?

Hydraulic winches are mainly used on commercial recovery trucks or winch challenge vehicles where they are in constant use. They are not usually used  for leisure use but those that are take its power from your power steering pump. They will pull all day long and work very very hard but they are SLOW, very SLOW, as a power steering pump is high pressure and low volume. You can make these run fast for competition but it is highly modified with a separate pump, bigger motor and pipework to give it the speed you need in extreme competitions.

PTO (Power Take Off) winches are again used on commercial recovery trucks or winch challenge vehicles where they are in constant use. They are factory fitted to some offroaders but these take power from your engine so they are strong and fast (with your foot down) but can break a shear pin (fuse) to save the winch. If you kill your engine (river crossing etc) you will have no winch.

Electric winches, the main thing to look for here is what amperage does the motor draw? No alternator is going to put power back in to the battery as fast as the winch is going to draw it out, so the fewer amps the winch uses the longer your battery will last before you have to stop and let it recover. Also a major thing to look for is how well waterproofed it is. As everyone knows, electrics and water don’t mix! Remember warranty support too.

Manual winches or hand winches, these are very good if you only occasionally go offroad and don't need to winch often, the real benefit to a hand winch is you can pull the 4wd forwards, backwards or sideways, it may not be fast but it can move to another vehicle be used on multiple vehicles and is a good workout! remember you only need to winch far enough to drive out and on a few offroad trips I have been on the turfor, a brand of hand winch has proven faster and more effective than multiple vehicles with winches trying to position to pull the same thing!

Do I need to buy a Winch bumper?

You need to mount a winch solidly to the chassis with access to the rope, this can be done with a winch plate in the existing bumper, a ready made winch bumper, a remote mounted winch with a guide to get the rope to the front even mounted facing backwards with a pulley.

Winch Bumpers can be fitted by any competent mechanic or experienced DIY enthusiast, as they bolt on in place of the original bumper, and you connect the winch leads to the battery. It is best to put an isolator switch between the battery and the winch on the positive lead, so that when you are not using the winch you can keep it isolated to avoid any power loss through an accidental short circuit.

When fitting a winch, the location is very important. A winch needs to be on top of or between the chassis rails, as far back as possible, so that you do not interfere with the approach angle of your vehicle. When fitting a winch down low or hiding it away can cause problems later on. When you need to use it maybe the first time you need it the front of your vehicle will be nose down in a ditch and you wont be able to get to it, it will be clogged up with mud or under water.

Your winch should be fitted so that the line of pull runs down the center of the chassis, distributing the stress evenly through the vehicle.

Things you need

  • Thick leather work gloves – You must always use these when winching. Steel cables have a tendency to splinter and these splinters will tear your hands to shreds without them. Preferably keep two or three pairs in a kit bag so you have a fresh pair for when the first pair get soaked in water, mud, snow and ice. It is always safer and easier to work with warm dry hands. Thinner gloves can be used with nylon but be wary of burns and pinching as the rope is pulled tight.
  • A tree strop - You need this to put around a tree to connect your winch cable to. I have seen people put their winch cable around a tree and back on to itself – this should NEVER be done! First it will cause a kink in the cable and create a weak point and break strands of the cable and cut through the tree. At the very least it will ruin an expensive cable.
  • In competition they prefer to use synthetic rope. It is more expensive compared to steel rope but it will last a lot longer with care and is a lot more user friendly. It also does not store up any kinetic energy when under load so does not flail about should it break.
  • Shackles – Two minimum plus a spare. These are the way you connect all your accessories together.
  • Snatch block - attach it to your tree strop at the chosen anchor point and back to your vehicle by doubling the rope. This in effect halves the line speed and doubles your pulling power, also putting less strain on the winch. A big help on a really bogged down vehicle.
  • Ground Anchors – Winching with no trees. A typically valid question about winches is “what good is a winch if there is nothing to connect it to?” The answer is a ground anchor. There are several different types, some good, some heavy and some a waste of good money.

The last thing to consider is your Budget, this may mean you know what you want but need to find the best fit to suit you so slow down have a look at the options and talk to me. I display Superwinch as I like the brand and support but we always have alternatives that may be slower, less powerful or sometimes last years model that someone is upgrading who we can put you in touch with.

I can also service most winches, remember if you fit traction aids and mud tyres when you get stuck you are going to be a lot more stuck so a winch is a good option and a shovel a good backup!


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