Introduction: Adding a Winch to Your 4X4
Sooner than later, we all get stuck. These are the times when you wish you had bought a winch instead of the bling bling rims. The Dictionary defines a Winch as "A stationary motor-driven or hand-powered machine used for hoisting or hauling, having a drum around which is wound a rope or chain attached to the load being moved". Winches are available from several manufacturers, in different configurations, styles and power sources. Electric and Hydraulic winches are the most common types used Off-Road.
Winches are rated based on their pulling capacity in pounds or kilograms. Common sizes used by Jeeps are 8,000 to 9,000 pounds pulling capacity. Larger winches are available, but their weight isn't ideal for mounting to Jeeps. The added weight of a winch and winch plate may cause the front of your Jeep to sag. To correct this problem, add nylon spacers or replace your existing front springs with heavy duty units. Choose a winch with pulling capacity of at least 50% greater than your gross vehicle weight ( Weight of the vehicle loaded fully).
Most winch manufacturers do not include a mounting plate with their product. Mounting plates vary in shape and bolt patterns depending on the vehicle for which they are designed. Winch plates can range in cost from $100 to $400 depending on their complexity and capacity. Be sure to include this cost in your winch purchase plans.
Winch prices go up with increased line speed and weight capacity. Harbor Freight ™ winches are very capable for the cost, but they have slow line speeds. Warn ™ , Milemarker ™ and others offer fine winches with excellent line speed and reliability, but the cost can be substantially greater than slower units. Additional care should be taken when operating a high speed winch.
Winch cables are commonly made of stranded steel wire, or synthetic fibers. Many individuals replace their steel cable with synthetic due to it's flexible characteristics. Whichever you choose, regular care should insure years of dependable service. Kinked or frayed cables should be replaced immediately to avoid potentially hazardous situations. Winches can be dangerous! Precautions are necessary to insure your safety and that of those around you.
Winch cables are placed under tremendous loads. Should one snap, it could come back at you causing serious injury or death. Your winch hook can easily become a deadly projectile should it break free or slip loose while under load. Many windshields have been shattered by flying winch cables. Please Be Careful!
Loose fitting leather gloves should be worn at all times while operating or handling your winch. Leather will help protect you from cuts and scrapes. Loosely fitting gloves may allow your hand to escape should you become trapped by the winch.
Winching accessories should be of good quality and in working order. Pulley or snatch blocks should be rated at twice the capacity of your winch. D Shackles come in handy for attaching your winch cable to tree straps and other accessories. Using a block as a lever allows you to nearly double your single-line pulling capacity.
Tree Straps or Protectors are a must when attaching your winch to a tree. Tree straps are short yet wide synthetic straps designed to hug the tree trunk. Hooking your steel winch cable directly to the tree will cause kinks in your line and will result in irreparable damage to the tree.
Before starting your winch, be sure to place a heavy coat, blanket or tow strap over your winch cable. Should the cable snap, the covering material should absorb some of the trapped energy and slow a broken cable down. Lifting your hood may also help protect your windshield and cab from broken cables.
Always instruct by-standers to stand clear of your winch and winch cable. You should never stand in line with the cable as it could whiplash straight back at you. Broken winch cables have been known to break windshields and slice truck cabs in two (Yes they carry that much force). Always use a remote control to operate your winch. Winch controllers are normally supplied with an extended control cable to allow you to stand off to the side and clear of the working line. (You may also opt to upgrade to a wireless remote control for extra safety).
Winches will place additional electrical load on your vehicle. A heavy duty, high capacity, deep cycle battery is highly recommended as is a high-output alternator (100 amps or greater). A Dual-battery setup is also desirable when installing a winch. Be sure to turn off any high-power devices such as lights, stereo amplifiers, Heaters and A/C when operating your winch. Connect your winch directly to your battery (with a fuse) to insure that it may draw all the power it needs. Be sure that your battery posts and connections are clean and corrosion free. It's a good idea to give your rig a little gas to bring it to a high idle when running your winch. This will encourage your alternator to keep up with greater power demand.
Winch motors can become very hot. Be sure to read your owners manual for duty cycle times. You may find that it's necessary to stop every few minutes and allow your winch to cool off rather than doing one long pull.
Always be certain to follow the Manufacturer recommended maintenance schedule for your winch. Lubricate all required points on a regular basis. Inspect your cable, mounts, pulleys, straps, and clevis pins before each use. If anything is damaged, or fatigued, replace immediately.