4×4 Winches

by Aaron Schubert on September 20, 2010

Four Wheel Drive Winches?

4x4 Winches are either electric, hydraulic, PTO or driven by the hand. They are usually mounted on the front of a vehicle (although some competition vehicles mount them on the rear too) and are used for recovering the vehicle when it gets stuck. These work by pulling your vehicle towards something (whether that is another vehicle, a tree or something else that is very solid.

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4x4 Winches are great insurance. What you find is that most people who have them hardly ever use them, but even one recovery that saves you a night in the bush is not worth the cost of a winch. They are one of the most expensive recovery devices, but they are also one of the most effective. Winches can be very dangerous however, if you are not using them correctly! Winches need to be mounted to a Steel Bull Bar like a ARB Bumpers, as the plastic or aluminum ones are not strong enough.

Using 4x4 Winches

The principle of a winch is very simple. If your vehicle gets stuck, you un-ravel the winch cable or rope, loop it around a solid tree (with a tree trunk protector) or hook it on a rated recovery point, and start winching. The winch will pull your vehicle towards whatever you have attached it too, and soon you will be out. Of course, you need some understanding about what is safe to do, how to use the winch and a bit of logic too! The great thing about winches is that if you are having a hard time getting out you can double it up through a pulley, meaning you work the winch half as hard and you can get out of very difficult situations with ease.

Winch Safety

Where ever there is a lot of pressure on anything, you want to be very careful about what you are doing. In the case of using 4x4 Winches, there can be several tones of weight hanging off your cable. If that breaks, it could easily cut through your legs, or worse. As a result of this, what you winch off needs to be solid (a tree should be at least 30 cm in diameter before you even think about using it) and you need to think and double check that everything is working fine. No one should be standing within 20 metres of the winching (except the person doing it) who can hide behind the door of their vehicle).

You need to have a dampening bag hung over the winch cable so that if it does break it won’t fly too far. If the winch is being worked too hard then you need to double the cable or rope up through a pulley. Ensure that tree trunk protectors are used when possible, and that winch extension straps are in good condition. Above all though, just take things slowly and carefully. A lot of people have been seriously injured (and worse) from winch accidents. Don’t become a statistic!

4x4 Winches and Weight Ratings

Every winch that is on the market has a weight rating. This refers to the maximum amount of pulling power that your winch has. You need to match the weight rating with the weight of your vehicle. Remember though, that when you have a loaded Land Cruiser or Patrol that is stuck in a mud hole going up a hill, you can have well over twice the weight that your winch is trying to pull up. For this reason, make sure that you get a winch that is powerful enough to do what you want it to. If you are towing a Camper Trailer or other trailer then this is of even more importance!

4x4 Winches start off at around 6000 LBS (2700kg) and work their way up to near the 20,000 LBS (9072 kg). A loaded patrol towing something should have a 15,000 LBS winch. Remember that by having a bigger winch it is going to weigh and cost more, but it is less likely to die when it’s struggling to pull your heavy car out of the bog! When using a winch you want to make sure that it is fitted correctly (and to know and understand those weight ratings) along with the ratings of your recovery points (if you are going to use these to winch off)

4x4 Winches and Accessories

A winch is just the start of what you need. On top of this you need either Dynamica rope or a steel winch cable. From there, a Winch Extension Strap is very handy in case you need to winch from a long distance. Snatch straps are not advised for extending winch cables because they stretch too much! Proper, rated four wheel drive shackles are always important to have to connect straps together (although you prefer to limit the parts used in a winching) and to connect to rated recovery points. A dampening bag is vital to hang over the cable (to stop the cable from flying if anything breaks). When you are recovering another vehicle, its a good idea to have a UHF Radio fitted in each car, so you can discuss what you are doing, and react much faster.

Rated Recovery Points are extremely important. The number of times that I have seen people winch and recover off tie down points, or off low rated recovery points is insane. If these break you are in a lot of trouble! Having the winch controller and cable is vital (or you won’t be going anywhere!). Keep this inside of the vehicle so it’s out of the weather and easily accessible. Gloves are important if you are using steel cable as they will tend to splinter and metal fragments in your fingers isn’t fun! Some people will slowly drive forward whilst using a winch (if you are winching forward) to help the winch out a bit. Maxtrax are great to aid in a quick recovery if you want to do this, and you might not even need the winch.

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Do I need a winch on my 4x4?

There are a lot of people out there who have 4x4 Winches. The number of those that may never use it is huge, but it’s always a good insurance policy. A Winch is probably one of the best fail safes for getting you out if you are stuck, but at the same time they come at a hefty price. You can use alternatives, like drag chains and a high lift jack, or a hand winch but at the end of the day they are hard work, and not as effective. However, you can be sure that they will always work!

I would suggest that if you are going anywhere remote then having a winch is a good use of money. Of course, another vehicle can always pull you out but if they can’t turn around or something goes wrong with that vehicle then you are in trouble!

Dynamica Rope

I mentioned above that you have a choice of steel cable or Dynamica Rope. Actually, there are a few different types of Winch Rope, and purchasing them from America seems to be the cheapest way to get it. The advantages of the rope over steel cable are the weight (considerably lighter), there are no splinters to go into your hands and it’s just a lot easier to use. However, it tends to cost more than steel cable, it cuts easily when you drag it over rocks and it isn’t UV stabilized (leave it in the sun and it will perish!).

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From what I have read it is worth having if you are in competitions, but for the general recreational four wheel driver you are better off sticking with steel cable. However, it’s something worth reading into as it is some very impressive technology!

4x4 Winches and Maintenance

People seem to think that by having a winch on your four wheel drive that you will always be able to get unstuck. However, if you are not regularly maintaining the winch then you can expect that it is going to die sooner or later. Like when you clean your car up after going through puddles, a winch needs looking after too. Parts will wear (and corrode if you don’t clean water out) and new grease will need to be applied. 4x4 Winches need just as much attention as a motor, so pull them apart from time to time to check that they are running correctly. There is no point having insurance if it won’t work when you need it most!

Issues with 4x4 Winches

There are a few things about Winches that I don’t like. For starters, they are quite costly. On top of this, they are very slow. In most cases a snatch strap will work just fine, for a fraction of the cost (and you can use it in half of the time), but a winch certainly has its advantages in being able to double, triple (or even more) the cable for extra pulling power, and they are easy to control a vehicle that is on a dangerous side angle. They are also heavy (meaning most four wheel drives have to upgrade the front springs) and if they are not serviced and well maintained then they will break.  Bear in mind that you can’t usually mount a winch in an aluminium bull bar (unless they are designed to, but most are not) as it is not strong enough to support the pulling. In many cases you find that by using a good set of Tire Deflators and letting your tyres down a bit more you will get out without any need for a recovery.

Who makes 4x4 Winches?

These are made by a huge number of companies. Warn seems to be one of the most popular, but you can get Ironman, T-max, TJM, Terrain Tamer and various other brand Winches. Obviously, take the time to find out what is a good deal and what models work well or you are just throwing money at the wall to see what sticks!

Overall, a winch is a great idea to have on your four wheel drive. I would highly recommend that anyone who is doing four wheel driving that is more remote has one on their vehicle, and more importantly knows how to use it safely and correctly. They will save you a number of times, and are great recovery devices.

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