Get an Idea of How to Choose and Use a Winch

If you’re heading out for a few days of fun in the bush in your 4WD, you’ll need the right gear. This is not only limited to ample supplies in the way of food, water and fuel, but also basic recovery gear in the highly likely scenario that your vehicle gets stuck. If you’re going with a few mates, then snatch straps and shackles will help you out of deep mud, or tight river crossings, but when going alone you’ll most certainly need a winch. They’re the necessary 4WD accessory to have when getting your vehicle out of a tight situation and can help other vehicles do the same.

What is a Winch?

A 4WD winch is a pulling device installed in the winch mounting cradle on the bull bar. It consists of several parts, each working together. There’s the drum or cylinder around which the cable is wound, the motor and the gears which convert the high-speed rotation of the motor into controlled low-speed torque or pulling power. The cable exits at the front through the fair lead, basically preventing it from jamming. And there’s a load hook at the end. A winch controller, either a wireless or wired unit, is what to use to operate a winch. Several other things are used with the winch when pulling 4WDs out of ruts, something I’ll get to further down.

4wd winch

Types of Winches

You can get either an electric 4WD winch or one that is hydraulically operated. Electrical winches are by far the most common type used on 4WDs and SUVs. They use the power of the vehicle’s battery to operate. Cables connect the battery terminals to the winch motor. Since a lot of electricity is required during a pull, a higher rated vehicle battery is what you’ll need. Or another option is to connect the cable to a secondary deep-cycle battery, and the one you’ll use to run things like fridges and lights. Most 4WD adventurers come prepared, so you won’t be running out of power when things get sticky.

Hydraulic winches are preferred for heavier trucks, and you’ll find them in tow trucks. They’re rarely seen in 4WDs, possibly because they’re more expensive. Hydraulic winches utilise the power from a vehicle’s power steering pump. They are more reliable, use less electricity, meaning running out of juice won’t be an issue here. However, they’re slower than electrical winches, require more parts and are harder to install.

Cable Types

Two types of cables are found on a 4WD winch. Steel cables are the cheaper option and have an adequate pulling capacity for most vehicles. They are durable if properly maintained. However, there are a few cons. Due to low flex, they can snap under heavy loads. This poses serious risks, and injuries or fatalities have occurred from flying cables. Another is that steel cable can fray over time, again raising risks of unwanted injuries. Synthetic cables come in as the more expensive option, due to the lower weight, and also the high elongation and recovery of the fibres. Synthetic cables can be as strong or even stronger than steel, but don’t come with the mentioned risks. The downside here is that they’re not a durable as steel.

electric winch

Using a 4WD Winch

Winches are used in self-recovery or recovering another vehicle. The techniques and additional equipment besides the winch are different in each case. Before recovering a bogged vehicle, check if the winch is properly connected and no parts are damaged. Check the condition of the cable, especially any fraying in steel cables, and also the load hook. Use gloves at all times to avoid cuts.

To recover your vehicle out of a tight spot, winches are used with secure anchoring points, mainly trees. Choose a tree with a thicker trunk, and attach a tree strap. Next, connect the winch controller to the winch and adjust the lever to a neutral position, to disengage the cable. With a pair of gloves unspool the cable from the drum and attach the cable to the secured tree strap. With the controller, tighten the cable and attach a winch damper. Dampers have enough weight to thrust the cable line downwards in case it snaps. Get inside the 4WD and slowly engage the controller. Remember to put the car in neutral. Your 4WD should steadily but surely move towards more even ground. Once the vehicle’s ready to move on, put the car in park. Disengage the cable from the tree, remove the tree strap, and reel in the cable. Put the lever into a locked position. Now, you’re ready to go.

To recover another vehicle, the load hook is attached to rated recovery points in the vehicle being recovered. These extend from the chassis rails at the back and front of the 4WD. The process is similar as described above. Avoid winching at tight angles, and ensure there are minimal obtrusions between the two vehicles. If this is the case, then synthetic cables are preferred. The winching car should have the brake depressed to avoid sudden movements.

Winches are essential tools for any serious off-roader. Most vehicles are equipped with a bull bar and winch combo, meanings savings and shorter installation times when purchased on their own. All off-roading retailers stock 4WD winches and the required accessories needed for safe and timely vehicle recovery.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.