Aftermarket Accessories, Part II

Aftermarket Accessories, Part II: Always Be Prepared to Get Unstuck, The Winch by Bill Burke

I wrote in Part I about some basic items needed to make getting unstuck an easier task. Being prepared and having a plan does make that effort simpler. This time I will discuss the electric winch.

Originally the PTO (power-take-off) winch was the only recovery winch available to recreational 4-wheelers. Because winches were developed for the military and industrial applications, speed, strength and dependability were the criteria for a good winch. Weight, ease of operation, and some portability have made the winch manufacturers change the way they market and build this most useful tool.

The recreational market has exploded with new winch styles and types. When I was in the Army I got to work with some big winches, some rated over 200,000 pounds, with cable 2″ in diameter. It took a “small” winch like those on our Jeeps and trucks to pull the cable from the big winch to be rigged. Imagine pulling 300 feet of 2″ cable through Holy Cross bog to get a 96 ton tank unstuck!

There are winches made today that are lightweight, electric operated units that make 4-wheeling a little bit easier. There are still PTO and hydraulic winches available for your rig. But I like using the electric operated winch because if (when) the engine stalls in a bad situation and won’t restart due to mechanical failure (Murphy’s Law), the batteries, if in good shape to begin with, will usually have enough juice left to winch out of the situation. You will then be on better ground to work on the rig!

A lot of people ask me about aftermarket accessories and what should be the first few items to make their rig unstoppable. I mention the things I wrote about in Part I and a winch. I get the normally asked questions about “lockers,” big tires, suspensions, big engines, etc. I would rather see a winch go on first than lockers et al. THE WINCH WILL ALWAYS GET YOU OUT, the other things will always get you stuck! If you don’t have a way to get unstuck, then what good are all those fancy traction devices and all the power in the world? Stuck is stuck is stuck!

Purchase a winch that is rated at least 1 and 1/2 times the GROSS (not meaning your vehicle is gross, although some trail machines are!) VEHICLE WEIGHT (GVW). Take the rig to a truck scale and for about $5.00, weigh it. Have the dog, your buddies, the cooler, the kids, all the junk–er equipment–you carry (tent, bags, starter, axle shafts, air filter, extra oil, tools…you get my drift) and a full tank of gas. Multiply that weight by 1.5 and you have the minimum rating for the winch, usually around 8000 or 9000 pounds for most Jeeps and Land Rovers. For the big rigs like full-size Broncos and Blazers and trucks, think 10,000 or 12,000 pound winch. Of course, with the correct accessories like pulley blocks (not SNATCH blocks) you can double the capacity of any winch.

You have now ascertained what size winch you want, now what make? It is really up to you and the availability of the product.

I do know that some winch companies rate the winch at the capacity of the unit and that is where it will “stall.” Others rate it at working strength which puts the stall speed much higher, giving a higher capacity overall. In other words, some winches will stall at the rated 9000 pounds and other winches will stall at a higher weight limit, say 11000 pounds, but be rated at 9000 pounds. So choose your winch wisely.

The line speed and amperage draw under load might be important to you. I figure speed is not too important a feature unless I enter another Triathlon or Camel Trophy; as long as the winch pulls me out I’m happy!

Amperage draw is a point to consider. Under normal recreational winching, the average alternator and battery will do the job. I do recommend having at least an 800 or higher rated Cold Cranking amp rating on the battery. Batteries like the Optima can sustain larger draw than some higher rated batteries. The stock alternator on my old Jeep worked fine at 85 amps cold rating. Of course, I went over to the Premier Power Welder alternator that has 160 cold rating.

Alternators are rated when they are “fresh” (that is, cold). When they get hot, they lose capacity fast, so some of the stock units will only put out 30 or so amps when you need it the most. The PPW alternator does not lose its capacity so readily. If you anticipate doing some serious winching, which comes with serious ‘wheeling, then change over to heavier componentry. Like I said, though, for the average recreational 4-wheeler, the stock battery and alternator will do fine. Understand, though, that the engine should be running at least 2000 RPM above idle to help the alternator charge the battery.

A short aside about dual batteries–I have them. Anyone who will be winching a lot should have them as well. I winch at night, pull 2 or 3 vehicles back to back out of holes, etc., so I need dual batteries. Optima recommends NOT using an isolator with their batteries. I don’t like using an isolator because I like all the juice to come evenly out of the batteries, and to charge the batteries equally. What will sometimes happen with isolators is that the current flow will slowly drain off the “isolated” battery even while you are using the other. Remember that the current flow for your vehicle (neg earth systems) flows from ground (earth) to positive, just like lightning! So even with an isolator, you can conceivably drain the other battery. Some will refute this statement, and that’s OK, I will stick with what I know and obviously what the Optima Company knows!

You’ve selected your winch, decided on the alternator and battery set up, and now you are ready to mount it. Here, I will get more flak! I do NOT like the receiver hitch mount winches! There I’ve said it! They are potentially dangerous! Think about it. First off you have to pick the thing up from the back of the rig or out of the trunk, etc., about 80 pounds. Then you carry it slip-sliding away to the receiver that you want to use, front or rear, find the receiver full of mud or rocks because it is mounted lower than your bumper, clean it out, then insert the winch in the hitch. And here comes the fun part.

All class three (class III) hitches are DOT (you know them) rated at 5000 pounds. You just put a 9000 or 8000 pound rated winch in a 5000 pound hitch. Now you’re going to try to pull a 6300 pound vehicle out of the mud that has a resistance force equal to or exceeding the weight of the vehicle. And you’re going to do all this from a dinky 2 1’2 inch tube bolted to your frame probably with grade 5 hardware. AS IF! Never mind if you have to pull off angle cause you don’t own a Pull-Pal. I suggest that if you want to use the receiver type winch, which is actually a good idea for total function, you mount two channels front and rear and make the winch mount frame the same, thereby doubling the strength of both the hitch and the winch, and leave the single receiver for the boat or the sleds!

Mount your winch securely, either using a brush guard mount assembly from the winch manufacturer or a bumper made to accept a winch. Install the roller fair lead. Use of the “Hawse” fair lead will eventually abrase the wire rope, so spend the extra money and get the roller. Use the proper hardware, like grade 8 bolts and “nylock” nuts. I don’t like the split style lock washers as they will vibrate loose over time. Some people prefer the grade 5 hardware because it tends to stretch but the rating of the grade 8 stuff is worth the extra pennies to install.

The shiny new winch is on the front of the vehicle and you’re ready to go. Not so fast pal! What about the accessory kit? Yes, you will need to have a wide tree protector strap, at least 3″ wide by 8 feet long. I like to use a 6″ wide by 20′ long strap, as that really helps protect the trees. I have become more and more dependent on the Pull-Pal lately. That way I just replace my divot and go to the next tee–er, tree! You’ll need a pulley block rated at twice the capacity of the winch, some “D” shackles, heavy gloves, short length of 3/8 chain. Usually when you buy the winch, the store will have an accessory kit. Maybe they will give you a good deal for buying the whole package. And, of course, you’ll need to purchase a copy of the “Unstuck” video, which will show you the ins and outs of getting unstuck.“Unstuck” video, which will show you the ins and outs of getting unstuck.

Well, you have the winch, the accessory kit and basic skills to use it in the back country! First, go out to the alley or back lot and pull the cable out almost all the way, connect it to the phone pole and pull your rig to it. Wind the cable up under light load, keeping it nice and tight, laying the cable right next to it self, no gaps, no overlaps. Wind it up tight to just before the hook goes in the roller fair lead. Then hook it to the tow hook or some place on the bumper and just snug it up, not super tight, just snug. Do Not leave the clutch lever open!

You can now cover the winch from the elements and sleep soundly knowing that when the big muddy comes around the corner, you’ll be your friend’s hero. Yes, I think the winch is a better first investment than lockers, although my ARB Air Lockers do make me use my winch less! But make sure you have the other basic items along, like the Hi-Lift jack, tools, common sense, respect for property and the rights of others.

Don’t be a stick in the mud!