A winch can save your car or your mate’s car from turning into a rusted roadside wreck destined for the flatbed. But there’s more to winching that the winch alone. Here are all of the pieces of equipment you need to successfully mount your winch and successfully employ your winch when caught out on the tracks.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT WINCH
Before you can install a winch, the 4WD will need a method for securing it to the vehicle. The most common is to have a winch compatible bar (commonly known as a bull bar). These can be of steel, aluminium or even plastic design.
These days winch ratings range from about 8,000lbs to a whopping 16,000 or more. 9,000lb to 12,000lb ratings seem to be the most common. It’s accepted practice to ensure the winch you choose is rated about 1.5 to 2 times your 4WD’s gross weight, and don’t forget the trailer too if towing. If in doubt consult with your local 4WD specialist who deals with winches for your model 4WD. Don’t forget to ask if the winch will physically fit in your bull bar, as some have little tolerance when fitting larger winches.
In choosing your winch, go for synthetic rope rather than steel. Compared to steel, synthetic rope is safe to handle, light weight, floats on water, won’t kink, doesn’t whiplash if broken and is stronger than steel. If changing from steel, you’d be best off changing the roller fairlead to an aluminium hawse as they work better with synthetic rope.
Finally, with many winch fittings, the vehicle’s licence plate may need to move, or you can purchase a flip-up license plate holder for around $35, like I did. Simply flip up the plate to access the winch rope and reset to ensure you’re all legal.
OTHER THINGS YOU NEED
The number one priority when using your winch or undergoing any recovery is safety, followed by ease of use and maximising the winch’s capabilities. There are huge forces involved, even in a modest recovery, and this is multiplied a hundredfold when a heavy rig is involved or you’re sunk to your chassis in sticky mud or negotiating a steep gradient.
So in no particular order, these are the things to carry. While they’re bulky and heavy, it’s better to have them when you need them rather than needing something that you don’t have.
A pair of gloves
A good set of leather riggers gloves or ones specifically designed for winching are recommended, as you may be dealing with a hot winch when under load or steel cable that has shards that could cause a world of hurt. Good news is, these are handy for other tasks around the camp or for working on your 4WD.
Tree trunk protector
A tree trunk protector, usually about three metres long which has no stretch, wrapped around a solid object as your anchor point, won’t only spread the load while winching but won’t damage the tree either, which otherwise could ring-bark the tree. They can also double up as a bridle attached to two recovery points on a 4WD. That’s why it’s a good idea to have two rated recovery points at both ends of a 4WD if possible. This helps spread the load on a vehicle, when under a heavy recovery situation and is highly recommended for vehicles with monocoque construction as they’re a little weaker than their separate chassis-based cousins. For example, most SUVs and even 4WDs like the Pajero are monocoque. Some manufacturers are now adopting this form of assembly.
Winch Extension Strap
Most electric winches hold about 26 to 30 meters of rope and in most cases that would be sufficient to reach your desired anchor point (note: it’s recommended that the winch preserve at least eight wraps on the winch drum, to prevent the rope completely unravelling under load). But there may be times when your anchor point is beyond reach. An extension strap, which again has no stretch, provides flexibility to reach that elusive point. It simply attaches temporarily to the end of your winch rope, further extending the versatility of your winch. A 20 metre length is recommended, but there are several lengths available. They’re also good as a tow rope when pulling along a disabled 4WD, if done safely.
A 4WD snatch block is rated around 9,000kgs and is a simple piece of recovery equipment. This basic design allows you to add the snatch block anywhere along the cable without the need to thread the rope through. It can handle either steel or synthetic rope. A snatch block has two major benefits. Firstly, using a snatch block increases the power of your winch. It increases the power of your winch to almost double if used in a straight line, though it doubles the time to winch due to physical dynamics. The snatch block’s second advantage is it can change the angle or direction of the pull. With the right strategy and set anchor points or even the use of multiple snatch blocks, you can pull a 4WD in any direction. The snatch block is best used in situations where the vehicle is really stuck.
To connect all the above, you’ll need a method that provides easy connection and disconnection while ensuring safety. The most commonly used styles are metal bow shackles which are rated 3.25 or 4.75 tonne; they’re pretty cheap at around $10. Don’t use anything that hasn’t the WLL (working load limit) markings. Shackles should only be used at the end of a strap or cable when necessary and never to join two straps together.
This accessory is an inexpensive device for around $40, that inserts into the tow hitch and allows the tow bar to be used as a strong and handy recovery point. They’re especially advantageous when attaching a 4WD’s winch hook/clevis, which can be at times hard to secure otherwise. Like all recovery components, choose one that’s rated and which has a rated bow shackle. There are even ones specifically designed for use with soft shackles.
Winch Dampener or Blanket
Recoveries can be hazardous and this is where a dampener helps out. Its job is to minimise any components flying indiscriminately in case of a recovery failure (such as a snapped winch cable). A dampener doesn’t need to be anything fancy. An old heavy towel or jacket could do. That said, there’s commercially available ones for about $30 to $40 which offer the ability to weigh cables and recovery elements down even further by putting sand or dirt in their in-built pockets. An individual dampener should be placed on each length of line.