Winches & Tow Ropes
How to Choose the Right Winch for your Ride Guide
An age old question: which winch do I need?
The answer of course is it depends.
While a number of individuals swear by particular brands, such as Warn, Smittybilt, and ProMaxx, all of which make fine products, just narrowing it down to a brand doesn’t mean you’re done with the technical stuff.
In order to select the right winch you need to consider:
The GVWR of your vehicle
Expected Usages of the Winch
Unexpected Usages of the Winch
The vehicle’s GVWR is an easy and obvious one. And most of the time a quick Google search will help you figure out your GVWR, which doesn’t change even if you add on heavier aftermarket products. The reason for this is that GVWR doesn’t actually reflect your vehicles weight per se. It is just a limit set by the manufacturer.
What is a GVWR?
What does the GVWR of a vehicle mean?
A vehicle’s GVWR or gross vehicle weight rating is a manufacturer rating that sets a limit on what the maximum weight of a vehicle should be, including curb weight, added parts and aftermarket parts, weight of any cargo you might haul, and the added weight from passengers. Since this is a “rating” and not the actual weight, your vehicle’s GVWR will never change. However, as you add on aftermarket parts and haul large items in your truck’s bed, you could start to approach your GVWR, and you really shouldn’t go over it without proper measures being in place.
When hauling extra heavy loads, you should be aware of your truck’s GVWR as well as the Axle Rating. Going over this rating could be dangerous for your suspension, brakes, and even just driving in general.
You could likely figure out your GVWR from a Google search, but if the vehicle is nearby, your GVWR should be listed on the inside of the driver’s side door along with other technical details.
I know this may sound like a huge pain in the butt--having to go and get a number off the inside of your truck’s driver’s side door frame. Don’t worry. I’ll wait for you to get it.
Or better yet--this seems like the perfect opportunity to create a fun infographic for some of the most popular trucks and Jeeps for 2017-2019 (when info was available):
Now that you have your particular vehicle’s GVWR in hand, you are ready to consider what capacity of a winch you should purchase.
Whatever brand you decide to go with, there will be a pound rating or capacity for their different styles or levels of winches. Typically these are rounded to the nearest thousand, but some manufacturers round to half thousand or 500 lbs.
To determine the minimum capacity you should install, you should take your vehicle’s GVWR and multiply it by 1.5.
So if your vehicle’s GVWR is 8,000 lbs, multiply it by 1.5 or 150% to see that the minimum capacity winch you should install on your truck is one that is rated at at least 12,000 lbs.
It’s pretty simple math, really.
Why is GVWR important when selecting a Winch?
Why do I need a winch that can handle 150% of my vehicle’s GVWR?
The quick answer is that you want to be able to handle your vehicle’s weight and then some. The reason is that you will rarely be using a winch to pull your vehicle or a similarly rated vehicle in ideal conditions. Rolling any vehicle on hard asphalt that is level is pretty easy and requires you just to put the vehicle in neutral and apply roughly a 10th the amount of force as the vehicle actually weighs, for instance. But how often will you be winching on a level and hard surface in ideal conditions. Winches are for getting you out of sticky situations, not rolling your truck in neutral down a level road.
As soon as you adjust for issues like being stuck in the mud or snow or in a ditch, you’ll quickly realize that you need a winch that is capable of moving more than just your vehicle’s GVWR.
I’ll go into the science of it all below (for those of you actually interested in the science, that is), but here’s the quick version: being stuck in mud / snow or downhill or in a ditch--each of these factors is like a multiplier on your vehicle’s weight or the weight of the vehicle that is stuck. A steep enough incline can nearly double the amount of force you’ll need to pull a vehicle out, let alone if it is stuck in three foot of snow or mud.
For this reason, if you’re planning on pulling similar size trucks or Jeeps out of heavy mud or up inclines / slopes, you may even want to get a more powerful winch that 1.5x. Most off-road experts actually recommend you get a winch that is 2x or 200% your GVWR. And the reason for this as to do with the science behind mud (see below)--basically, it sucks you down and holds you in place, doesn’t it? Thus being buried in mud up to your fenders makes your vehicle much harder to pull out.
When in doubt, make sure you at least get a winch that is 1.5x your GVWR if not 2.0x. When you’re pulling your buddies heavy duty truck out of a snow drift or winching your Jeep out of thick mud and mire, you’ll thank us for recommending the 2x rated winch. Trust me.
This leads nicely into the next thing after GVWR that you should consider before purchasing a winch:
Expected Usage of Winch
Or why are you getting a winch?
For myself, I don’t off-road much, especially not in my 2012 Silverado. That’s just not what I purchased it for. So my needs for a winch are likely different than others. I’ll just use myself as an example here, so consider this for yourself. What reason are you thinking about getting a winch?
Here’s my first encounter with needing a winch:
I have a rather sizeable yard that I have to mow once a week. I know. Typical suburbanite. And I have this riding lawn mower, a zero-turn Grasshopper to be exact. And I f*%@ing love that thing!
But I digress.
And here’s the thing about my yard: it has a lake behind it--alright, it’s more of a pond, but everyone in the neighborhood calls it “the Lake.” And where “the Lake” hits my property, where I’m responsible for mowing, the slope down to the water’s edge is kinda steep.
And sometimes, not all every week, but on occasion, especially after a heavy rain, I will get that Grasshopper stuck somewhere on that slope.
This last time I realized something was terribly wrong and I needed a better solution that relying on great neighbors to help push me out of the mud.
I got her stuck right down by the water’s edge, and when I shut her off and hopped down in frustration, the damn thing slide a little closer to the surface of “the Lake.”
I didn’t panic though. I just went and got a rope and my Silverado and after some careful hillbilly inspired ingenuity, I pulled that mower right out of the mud.
Needless to say, that evening, I started researching winches for the first time.
Now my zero-turn mower is pretty big, but it can’t be over 2,000 lbs, maybe barely over 1,000. So if the only thing I’m going to use my winch for is that, I can get by with the smallest of winches, say one rated for 8,000 lbs or even less if I can find it.
I started thinking I should just buy a Polaris and get a little UTV winch. But then I thought about it some more.
Here’s my line of thought: I considered that pulling my mower out was the main reason or the primary concern behind why I thought I needed a winch. If I hadn’t gotten that rope tied up as quick as I had, after all, my $15,000 mower might have ended up in the drink.
But that’s just my “Expected Usage” of the Winch, isn’t it?
So I could drop $100-200 on a little dinky winch that is really only capable of pulling a mower or 4-wheeler out of the mud. Or for a little more, say $400 to $600 range, I can get something that could pull my truck or someone else’s truck out of the mud or snow.
And that’s where the “Unexpected Usage” comes into play.
Unexpected Usage of Winch
Unless if you’re buying a winch cause you like to go mudding, at which point, you best be getting the biggest and best winch you can find, most of us aren’t buying a winch for expected reasons like mine above.
I want you still to consider this because it works well with the process. If you’re buying a winch to load a vehicle onto a trailer for instance your needs are going to be different than mine. Likewise, maybe you do only need a winch to pull your mower out of the mud. No judgement.
But my thought is, you need to think about the reasons you know you’re gonna need that winch and then consider the reasons you might.
For me, the might-need-it’s are pretty extensive.
While I don’t go mudding, we do have pretty rough winters around here. I’ve been stuck a number of times in trucks and cars over the years. And a number of my family members and neighbors have too.
While I never hope that anyone will get stuck and need my help getting out, I’m sure it will happen. I’ve had to borrow my dad’s truck on occasion for just such purposes years ago before I got my own. So I’m sure it will come up.
Thus, when thinking about a winch, I know I want one that is at least able to handle my truck and pull me out of snow or mud. So I’m thinking at least 1.5x capable. And my neighbor has a heavy duty work truck… so maybe a 2.0x my GWVR winch would be best.
That’s the thing with winches. You need to plan for the unexpected.
So since my truck is only a half ton, and since that really means she’s got a GWVR of about 7k, I should pick up a winch that is between 10.5k and 14k rated.
I could probably get by with a 10k rated winch, but to be safe, on the low end I’ll probably look at a 12k. On the high, I’ll probably be looking at a 15k rated winch. From there, I’ll do some comparison shopping and narrow down a brand.
Then I’ll decide if I’m better off going with the heavy duty winch over the lighter one. 9 times out of 10, again, I try to be over cautious. So I’d probably go for the heavier model. But again, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
A lot of my family members drive trucks, so I’m thinking I might end up using my new winch to pull a truck out of the muck. But if you mostly have people around you who drive cars, maybe you’ll be able to get by with a more standard or lighter weighted winch.
Again, this will come down to you personally and how you’ll need to use your winch.
After you’ve settle on a weight class, so to speak, you’ll want to consider the other features as well.
Accessories and Features Worth Considering
There are a few other aspects you should consider, starting with the obvious and moving towards the obscure.
How are you planning to mount your winch? Personally, I like the aftermarket bumper with a winch combination. But if you don’t want to upgrade your bumper too, then this isn’t how you’re gonna mount it.
Many aftermarket bumpers are designed to work with a specific manufacturers winch and then a specific model as well. Keep this in mind when ordering your winch.
Personally, I’m a fan of the Grumper by Fab Fours. For Jeeps, these aftermarket bumpers are designed to work with Warn Zeon 10’s or lower, and for Heavy Duty trucks, they fit Warn Zeon 12’s or lower.
Not all winches are created equal, obviously. And while you can find lots of winches that are weighted to the proper capacity, one of the distinguishing factors might be how weather proof it is.
Warn’s Zeon and Zeon Platinum series are all IP68 waterproof rated as well as Smittybilt’s X20 series. Their XRC is IP67 rated.
Wait. What does that even mean?
What does IP68 rated mean?
What is IP68?
IP68 is a rated system designed to tell you just how secure your winch is against water and dust. The “IP” stands for “Ingress Protection” or how hard is it to get into the mechanical and electrical parts of this product. The “6” shows how resistant to dirt and sand the product is, with 6 being the maximum, meaning that no dust will be able to get into the product’s mechanical workings. The “8” has to do with water resistance, and means that this product can be submerged to a depth of 1 meter or more for 30 minutes without it being damaged.
What does IP67 mean then?
IP67 has the same protection against dust and dirt--in other words, it is also air-tight. But the “7” means that it is rated to be water-tight up to 1 meter but not beyond. The pressure when submerged deeper could possibly be enough to cause water to gain entry into the air-tight portions.
In other words, IP67 isn’t quite as water resistant as IP68.
If you plan on winching in water or just live in an area that gets a lot of rain and snow, I’d definitely consider how weather-proof your winch is. Both Smittybilt and Warn have great products that are designed to withstand the elements.
Next I’d consider the rope itself:
Steel vs. Synthetic Rope
While both steel ropes and synthetic ropes are tough and will be capable of handling the weight capacities of whatever winch you choose, synthetic has one clear advantage: it won’t snap and then possibly injure someone or damage something as it recoils.
Synthetic ropes can add upwards of $300-400 to the price of your winch. But if you are concerned about possible recoil we highly recommend a synthetic rope. This is especially a must for off-roaders, not only because of the potential injury but also because synthetic rope is much lighter--hence easier to use and won’t weigh down your front end as much (not that this is likely to be significant, but come on--I’ll take every edge I can get when mudding).
And while this list of features to consider could go on and on, I’m just hitting the main points here. So the last main point I’d take into account before purchasing would be whether or not the winch has a remote.
Typical winches come with a lever on the actual unit that controls the retraction of the rope. While this level does just fine, especially if you have a buddy to help monitor what you’re pulling while you’re controlling the winch, a remote control is a great option to consider.
If you’re like me, and part of the reason for getting a winch is to get yourself out of sticky situations without having to call your buddy over, then a remote control is a must. Some styles have cords that plug into the actual winch, while other models even offer wireless remotes, either way you’ll be able to stand where you need to in order to monitor the process while winching.
Again this depends on the individuals use of their winch, but for me, this was something worth considering. Both Smittybilt and Warn offer remotes, including wireless options for some of their winches.
Wrapping It Up
With that, we hope this simple guide has helped you narrow down which winch is right for you. When you’re ready to order your new winch, we hope you’ll get it from here, from Midwest Aftermarket. Our collection of winches, air filters, pickup bed covers, truck running boards, and much more includes all the leading styles and brands. Midwest Aftermarket is the #1 online retailer for aftermarket truck and Jeep accessories, selling products at the lowest prices and providing the best customer service in the industry. With the goal to provide the highest quality product with the fastest shipping at affordable prices, look no further for your vehicle’s aftermarket accessories. From UTV’s to Jeep-fanatics to F150’s or Chevy Silverado’s, Midwest Aftermarket will give you the customer support you deserve.
Now for the science part.
First and foremost, I owe almost all of my knowledge of winching to BillaVista and his Recovery Bible, which you can find and should read if you want to know even more than the gloss I’m going to include here.
So, not to steal BillaVista’s thunder, but his very first tip is:
Your Winch is Only as good as the Weakest Link.
What is meant by this is that you need to consider how much you want to pull and then make sure that each and every component along the way is rated as strong enough to handle that load.
If you have a winch that can handle 12,000 lbs, a hook that can take 25,000 lbs, a shackle that can handle 70,000 lbs, and a winch line or cable that can only take 4,000 lbs, the max you be winching is 4,000 lbs. Cause that cable is gonna break.
So I need to make sure my winch and all the components can handle whatever I’m going to throw at it.
Next BillaVista gets into how you should calculate how much force you really need to get the object--be it your vehicle or someone elses or just that Grasshopper zero turn mower--unstuck.
Calculating How Much Force You Need Your Winch to Achieve
While researching to write this quick guide to winching, I came across an interesting post from a former noob in the winch world. He asked why he needed a winch that could handle at least if not more that 1.5 times his vehicle’s weight.
His rationale was simple. Wouldn’t 1x the force be enough to move my vehicle?
If you don’t think too hard about it, you might think he’s right. I mean, if my Jeep weighs about 4,000 lbs, wouldn’t 4,000 lbs of force be enough to move it?
But then I thought about it, and I remembered a little thing called gravity also had something to do with a little thing called friction and momentum. And as my high school physics class came rushing back to me, I realized that I might need a good deal of extra power to move that hypothetical Jeep after all.
Just to keep it simple for you, recall that your GVWR is not necessarily the actual weight of your vehicle. If you’ve installed quite a few aftermarket parts that are particularly heavy or haul around heavy stuff in your truck’s bed, then you might actually be more than your GVWR. On the other hand, if you haven’t added much on and aren’t hauling around a bunch of bowling balls, then you will likely be under that value.
If you’re rocking your truck with an empty bed, chances are you are anywhere from 1,000 lbs lighter than your GVWR to 7,000 lbs. Imagine your GVWR as the maximum amount your vehicle should ever be when on the road, including passengers and the maximum amount of heavy cargo. So if you want to figure out roughly what your vehicle empty is, you can take the GVWR and subtract the maximum payload or cargo capacity. In this Google Sheet, I did a quick estimate of this using 2018 model figures for the Dodge Ram, Chevy Silverado, Ford F-series, and of course the Jeep Wrangler.
What does this info tell me? If I’m driving an unloaded Silverado, the maximum weight of the vehicle without a bunch of heavy aftermarket parts installed is about 6,000, 5,300 for a 1500. This can help me to figure out exactly how much weight I’m gonna have to push around.
Now if you’re heading out on the trail, pro-tip: go get your vehicle weighed on an actual scale while you have all your gear loaded up. This will tell you exactly what your Jeep or truck is gonna weigh for when /if you get stuck. But for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to play around with my imaginary F-150, which is about 4,800 lbs empty, and I’ll round that up to 5k to keep things simple.
Let’s figure out if 1.5 times my F-150’s GVWR or even 2 times is going to be enough to get me out of a sticky situation by using BillaVista’s worst case scenario numbers from the manual.
BillaVista says that I need to take my truck’s loaded weight or LW, in this case about 5,000 lbs and then add multipliers to figure out how much force is going to be necessary to get her unstuck. For the sake of maximizing my ability to get unstuck, I’m going to start with the worst case scenario, which is I’m buried in mud up to the truck’s frame and need to climb out of a hole at about a 45 degree angle or incline.
If I’m stuck in the mud like that, you have to add 300% of the LW which is just multiplying it by 3. And that 45 degree incline forces me to add on another 75% or multiply by ¾.
So I’ll start with the 5,000 lbs + 5,000 x 3 + 5,000 x .75 = 23,750 lbs of force, at the worst.
Yikes. That sounds like a lot! I think I’m pretty stuck here. And frankly, I am, hypothetically.
So I’m cruising through our website, trying to find a winch that is rated for at least 24k lbs., and the best I can find is a HeavyWeight from Warn at 16,500 lbs? So am I screwed?
No, not yet, you aren’t. You just need a snatch block.
A snatch block is a piece of block and tackle that can distribute the weight of your pull across two or more sections of cable or line. This pulley basically divides how much force I need to put out between the two lines. In other words, instead of needing 24k lbs. of force, I’ll only need about 12k lbs. Very nice.
Warn and most other winch makers sell one heavy duty and even epic Snatch Blocks for just this reason.
Now I’m looking at their ratings and they have one that can handle 10,000 lbs or force, 12k, 16.5k, and 18k. When in doubt, aim for caution and go bigger. Remember that thing about the weakest link, after all. That 18k snatch block is gonna cost me just shy of $200. But if it is the difference between me being stuck or unstuck, then I’ve gotta have it.
In this scenario, I’d likely be good with the 16.5k version too.
Alright, so I need a whole system that can handle at least 12,000 in this scenario. I’ve got my snatch block picked out. Let’s take a look at the rest.
Likely I’d start looking at Winches first.
I need something that can handle at least 12,000 lbs. of force, but I could air on the side of caution and go bigger too.
Warn has a Zeon and Zeon Platinum in the 12k mark, but I could go heavyweight and get a 15,000 for good measure too.
I’ll save myself nearly a grand by sticking with the Zeon 12 though, so I’ll probably start there.
Now before we move on, let’s consider that old 1.5 times my GVWR recommendation from Warn and others. My hypothetical F-150 has a GVWR of 6.1k-7.1k. So 1.5 times would be about 10-11k. Now if I were simply going with that recommendation though, I might have stuck with a Zeon 10, which can only handle 10k. So it might be best to say the recommendation should be 2 times your GVWR just in case. And now you are starting to see why so many off-roaders recommend at least 2 times your GVWR. It isn’t because they think your aftermarket vehicle actually weighs that much more. They are always thinking about the worst case scenario and getting unstuck.
Makes sense now, right?
So I’ll go with the Zeon 12. Now I’ve got a winch rated at 12k lbs. and a snatch block rated at 18k, so my weakest link is the winch itself. She can only put out 12k, so unless if something tragic happens, I shouldn’t be able to break my snatch block.
As you are selecting your winch, you will notice that there are options for both steel and synthetic rope. While you might be taken aback by the synthetic rope, due to the price tag, before you select steel as the more affordable options, you certainly should be made aware of the drawbacks and added maintenance involved.
Ropes / Winch Cables: Steel vs. Synthetic
So most of us consider price first. Hence you might think steel saves me $400 or so, and steel is tough, right?
Yeah, it is. But here’s the thing about tough: hard substances like steel are great when it comes to durability and such. But they don’t always stretch too well.
The way steel wire cable works is that each strand is wrapped around a core that is also steel or fiber. As the cable is stretched, these individual strands move, as a simple mechanical machine. This is why you should always wear gloves when handle steel cable. If you’ve ever gotten your skin pinched by one, you know exactly what I mean.
The cable will need to be oiled regularly and broken in slowly. BillaVista and Warn both have great sections on how to break in steel cable.
And this is just the beginning of your headache.
Because if you aren’t keeping the cable well maintained, if you don’t check it over regularly, if you miss a kink or crimp or damaged area, you are putting yourself and anyone nearby in terrible danger when you are using your winch with that steel cable.
Steel cables don’t break gently. They snap. And when they snap, all that energy that was built up over the course of stretching that cable out has to go somewhere. The recoil from a steel cable snapping is much more powerful than that of a gun or likely anything else you’ve ever encountered, and it can whip through the air at high velocity, shredding anything it comes in contact with, including but not limited to any person nearby and any vehicle.
Imagine the cable is like a rubber band. It’s attached and stretched between say two vehicles, front bumper to front bumper. You’re likely standing up by your winch--where the recoil will probably aim. Oh, and what’s right behind your winch? The rest of your vehicle.
Now suddenly you’ve got 20 lbs worth of steel cable recoiling back at your face and your windshield.
So you’re saying maintaining and keeping a good eye on your steel cable is a must, then?
And the consequences won’t be just that the cable will break, it could be your hood, windshield, winch, and /or people who get damaged or hurt.
But no big deal, right? I’ll just get the most heavy duty steel cable around. Then I’ll be in the clear, right?
The “Secret” of the 4x4 Winch Products
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that BillaVista pointed out to me years ago. It’s a secret that has permeated most of aftermarket winch products. So I’m not picking on any single company or product out there. Pretty much everybody does it.
So when companies list those “pull capacities” there’s something a little odd going on. Let me break it down for you by product:
A Winches pull capacity is literally how much force that winch can put out. It’s an output, in other words. So if you try to move something that is 15,000 lbs with a 10,000 lb winch, you ain’t going nowhere. But that doesn’t mean your winch is going to break and /or injury anyone. It will probably just not be able to move the object and you’ll stop trying to pull it in. I suppose if you keep trying you could damage the winch, but it isn’t going to happen right away, per se, and not to any dire consequences.
Hook and Shackle Capacity
When you look at winch accessories like hooks and shackles and even snatch blocks, most companies list the capacity as the Working Load Limit of that product. So when a hook claims it can handle 2 tons, that means it can take 2 tons within the safety limit or design factor of the hook. In other words, that capacity is the safety range of use. The hook or shackle might be able to take much more than this without breaking, but due to regulations and safety precautions, you shouldn’t try to lift or pull anything over 2 tons with that hook.
Typically for most hooks and shackles the design factor (previously known as the safety factor) is between 5 and 10, meaning that you should only attempt to move something that weighs either 20% or 10% the maximum amount or what is known as Nominal Breaking Strength.
So that hypothetical hook that is rated at 2 tons, shouldn’t actually break unless it is being used incorrectly and /or to move something that is five times that amount, or 10 tons.
Why am I stressing this point? Because most winch accessories are rated in this way, partially because other industries, like the lifting and towing industries, which are heavily regulated, use these products. And the safety standards are mandated federally. Hence, you have to tell the potential consumer that this particular hook or snatch block or shackle shouldn’t be used to move anything over this particular amount which is within the safety range or design factor of that product.
Winches though aren’t really regulated like that. And while the winch being rated as it is is likely okay, there is one major piece of the winching system that we haven’t quite gotten to just yet.
Oh, that’s right. You’re thinking it: the rope or winch cable.
Winch Cable Capacity
Almost universally--I’ve found maybe one exception in all my research so far on this topic--every website and manufacturer on the Internet who sells and /or makes winches lists their winch cables capacity as the Nominal Breaking Strength.
What is Nominal Breaking Strength?
What does Nominal Breaking Strength mean for a winch cable?
The Nominal Breaking Strength of any mechanical device is the point at which if you put this amount of force onto the machine it will break. In other words, a winch cable rated at 10,000 lbs Nominal Breaking Strength will likely break at or a little above or a little below 10,000 lbs of force.
If you are being smart and safe, you should NEVER approach that limit. Period.
And with all the other parts of the winching system, that design factor prevents this from happening because the numbers that are presented to you, the consumer, aren’t the Nominal Breaking Strength numbers, but rather the Working Load Limit, which is the Nominal Breaking Strength divided by 5 or 10, depending on design factor (of course there are other design factor standards, but in general when dealing with human lives, 10 is a great standard). To put it another way, you should never exceed 20% (design factor 5) of the Nominal Breaking Strength or 10% (factor 10) if you wish to operate this product safely.
Why is that? The likelihood of the cable snapping is significantly reduced. Obvious when you think about it, right?
So why don’t these websites and companies tell you this?
I think it’s just become an industry standard. Everyone does it. And frankly, if you don’t know all the science and physics that go into the calculation, you might not ever realize it. Furthermore, if you never use your winch to pull someone out of a few feet of mud, you won’t approach that nominal breaking strength.
But for those of us who are purchasing winches to go mudding or to pull massive tree trunks off of roadways, we need to know this sh!t because what we don’t know, might really hurt or even kill us.
I hope at this point you can see why I’m belaboring this part so much:
The weakest link in most winch systems is that steel wire cable.
And if the weakest part were the winch, then you just wouldn’t be able to move the stuck Jeep or truck or whatever.
And if the weakest part were the snatch block, that would bend and break and you might still get recoil. And if the weakest part were a shackle or hook, you’d still get recoil that could be very dangerous.
But you know where some of the most dangerous recoil comes from: that steel wire cable snapping. And if you’re 4x4 winch system’s weakest link is that cable, maybe not the next time you use it, maybe not the time after that, but eventually, somewhere down the line, that cable’s going to break. And when it does, I’m hoping that no one gets hurt.
So how do we avoid this dangerous cable situation?
We’ve got two options, and you might not like either of ‘em, cause they are both expensive. The problem lies in the numbers, after all. Winch companies are trying to make money by selling you a product that has a rope that is underrated to get the job done. They likely don’t even realize it. So the answer is: you need a better rope or winch cable.
The options then are:
Go synthetic (this is the easiest option, by the way, if not the most expensive)
Get a bigger steel cable (but you gotta make sure it will fit your winch)
Let’s run through the math just to bring this home with our example.
So here’s the hypothetical products we’ve bought for your F-150 winch:
The Winch: Zeon 12--rated capacity of 12,000 lbs. or 6 tons.
The Snatch Block: Warn 93195 Winch Snatch Block--Working Load Limit of 18,000 lbs. or 9 tons.
The Truck: 2018 Ford F-150--estimated empty weight of about 5,000 lbs. or 2 ½ tons.
Worst Case Scenario of that F-150 being stuck in the mud: Required Recovery Force--24,000 lbs. or 12 tons, but my Snatch Block cuts that in half, down to a manageable 12,000 lbs. or 6 tons.
So we need a cable or winch rope that can handle 12,000 lbs. or 6 tons safely, cause that’s the maximum amount of force we believe we’ll ever have to apply to that cable via our winch (also, it’s the max the winch can apply, without using the F-150’s engine too, which is a completely different topic and also something that can be dangerous so do your research before you go down that dark path also or make sure you at least have a Recovery Strap and /or Tree Strap… we should talk more about those later).
So let’s take a look at the steel wire cable that comes stock on that Zeon 12.
You’ll have to do a little digging to get the numbers, and I’m not picking on Warn, by the way. I think they make excellent products. In fact, I want to sell you on Warn. I just want to make sure you winch safely with your new Warn Zeon 12-S with Spydura Synthetic rope. See what I just did there?
Here’s what you’ll eventually find (and again this is fairly standard):
The Zeon 12 Winch comes with 80 feet of ⅜“ galvanized steel wire rope. While it doesn’t say it under the listing anywhere, you can probably assume that that ropes Nominal Breaking Strength is probably around the 12,000 lbs. that the winch is rated to put out maximum. But let’s not just assume anything here. Let’s dig a bit.
After a bit of research, we’ll learn that the cable is 7 x 19 galvanized steel. And that ⅜“ 7 x 19 galvanized steel cable has a Nominal Breaking Strength of…
Drum roll please…
14,400 f$!%ing pounds!
We’re in the clear, right?
Wrong. Remember that this is the Nominal Breaking Strength. So we’ve gotta apply or design factor of at least 5.
Suddenly we are done to a Working Load Limit or a safe maximum of about 2,880 lbs. just shy of 1 ½ tons…
So that steel rope that comes stock on that Zeon 12 is not technically even safe to pull my hypothetical F-150 truck up a 45 degree slope, without mud.
You see my frustration--and BillaVista’s too, by the way. All of this is backed by his research, as well as the US Army driving manual and Engineering and Design manual, not to mention countless other official technical military manuals, all cited on BillaVista’s page.
That stock rope is a dangerously--DANGEROUSLY!--inadequate part of that winch. It is just horribly underrated to get the job done. And it certainly shouldn’t be used with a winch that can put out nearly 5 times the amount of force the cable can safely handle.
And all of this is assuming maximum, that is 100% efficiency from that rope. And if you read BillaVista’s guide, you know that’s probably not correct to assume. Even under perfect, lab conditions, you might not get that kind of efficiency. And in the wild, you’ll be lucky to get anything over 70%, which means you have to take that already low 2,880 lbs. and multiply it by .7 to figure out that it’s likely only going to safely move about 2,000 lbs. or 1 ton.
So we need a bigger steel cable or to go synthetic.
Let’s start with the easy solution: synthetic.
Now synthetic rope is going to cost a bit more, but in the long run it will save you hassle, time with maintenance, and even your back cause it weighs so much less than the steel.
The same size cable, ⅜” synthetic Spydura and Spydura Pro (both of which are made of Spectra fibers) is rated at a Nominal Breaking Strength of nearly 14,000 lbs (13,900 to be exact).
So if we do our same calculation, you’ll notice that you still probably should only stress that rope with about 2,800 lbs. of force. But if it were to snap, a synthetic rope isn’t going to recoil with the same amount of force and is much less likely to cause serious bodily harm or damage your vehicle.
Nevertheless, try not to break it. It’s expensive, right?
Now if you step up to 7/16” size, then you can get up to 18,000 lbs Nominal Breaking Strength or 3,600 lbs of Working Load Limit.
And that’s about as good as your gonna get that will also fit your winch.
You may be wondering what the difference is between the Pro and the regular, and it all has to do with the coating, which on the Pro is better able to handle high heat, which could be a concern with synthetic rope.
Regardless, we are struggling to even find a synthetic rope that can handle 2 tons, let alone the 6 we are aiming for in our worst case scenario.
What should we take away from this? No matter how great your steel wire cable or synthetic rope may be, chances are pretty solid that it will be your weakest link, even if you spec out your winch properly.
Now I hear stories about Master Pull’s synthetic ropes, but we’ve never worked with them nor have we sold them before. ButI hear that their Superline synthetic rope can handle upwards of 36,000 lbs before it reaches Nominal Breaking Strength. And if you’re keeping up, that means it’s Working Load Limit is in the 7,000’s or 3 ½ tons.
But even that mega awesome Superline synthetic rope isn’t within the green zone for my hypothetical Ford F-150 stuck in the mud to the fenders worst case scenario. I need a rope that can handle 12,000 safely.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking. Yeah, but you only need to hit that amount that one time in that most extreme scenario. And yeah, you’re right.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is…
While we need to prepare for the worst, we might have to settle for sub-optimal this time around. Literally the best I can offer you is that synthetic 7/16” Spydura Pro, that’s rated for 18,000 Lbs and has a Working Load Limit of 3,600 lbs. Will it break eventually if you’re trying to pull my hypothetical F-150 out of that mud? Yes. Yes, it will. But it’ll probably get you out of that mud the first time and maybe the next.
I guess when it comes to the third time around, you best just prepare yourself to call a professional, or better yet, ask your buddy with the heavyweight winch and the massive steel cable to give it a go. Just make sure you’re not standing in recoil range when he hits the clutch.