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Can a Winch Get Wet? How To Prevent Water Damage

Can a Winch Get Wet? How To Prevent Water Damage

Adding a winch to your vehicle improves its capabilities. Since a winch is an electrical tool, will leaving it on your vehicle in the rain damage it?

Most recreational winches can get wet without breaking. However, winches are only waterproof to a certain depth. Avoid submerging the entire winch in water to prevent corrosion, electrical malfunctions, and loss of lubrication. Hydraulic, aka waterproof, winches can be fully submerged.

If you have a winch on your truck or are thinking of adding one, you will need to follow proper maintenance and usage to keep it in working order. Keep reading to learn more about using a winch and when it can get wet.

Winches: Are They Waterproof?

Winches are an excellent accessory for any truck or ATV. This tool is especially important when you are driving in muddy conditions where the vehicle may get stuck. If you have a winch equipped on your vehicle, getting unstuck will be a breeze. You can also use a winch to move logs or other large objects out of your path.

  • Since you will be using your vehicle outdoors, it’s important that it is waterproof or water-resistant.
  • In most cases, winches can get damp for a short period of time without being damaged.
  • However, it will vary depending on the part of the winch getting wet as well as other conditions.

Let’s take a look at how waterproof different winch components are.

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Electrical Components

The main concern is the electrical components of the winch. In most cases, the winch will run off the car battery. In these cases, the battery stays dry underneath the vehicle hood.

The same is true for most ATV batteries. If your winch doesn’t connect to the car battery, consider placing its power pack into a water-tight container and installing it higher up, away from the ground.

  • Another electrical component, the solenoid pack, also needs protection from water exposure.
  • If you are wondering what a solenoid pack is, it is the mechanical piece that turns electrical force into mechanical force.
  • Your winch will likely use a solenoid pack.
  • Most solenoid packs are waterproof to some degree, so they can get slightly wet.
  • When possible, install the solenoid pack under a protective cover.

Placing both the battery and the solenoid pack under a protective cover will shield it from any rainfall. While both items are slightly waterproof, it’s best to avoid any contact with water.

If you plan on taking your truck or ATV through rivers, streams, or puddles, you may need to take extra precautions. Place both components in water-tight containers.

If either piece is submerged in water or has a lot splashed on it, they could short circuit or blow fuses. Protect your electrical components by avoiding these situations or installing the necessary protective features.

Mechanical Components

While the electrical components are important, they aren’t the only piece of the winch that could get damaged by water exposure.

Because you will use the winch to pull heavyweights, the metallic cable/rope needs to move smoothly through the winch mechanics. In most cases, this requires significant lubrication on the drum gear and the drive axle.

Every time you submerge your winch underwater or drive through a large puddle, the water washes away some of that lubrication. Not only will water wash away some of the lubrication, but it will begin to corrode the metal pieces of the winch.

Let’s look at a winch example and what kind of service it needs when exposed to water.

The Warn VRX 45 POWERSPORT winch costs around $500 and can move up to 4,500 pounds. Warn offers a lifetime mechanical warranty and a three-year electrical component warranty.

According to the product description, the Warn VRX 45 Power Sport winch has complete waterproof sealing. After reading this, you might think, “Perfect! Let’s go cross that river!” However, you may want to think again.

When you take a look at the winch specifications, you’ll notice that this water sealing is rated IP68. But what does this mean? IP stands for Ingress Protection.

The IP rating determines how well the sealing prevents water (or other objects) from getting inside the mechanical components of your winch. This rating is also used for many smart devices. The two numbers that follow the letters “IP” explain two different ratings.

The first number explains how resistant the sealing is to dust. The maximum number that could be used here is 6. In other words, the Warn VRX 45 Power Sport winch is “dust tight.”

The second number relates to how waterproof/water-resistant the winch is. In this case, the number 8 means that the winch won’t sustain water damage when submerged in water up to 1.5 meters (4 feet, 11 inches) deep for 30 minutes. Anything deeper or longer than that, and the winch will need servicing.

Always check the waterproof rating on your winch before exposing it to too much water.

  • Warn claims that the winch shouldn’t need any additional lubrication for the entirety of the life of the winch.
  • However, if the winch gets submerged in water, the owner should have it serviced to prevent corrosion damage.
  • Customers should also know that if the control pack gets submerged, Warn suggests replacing it.

Warn Industries explains that even if the winch isn’t waterproof, it can still get wet.

This includes driving through puddles or quick stream crossings. These winches should be entirely submerged in water on a regular basis.

Other winches may use terminology such as “sealed for life.” However, they don’t tell you how long the life of the winch is. One mechanic we spoke with explained that the life of the winch is often represented by warranties.

For the Warn VRX 45 Power Sport, that’s three years for the electrical components and a lifetime warranty for the mechanical parts. In this case, consider the “life of the winch” to be four years or so.

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How to Prevent Water Corrosion on Your Winch

There are several options you could use to prevent water from corroding your truck or ATV winch.

First of all, if you use a smaller-sized winch that is easily removable, you could detach it from the vehicle when not in use. Store the winch in a dry area such as the garage or a shed. This will minimize water exposure from dew and rainfall, extending the life of the winch.

However, if your winch is too large to reinstall every time you want to take the vehicle out, consider parking the entire vehicle in a dry area such as a garage or carport. If you don’t have access to any of these structures, cover the winch with a tarp.

While minimizing the exposure to water will help extend the life of the winch, there will be situations where water exposure is unavoidable.

In these cases, you should use a product such as CRC Lectra Shield Long Term Liquid Corrosion Inhibitor to prevent corrosion. This product coats the moving parts of your winch in a waxy film that blocks moisture. According to the product description, CRC Lectra Shield protects your mechanical components for up to two years!

This type of preventative care is especially important if you live on the coast or where they use road salt. These salty conditions create the perfect environment for rust and corrosion.

Hydraulic Winches

While most winches are water-resistant, there are entirely waterproof winches.

Hydraulic winches operate differently than your typical winch does. Rather than drawing power from the vehicle battery, a hydraulic winch uses hydraulic power.

This power is produced from the vehicle’s power steering fluid. Without any electronic components, there’s no risk of short-circuiting a hydraulic winch when exposing it to water. However, the vehicle must be turned on for the winch to work. (source)

  • Another difference between hydraulic winches and standard winches is their size.
  • While a larger truck could fit a hydraulic winch, it may be too much for an ATV.
  • That said, hydraulic winches are much more capable than standard winches.
  • While the Warn VRX 45 Power Sport winch could move 4,500 pounds, the Mile Marker Hydraulic H9000 winch has a 9,000-pound load capacity.
  • That’s a lot more weight than an ATV and most off-road trucks will ever need to move.

Not only are they more capable, but hydraulic winches are much more expensive. The Mile Marker H9000 winch costs approximately $1,400. That’s nearly triple the cost of the Warn VRX winch.

But this winch gets even more expensive. Because hydraulic winches use the power steering fluid, you’ll need a valve kit. If you don’t have a valve kit already, this adds another $570 to your total. In other words, you’re paying nearly $2,000 for a winch that can lift twice the weight of a standard winch.

For these reasons, it may be more cost-effective to purchase the standard winch and then take the necessary steps to protect it from getting wet.

However, if you plan on doing some heavy lifting around a body of water, the hydraulic winch may be the best option. This may include loading a heavy boat onto your trailer. The Mile Marker Hydraulic winch can be used underwater and is made from corrosion-resistant materials.

This winch has 100 feet of steel aircraft cable. With that strong of material, you should never have to worry about the cable snapping. The Mile Marker H9000 (link to Amazon) winch weighs 93 pounds. While you could remove and store the winch when not in use, its weight makes this more difficult than it’s worth.

Although this winch can be used underwater, the product description lists that it is only water-resistant. This could be cause for concern for some customers. Unfortunately, the depth rating for this winch is unknown.

How to Extend the Life of Your Winch

While winches are built to be durable, without proper maintenance their condition will degrade. Keep your winch working longer by following some helpful maintenance hacks.

1. Use It Frequently

The worst thing you could do for your winch is leave it sitting for long periods of time. When the parts sit for long enough, they could start corroding as moisture sits on the metallic parts. Another issue is that the lubrication begins to settle.

Make sure your winch moves at least once a month. If you don’t use it to recover a vehicle or move an object, manually pull out the cable and wrap it back up. This will spread out the lubrication and remove any settled moisture.

This is also a good chance to check for corrosion and apply any preventative products. If the cable looks damaged, replace it.

If your winch uses synthetic line, Warn suggests washing it with soapy water at least once a month or so. That said, even a steel winch cable should be cleaned off occasionally. Use a soapy rag to clean the cable after every use.

2. Apply Lubricant as Needed

Some winches don’t need to be lubricated for their entire lifetime. However, this only applies if the winch is used under proper standards.

A waterproof winch that occasionally gets submerged in shallow water should be fine without extra lubrication. Meanwhile, a non-waterproof winch that gets exposed to water (more intense than light rain) may need more lubricant applied.

Once a month, open up the winch and inspect the gears. Do they look like they have enough lubrication? If so, close up the winch. If not, add more lubrication.

A product such as CRC Chain and Wire Rope Lubricating Spray should do the trick. Not only will this lubricant grease up the gears, but it will resist water too! In other words, this is the perfect product for your winch.

3. Retighten all the Bolts

Your winch goes through a lot. For this reason, bolts and fasteners may loosen up every so often. Avoid losing your winch in these situations by checking that the bolts are tightened properly every so often. Warn suggests (source) doing this every 90 days.

Other routine maintenance may include tightening wire connections and replacing or covering exposed wires.

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