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How to Use a Truck Winch, Complete Guide

How to Use a Truck Winch, Complete Guide

A winch can save you from a myriad of tough situations when off-roading. It can pull, lift, and drag vehicles out from ditches, ledges, and other places you might find yourself stuck in, but how do you use one?

To use a truck winch, attach the winch to the item that needs to be moved with a strap, shackle, or stake. Then, lock the clutch, connect the remote, and draw the line taught. Drape a blanket or jacket over the line once it’s tight. Use the remote to slowly and carefully start reeling the line in.

If you are new to winching, you might be confused about what any of the words above mean. Let’s dive deeper into how to use a winch.

Set Up

To start, you have to prepare the winch. Those who have a winch attached to their car should have heavy-duty gloves stored in their truck at all times. You never know when you might need to use the winch, and a winch cable can cut your hands badly if you are not careful or take the necessary precautions.

  • Plug the remote control provided into the winch.
  • The remote is a long corded remote control that can be used from the driver’s seat.
  • This is for an electric winch—a hydraulic winch is different and will require careful research as well, but they are far less common.

After plugging in the remote and feeding it into the driver’s side, switch the winch lever to disengage.

This will allow you to manually pull the cable out so you can attach it to your anchor. Where you set your anchor will depend on what you are planning in winching.

The size of the object is an important factor. If you are winching something lighter than your car, you should just attach the winch to a strong part of the other vehicle.

Once you have the winch attached to the object that you are pulling or lifting, connect the wires of your winch to your car’s battery.

If you don’t connect an electric winch to your car’s battery, the winch won’t do anything. Don’t worry, the winch won’t drain your car’s battery unless it requires more amps than the battery provides, so you will be able to drive off with ease after the item is out of the ditch.

If you are winching your own car, find something large like a tree trunk to anchor your winch to.

Never tie or wrap your cable around itself when anchoring. Always use a strap. When you pull your cable toward the anchor, make sure you don’t give it unnecessary slack by pulling it too far.

Pull it just to the anchor and wrap your strap around it. Attach the strap to your cable using a D-shackle and the hook. Hook your winch cable to the D-shackle and turn the lever from disengaged to engaged.

Never try to winch something heavier than your own vehicle.

While your winch can likely carry more weight than your vehicle, it is important to take the weight of both cars into account before attempting to winch anything. You might end up anchoring the car you are trying to pull and pull yourself into the hole as well.

The Right Type of Winch

I have an entire guide on How To Choose A Winch (found here) but the here are the basics:

Both hydraulic and electric winches work very similarly, but they have their differences.

An electric winch is the most common type. It is durable and less expensive than the hydraulic winch but can overheat if overused. If you need a winch for all-day use, an electric winch may not be the best option for you. You might opt for a hydraulic winch instead.

Hydraulic winches do not have a problem with overheating but do have other downsides such as unavailability. Because electric winches are so common, it might be hard to find a hydraulic winch. It also may wear on your car because the engine must be running to run a hydraulic winch.

Another choice you have to make when buying a winch is the different types of ropes offered. Just like with the type of winch, there are ups and downs for each rope type.

A steel rope is an affordable and common type of winch cable that is easy to manage, maintain, and very durable. One downside is that this cable tends to be heavy.

It might even be too heavy for your winch, depending on the capacity. This rope type is great for helping with sand, mud, and rocks, as it is good for abrasive terrains. This is the type of rope you need to wear gloves for when handling.

However, if your winch has a steel cable, make sure you don’t use it when it is frayed. The cable is then weak and can snap easily.

A synthetic rope is a safer, lighter, more flexible rope that you can handle without gloves, although you should still wear them when using a winch.

These are great for recovery winches but they can wear down fast due to their less-than-stellar durability. It also needs more maintenance due to its relatively fragile nature.

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How to Operate a Truck Winch

Once your winch is anchored and tight, use the remote control to slowly pull the line taut.

The button on the remote control will cause the winch to spin, pulling the cable back to itself. Do not start winching until you are in the driver’s seat. This first use of the remote is to make sure the rope is pulled taut.

Make sure you have placed a blanket, jacket, or another object over the line to protect you and your car from kickback in case the cable snaps. This might seem silly, but it is imperative for safe winching.

After assuring the rope is taut, is not caught on anything, and you have a damper blanket on the cord, you can now get into the driver’s seat with the remote.

You should remain in the car the rest of the time you are winching. If you are too close to the winch and cable while it is being operated, it could seriously injure you.

Slowly use the remote to winch the vehicle.

Don’t try to accomplish this too quickly. Working slow and steady will help with control, both with the cable and with how much the car moves. Releasing the button and stopping every few seconds should keep you from going too fast.

It is important to go slowly so that you can stay away from problems with the winch, your car, and the car you are pulling. This way, everyone can stay safe.

When pulling your own vehicle, press lightly on the gas to help propel you forward.

This will help you to lightly winch your car and propel your car. In this case, the winch is helping your car get out of the ditch, but it can’t do all of the work by itself.

Ways to Use a Winch

What can you do with a winch? How do you know if you even need one?

A winch is not necessary for every vehicle and every situation. The most common place you would get a good amount of use out of a winch is when you are off-roading. A winch can help get you out of a rough situation like a ditch or uneven terrain.

This is important when off-roading because it can be difficult to gauge what your vehicle will be able to handle at times, and you may bite off more than you can chew.

There are also many people who use their winch for helping others.

After a surprise flurry of snow and ice caught many off-guard in Oregon, a winch user helped recover a few cars from ditches and crashes until help came.

This situation is fairly common and many winch owners often find themselves as first responders in scenes such as this. It shows how useful a winch can be in dire situations.

The winch can also help with dragging boats onto the shore.

Whether it be a flooded boat that needs to be worked on or a boat that needs to be docked when there is no dock around, your winch can easily pull a boat from the water. The trick is to do this particular maneuver very slowly to not damage your boat or overheat your winch.

Another interesting use of a winch is using it for fixing dents in a vehicle.

A winch is great for this due to its control. It can make very precise movements with a lot of power. This might not be great for small dents or delicate work on the body of a car, but if all you need is to get a large dent out of your passenger side door, a winch will do the trick.

All you need to do is drill a hole or spot in the dent, weld a hook into the door as an anchoring point, then winch out the dent!

Another way to use your winch is for landscaping.

This is a technically unconventional use of a winch, but a very useful one nonetheless. Attaching straps to large rocks and winching them to places you want them to be is a very useful ability to have.

This can also help with dead trees, foliage, or even planters too heavy to lift. A winch makes for a great tool for landscaping and dealing with heavy materials.

Some people use winches to haul large game.

When hunting, some have found that animals often end up in places that are not easily accessible. With roughly 45 feet of length, a winch can often pull heavy game out from wherever they were killed. Many hunters have winches so they don’t have to haul large game to their vehicle by hand.

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Winch Safety

Speaking of risk and safety, what are some things to avoid and be wary of when operating a winch?

You should never touch, push, pull, or straddle a winch line while it is being used.

The cables are incredibly strong and tight, which means that if they snap, they will recoil and fly. This could be especially dangerous since most cables are made of steel. Even if you are wearing gloves, never let the cable run through your hands.

When dealing with a winch line, it is very important to wear thick protective gloves.

The cable can cut your hands if handled incorrectly, and even when handled with care it can sometimes cut your skin. If you have a winch attached to your car, it is a necessity to keep a pair of heavy-duty gloves in the glove compartment.

The blanket method mentioned earlier might seem pointless or silly, but it can really help when working with a winch.

The use of a blanket or coat is necessary, but you could use a winch rope damper instead. The point of the winch rope damper is to weigh the wire down if it snaps.

Without this weight to lessen the force of the kickback and snap of a broken wire, this flying cable could be deadly. The ideal winch blanket is around 1kg in weight and is essential to have in any car that has a winch attached.

The winch capacity must always be considered when you are buying or using a winch.

A higher capacity is always better, as it can hold more weight and you often won’t have to worry about it being damaged due to overcapacity.

Typically, your winch should be able to pull at least 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle it is attached to. The result of this calculation can be exceeded so you can get a winch with a higher weight capacity.

Here is an example of the minimum capacity rating for winches: If your car weighs 4,000 lbs., your winch will need to have a minimum of 6,000 lbs. strength capacity. This 1.5x minimum is the industry standard, but for extra safety, a stronger winch is recommended.

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