The Only Remedy When Your Truck is Stuck: Winch Out
A Stout Puller Is a Stuck Truck’s Savior
Slick, soft terrain. A misplaced tire. An error in driver judgement. Overestimating vehicle ability. The aforementioned—and other reasons—can cause a vehicle’s forward momentum to suddenly cease, making it necessary to grab the winch cable.
Whether for self-recovery or helping someone else get their immobilized truck moving again under its own power, having a strong winch to provide the muscle needed to get a heavy diesel pickup back on track is a wonderful feeling.
Winches are excellent insurance against a costly “being stuck” experience. If you are a business owner, time is money, and having winch-equipped trucks that work in adverse conditions can decrease downtime and wasted resources.
Likewise, if you are just an enthusiast who uses your four-wheel-drive diesel rig for recreation, time is also precious, and not having to spend hours digging yourself out of a hole or sitting on the tailgate waiting for help to arrive can easily justify having a good winch onboard.
A winch can be a useful tool for a variety of other uses as well, from mending fences and cutting firewood to moving storm debris blocking a road or even pulling a vehicle or boat onto a trailer. Winches are also easily transferred from one vehicle to another, so when you get rid of a truck and replace it, you don’t have to reinvest in another winch. The biggest concern is deciding which winch will be right for the job.
Diesel owners who have been in situations where a winch was needed to save the day can attest that one can never have too much pulling power lending a helping hand. Selecting a winch is a lot like choosing a good tow vehicle: The more torque and horsepower available, the easier it is to tow a heavy trailer.
In most situations when a vehicle gets stuck, the driving tires dig down, creating a vertical shelf that prevents the tires from moving forward in the mud, sand, snow, or loose soil. In order for the truck to regain forward (or backward) momentum, the tires have to be pulled up and over that shelf. To do that, a winch has to have the muscle to lift/pull the full weight of the vehicle being extracted.
The general rule of thumb when choosing a winch for fullsize diesel pickups is to select one that has at least 1.2 times the pulling power of the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), with a better choice being a winch with 1.5 times more grunt than the GVWR (the base curb weight of the vehicle plus the amount the manufacturer says it can carry fully loaded—with optional accessories, cargo, and passengers). That number is usually listed on the vehicle identification tag attached to the driver’s doorjamb.
Let’s say you are equipping a ’19 ¾-ton truck with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds. A minimum winch capacity should be 12,000 pounds, with a better choice being one that’s rated at 15,000. Likewise, if you are installing a winch on a 1-ton dualie or heavier truck that has a GVWR between 12,000 and 14,000 pounds, a winch with a rating between 15,000 and 17,000 will do the job.
Most potential winch buyers immediately think electric when they begin shopping. Electric winches are excellent choices: They are easy to install, relatively inexpensive, and provide pulling power even if the engine isn’t running—at least for a short period of time.
There’s the rub: Electric winches are wholly dependent on the vehicle’s electrical system to provide the power to pull. As a battery’s ability to provide juice goes down, so does winching power. Electric winches are designed for very short duration pulls; the electric motors and solenoids have short “duty cycles” and need time to cool down between winching sessions.
That’s where hydraulic winches come into play. A hydraulic winch doesn’t need to take a break. As long as the pump feeding its hydraulics is running, it’ll pull with all its might without fear of anything overheating, burning out, or draining batteries. They are the “Steady Eddie” of winching.
The downsides to hydraulic winches: 1) they cost a considerable amount more than an electric winch of similar capacity; and 2) installation requires more work because a hydraulic pump is installed and hoses must be run. Some hydraulic winches operate off the truck’s power steering system, others have their own pump, and a few are driven off the power takeoff unit if the truck is so equipped. But, if you plan on doing some serious winching or winch on a regular basis, a hydraulic model is worth considering.
Electric or hydraulic, at some point there will come a time when that maximum pulling power is tested. The max-pull rating on every winch is measured on the innermost wrap of line around the drum.
That’s because the “first wrap” delivers the most leverage, and, consequently, the greatest mechanical advantage. Each time the winch line makes another layer, the overall gearing gets “taller” and pulling power is reduced.
The more layers on the drum, the less each succeeding outer layer’s load capacity reduces the leverage factor. Most heavy-duty winches’ effective pulling power is reduced by about 15 to 20 percent per layer depending on make/model. That is born out when you take a close look at the performance specifications of a winch.
For example, the Warn 16.5ti is rated at 16,500 pounds on the first layer, but only 12,600 pounds on the third wrap, and 10,800 on the fourth. So, the more cable that’s spooled off the drum, the more recovery power a winch delivers because the decreasing diameter of the spool of cable provides more leverage. (For safety’s sake, never winch with less than five turns of the cable/rope on the first layer!)
Pulling power of electric winches is also dictated by how much juice is flowing from the truck’s batteries to the winch motor. Powering a winch places the biggest hit on the alternator and the biggest drain on batteries. Choosing too small a capacity winch actually makes electrical matters worse.
The higher horsepower electric motors in the heavy pullers, along with the mechanical advantages of their lower gearing, provide more winching power with less drain on a vehicle’s system than their smaller counterparts. That’s good news for diesel-truck owners, because it means a heavy-duty winch will have a longer life than its smaller brethren when subjected to hard pulls.
For example, a robust 15,000-pound-capacity Mile Marker SEC15 winch draws 290 amps pulling 9,000 pounds, and 420 amps when delivering its full 15,000 pounds of winching power. Warn’s 16.5ti draws 342 amps at 10,000 pounds and 507 amps at its full 16.5K. Meanwhile, a lower-rated winch, like Warn’s 9.5xp, draws 413 amps at 8,000 pounds and 482 amps at 9,500.
Understanding amp draw is important because most stock diesel alternators supply less than 250 amps, while dual-alternators feed the batteries around 400 to 450 amps. If the winch is drawing more amps than the alternator can supply, the batteries are being drained. As battery power weakens, so does winching power.
There are dozens of winches on the market well-suited for use on heavy-duty diesel trucks and SUVs. We’ve compiled a sampling of some of the newest heavy hitters on today’s market to help narrow down one to grace the front of your truck. Combined with a heavy-duty winch bumper, any one of these pullers will be capable of getting a stuck rig moving again.
Winch Wiring"The biggest concerns I’ve come across within the realms of winching are all attributed to electrical power,” says Chris Claeys, Pierce Winch Manager. “You’ve got a massive amp draw when winching, so it’s critical you have the [electrical] power there to support it. You have to make sure the proper-gauge wire is used for the winch and battery ground cables. Then you have to make sure the power supply during winching is enough to keep everything working properly. You can easily shorten the life of a winch by not wiring it properly from the beginning and not keeping the truck’s battery(s) charged before and during winching.”
10 Winch Safety Tips-Wear leather gloves when handling the winch cable.
-Keep hands away from the fairlead and cable drum.
-Make sure the hook, shackles, and clevis are fastened securely before winching.
-Keep bystanders at least 50 feet away and to the side of the winching procedures.
-Always place a heavy bag, coat, or floor mat over the cable at the midway point to act as a damper should the cable come loose under load.
-Never stand beside a winch under load.
-Never attach a winch cable to a tow ball, OEM bumper, spring shackles, or steering components.
-Never begin winching with less than four cable wraps on the drum.
-Winch in short bursts to keep the winch motor/solenoids from overheating.
-Inspect the winch cable prior to winching to ensure there are no frays or kinks.