Many times we drive down the streets and see a Jeep with a strange looking device on its front bumper. This elongated metal device is called a winch. Winches are used to create a lot of tension in a rope, generally a wire rope. The tension is great enough to move large objects such as Jeeps, ATVs, trucks and even SUVs! Winches are typically comprised of a motor, integrated solenoid, freespool crutch, steel cable, gear train, winch drum and internal break.
Vehicle Recovery Winches are powered by a motor that runs off either your vehicle's battery or power steering pump. The vehicle's battery power is transferred through the winch's motor to the gear train (or drivetrain), causing the winch drum to rotate the rope or cable in a rapid spinning motion. That is how winches work in a nutshell. We will now go on to explain what each specific part does:
Motor – Usually either electric or hydraulic these motors power the winch and are the main component necessary for the winch to function. Without the motor the winch would have to be used by hand, which would not be a fun job.
Solenoid– Integrated solenoids are also called contractors. They control the direction in which the drum rotates. There are two types of solenoids – integrated and remote. An integrated solenoid is permanently mounted on top of your winch, whereas a remote solenoid is not mounted on your winch.
Cable – The steel cable also known as wire rope and synthetic fiber rope are wrapped around the winch drum in a neat manner to prevent entanglement. The cable is then fed through the roller fairlead or a Hawse Fairlead located on the front section of the winch. The cable is usually between 40 to 100 feet in length, providing adequate towing room. Recently, there has been a shift towards using synthetic rope rather than steel cables for weight reduction and safety.
Roller Fairlead – The Roller Fairlead is designed to prevent Steel winch cable from cutting in to the winch mounting. Steel cable when dragged over other metal surfaces will cut into surface causing major damage. The Roller prevents this by allowing the cable to ride against a rolling surface preventing damage.
Hawse Fairlead – The Hawse Fairlead is preferred by the Synthetic Rope users because of reduced weight and it does not pinch the rope. The synthetic rope will not cut in to steel or aluminum so the use or the roller is not required when used with the synthetic rope. Although the roller is not necessary the synthetic rope requires a large radius to prevent shaving or cutting of the rope. The Hawse Fairlead is usually made from thick aluminum or steel with a large super smooth radius that a winch mount cannot provide. Many people still use these with their steel rope but it is now used as a consumable wear plate to protect the cable and winch mount.
Winch Drum – The drum is where the cable/wire is wrapped around in a neat formation. The spool rotates in a circular motion, winding the cable in our out, depending on its specific use.
Internal Brake – The internal brake is located within the winch drum and is used to hold the load when the winch is stopped. The brake prevents the load slipping back.
Gear Train – The gear train, also known as drivetrain, takes the power from the winch motor and converts it into a pulling power. The gear ratio is a major factor in the line speed. The three main gearing systems are planetary gear, worm gear and spur gear. The main difference between the three types is their efficiency transfer.
Freespool Clutch – A freespool clutch is designed to engage or disengage the drum from the gear train. The disengaged position lets you spool out the cable by hand at a fast rate. Using the engaged position requires power to use the cable.