Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Big Deal about Winches

Winches look cool, but you might wonder if you really want your Jeep to look like a miniature tow truck.  The answer is, if you are planning to do some extreme off-road driving, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and back-breaking grunt work if you have a winch.  Back roads are basically unkept roads.  They are unkept because very few people live on them or use them.  Many of them are too narrow to allow a motor home to pass through, let alone a tow truck.  If it’s a boggy area, the conditions will cause the tow truck to bog down, not to mention if you were able to convince a tow truck to travel thirty-five miles of dirt road to rescue you, it would cost you a fortune.  That same price could just as well go toward buying a good winch.

Don’t think that just because you jacked up the suspension and have bear claws for tires, you’ll never get stuck in your Jeep.  Even if you’re rock climbing on dry land, there’s always a chance one tire will sink into a hidden hole.  If you’re in the rain forest belt, you’re dealing with extremely thick top soil that never dries out completely.  What looks like a bit of surface water can actually be a foot and a half of black jelly.

Creek crossing can also be hazardous.  While you might have a rock and gravel bank on the side you’re going in, there can be a slough off and mud bank on the other side.  With water running rapidly by your fenders, and a thick, sliding surface underneath, you’re suddenly stuck.  

Hydraulic or Electric

Hydraulic winches are definitely the bad boy of the two.  They are exactly what their name implies.  Compressed fluids transfer the power from the engine, adding to the pulling strength of the winch.  The hydraulic winch will operate as long as your engine is running.  Hydraulic winches are very tough, very durable and designed for the long haul.

Although very efficient for the occasional problems that come up while you’re out on the road, electric winches are not built for continuous use.  They make a good back-up plan for the occasional off-road adventurer.  The advantage of an electric winch is that the winch motor will run for several minutes, even after your Jeep battery is dead.

Depending on the size you buy, electric winches can pull anywhere from 2,000 to 12,000 pounds.  A heavy duty hydraulic winch can pull in excess of 12,000 pounds, making it a stronger work horse altogether.  Using one to pull you out of a jam is relatively easy.  Just find a stout structure, like a tree or a large, immovable rock, rap one end of your cable line around it, fastening it securely, and let your winch do your cranking for you.  Just remember when wrapping the strap around a tree to go as low as you can on the trunk as it presents the lowest odds of hurting the tree.

Owning a winch also gives you a chance to be the hero of the road.  While you might not be out there to win any popularity contests, it never hurts to show a bit of friendliness in those back road areas.  If you go off road driving a lot, it’s inevitable that sooner or later you’ll find someone who wasn’t quite prepared for that rugged terrain, and could really use a tow.  Chances are good, that mired vehicle is blocking the access anyway, so if you want to keep on trucking, your only choice is to help him out.

Winter Winching

If you live in an area that has deep winter snows, owning a Jeep with a hydraulic winch is an opportunity for a little entrepreneur activity.  There isn’t a snow day that goes by that there aren’t at least three or four vehicles hopelessly buried at the side of the road.  In rural areas, the winched up Jeeps come out in full force when weather conditions get treacherous.  Cruising up and down the road, at ten bucks a pop, which is considerably less than a tow truck would charge, the enterprising Jeep owner often has the cost of his winch covered before winter is over.  Of course, you might do it just because you’re a good samaritan.

Before investing in a winch, decide just how serious you plan to make your off-road adventures.  If you are planning a cross country trip, want to do some intense mud bogging, or live in an area that gets snow bound in the winter, a hydraulic winch is your best choice.  If you bought your Jeep for occasional recreational adventures, than an electric winch is good sense and a good safety feature to ensure your outdoor activities are enjoyable.

About the Author: Karla Fetrow is an experienced off-road driver tackling some of the toughest terrain in the U.S in Alaska on a daily basis. Having been raised in the remote areas of Alaska, it is common knowledge to the rural inhabitant that there are places you just can't go without a Jeep or other sturdy off-road vehicle.  Karla frequently writes on behalf of Extreme Terrain.

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