Winch Basics

Combating Corrosion

Winches may look maintenance-free, but they aren’t and proper care is needed to keep them functioning


Your truck’s high-centered, there’s no one around for miles, and it’s raining. No worries. There’s a winch up front for just these situations. You spool out the cable and hook to a good anchor point.


Unfortunately, when you hit the power-in button to get things moving nothing happens.

This winch doesn't run because corrosion is interfering with the ground connection between case parts. The simple solution here is to clean off the corrosion to improve ground contact.

Malfunctioning electric winches are common in the pickup world. Nine times out of 10 those problems arise from operator error and improper winch maintenance.

Regardless of what caused the problem, now it’s time to fix it.

“When you’re trouble shooting winch problems, the simplest solutions are often the right ones,” says Jack Mitchell, owner of Redding Four Wheel Drive (; 877-223-8906), which is a WARN Authorized Service and Repair Center in Redding, California, that sells about a half-million dollars in new and used winch parts every year.

Dirt deposits from muddy water shows the need for winch service after extreme use.

Mitchell says electric winches need clean electrical contacts to keep the juice flowing and corrosion can interfere with that process on multiple fronts.

Corroded battery terminals are often the culprit as is insufficient grounding of the winch to the battery. Sometimes a failure to follow the manufacturer’s installation guidelines can mean something as simple as paint on a grounding point can keep a winch from functioning properly.

Winches are also subjected to the elements where rain and humidity can cause damage over time. For instance, submerge a winch during a stream crossing or bury the nose of a vehicle in a mud hole and you’ve upped the odds of creating an environment for corrosion – and winch failure or malfunction.

A look inside this motor housing indicates winch failure was caused by excessive corrosion, which affects both electrical and mechanical components.

When you can’t find the problem with the wiring you can see externally, you’ll need to go deeper into the winch control components and the motor housing.

Mitchell says removing the motor from the drum support and having a peek inside can often tell you right away if corrosion buildup may be the culprit. If you can see rust, dirt, mud and grime covering internal components, carefully scraping, sanding and brushing away the crud can often restore function.

For example, corrosion build-up on the Warn M8000 brush guides can keep brushes from feeding out and contacting the commutator as they wear.

Clean them and then check to make sure the brushes can move freely in their guides.

Another electrical component to inspect on newer model winches are the “thermal protection” switches, which operate somewhat like a fuse that opens when resistance produces too much heat in the wiring.

These switches are designed to close again when they cool. But a part failure may leave the switch open requiring a replacement.

If loosening, cleaning and retightening electrical components don’t cure the winch problem, identify the ruined parts and replace as needed so you can make the next pull trouble-free.



“Use it or lose it” can apply to keeping your winch alive. Making a short 10- to 15-foot pull once a month keeps parts from seizing and helps warm things up to dispel corrosion-causing moisture.

This is just one of the simple winch maintenance tips I picked up while visiting the winch experts at Redding Four Wheel Drive. You can give them a call with repair and replacement parts questions, the latter which are easy to order from their website:; 877-223-8906.