Heavy-duty winches and bumpers critical tools for contractors; the right combo saves time and money when the going gets tough
By Bruce W. Smith
If you’ve ever found yourself sitting on the tailgate of a stuck pickup waiting for help to arrive, you know a heavy-duty winch is a must-have tool for anyone who works outdoors.
A four-wheel-drive pickup is great work tool as long as the tires have traction.
When they don’t, well, you either turn to a winch to give a helping hand or wait for someone else to come along and save the day.
I prefer the former.
But selecting the right winch for those annoying situations isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.
First of all, if you run a business where time is money and investment in good tools has paid off over the years, throw cheapest price out the window.
In today’s world of winches, price is usually a fair indicator of quality. And, just like in the construction trades, quality comes with a cost.
That just leaves two other factors: how big a winch is needed and how will it be used.
My rule-of-thumb is to take the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) and multiply by 1.5. The resulting number is the winching capacity required to be effective in the field.
For example, the typical 1/2-ton Crew Cab 4×4 has a GVWR of around 7,000 pounds, while ¾- and 1-ton diesel crew cab 4x4s hover around 10,000 pounds.
So ½-ton 4x4s would be best suited using a 10,000-pound capacity winch while the heavier diesel counterparts would be suited best outfitted with 15,000 pounds winching capacity.
Overkill? Not if you think of the mechanics of winching.
If the vehicle is stuck, that means the winch has to lift the truck to get over the edge of the hole the tire dug and then pull the weight of the truck to get it out of the situation.
But there’s more: If the winch cable isn’t spooling from the bottom layer on the drum, then its rated capacity is reduced by about 20 percent on each successive outward layer.
So, a 10,000-pound-capacity winch would be only pulling around 5K on the top couple layers of line.
Hence the need for the bigger winch because you aren’t always able to be winching with 70 or 80 feet of cable spooled out.
It’s better to have a lot more pulling power at your fingertips than too little.
ELECTRIC OR HYDRAULIC
Of course the type of winch depends on need and application.
If you are in forestry, emergency services work, or clearing right-of-ways, where a winch might be used several times a week, a hydraulic winch would be a good choice.
Hydraulic winches keep pulling at their rated power no matter duration of the pull and they don’t put any drain on the truck’s electrical system. They usually aren’t affected by water or hot or cold weather.
The downside is they are more expensive to buy and install, and they don’t work when the engine stops.
An electric, on the other hand, is easier to install and costs less, and there’s a wide range of makes and models from which to choose.
They also work whether the engine is running or not.
But electric winches are notorious for overheating under hard, extended pulls and take a toll on the vehicle’s battery system if the winch operator doesn’t pay close attention to what’s going on.
As the winch heats up and battery flow is reduced, so goes pulling power.
Which brings us to how the winch is built.
When you work around mud, sand and water day in and day out you want a winch with the highest quality internal components, and its electrical and drum/gear components sealed from the elements.
Before you buy, read the warranty in detail; compare what components are covered and for how long.
A winch with a two-year warranty on the solenoids and motor is a better than one with a one-year warranty.
“The best winch in the world is useless with out a working solenoid, first and foremost,” says Superwinch’s Senior Design Engineer, Scott Peterson.
“If the solenoid is the weak point in the winch’s design, you won’t be winching out of anything.”
Solenoids take the brunt of abuse during winching, so the better the design the less chance of failure. (Superwinch backs their sealed solenoids with a three-year coverage.)
You also need to consider what is used in making the critical gears, shafts and brake mechanisms when buying a winch for commercial-type use.
I’ve spent a lot of time at shops that do winch repairs and warranty work.
The three main reasons the winches end up on a work bench are: 1) poor quality design; 2) poor maintenance; and 3) being used improperly (overheating or in place of a snatch strap).
Cheap components are a liability in a contractor’s or construction worker’s line of work. So it is with winches.
High-quality steel gear sets, case-hardened shafts, heat-treated planetaries and all-metal housings cost more to make than cheaper components.
But they last longer and are designed to take big loads for long periods of time –- something a number of inexpensive, imported winches don’t.
So, select a well-made winch, keep it maintained and use it properly and it’ll perform when you need it year after year.
HEAVY DUTY BUMPERS
The winch is only as strong as the weakest link in the system.
That weak link could be the winch itself, the cable or rope on the drum, or where the winch is mounted.
When a winch capable of exerting five, six or eight tons of force is installed on a pickup, the last thing you want is the mount to break or the bumper snap off. (Don’t laugh. It happens.)
There are two basic mounting systems: the type that retains the factory bumper and heavy-duty replacement bumpers with the winch mount built-in.
I prefer the latter because heavy-duty winch bumpers afford a lot more front-end protection while increasing tire clearance and approach angles.
Like winches, some are better built and designed than others.
Here’re some key elements to look when bumper shopping: Look for “commercial” or “industrial” models that feature heavy-duty plate steel (1/4- to 5/16-inch), welded and gusseted. The winch mounting plate should be integrated in the bumper.
A strong winch bumper should mount to the frame instead of using any factory brackets, and have strong mounting for front and side pulls, as well as pulls at upward and downward angles.
Built-in marker lights, fog/driving lights, and welded “D”-ring mounts are also good indicators the bumper is designed for commercial, severe-duty applications.
Brush guards and grille guards, if you want them, should be welded on as well, not bolted. The bumper should also be powder-coated (not painted) or coated with a premium spray-on bedliner-type material.
Again, the winch is only as strong as the weakest link in the pull. Make your purchase decision accordingly.
The products shown here are a good example of the newest offerings in a growing market of electric winches and heavy-duty winch bumpers.
Winch and aftermarket bumper manufacturers are constantly fine-tuning their offerings much like the vehicles they are mounted on.
Today’s products are sleeker, more efficient, stronger, and more reliable than ever.
Shop smart. Let function and quality be your guide—not price. Remember, in our world a winch is a safety necessity – not a cosmetic accessory.
BULLDOG 15K HD
The newest and biggest winch in the Bulldog Winch line is the 15k Heavy Duty Truck Winch. It features a 7.2hp motor to control 92 feet of 15/32-inch wire rope up to 15,000-pounds of load. The 158-pound winch has an amp-overload sensor, automatic gear-pawl load-holding brake. Two-year warranty. www.bulldogwinch.com; (623) 581-0121
SUPERWINCH TALON 12.5i
The Talon 12.5i and 12.5i SR (synthetic rope) use a 148:1 ratio 2-stage planetary/2-stage spur-gear drive powered by a 6hp motor to deliver 12,500 pounds of line pull. Braking is automatic inside the gearbox. Control solenoid is submersible and comes with a three-year warranty. The mechanicals have a limited lifetime warranty. www.Superwinch.com; (800) 323-2031
CHAMPION 11006 SPEED Mount
Champion Power Equipment’s 10,000-pound-capacity winch, running a 3.6hp motor through a planetary gear system, comes ready to use in a handy “speed mount” that slips into the hitch receiver. The kit weights 117 pounds and carries a 2-year limited warranty. www.championpowerequipment.com; (877) 338-0999
BODY ARMOR BUMPER
Body Armor 4×4 brings its years of bumper building experience to the 2011-‘13 Ford Super Duty. Built from 3/16” steel plate with exclusive design features, this bumper has multiple light pockets for driving or fog lights and mounts up to a 16.5K winches. www.bodyarmor4x4.com; (951) 808-0750
SUPERWINCH TALON 18.0
When it’s big you need, the Superwinch Talon Series’ 18.0 uses a 2-stage planetary/2-stage spur gear set and a 6hp series-wound motor to produce nine tons of pull. Winch is available in either steel cable or synthetic rope configurations. A sealed housing and waterproof solenoid contribute to a limited-lifetime mechanical warranty. www.Superwinch.com; (800) 323-2031
Champion Power Equipment’s 15-ton-capacity electric weighs just 85 pounds and is powered by a 3.6hp motor driving a 216:1 planetary gear system. A roller fairlead and 85 feet of 3/8-inch wire rope handle the load. Two-year warranty on parts, one year on labor. www.championpowerequipment.com; (877) 338-0999
TrailReady Bumpers are angular, tight fitting, and compact fabricated steel replacements with an over-all smooth appearance. Bumpers available with or without tubing (grill guard). Light cutouts are optional. Fits full-size pickups. www.trailready.com; (888) 910-2999
MILE MARKER SEC
Mile Marker’s SEC12 and SC 15 are proven recovery platforms for those heavy-duty winching needs. A powerful 6hp series-wound motor and rugged planetary gear set is the backbone of these expedition-grade winches. www.Milemarker.com; (800) 886-8647
GO INDUSTRIES WINCH SYSTEM
This Commercial Grade Winch System from Go Industries (a national distributor for Ramsey and Mile Marker Winches) is a modular- style grille guard that can be upgraded with brush guards and 9.5 or 16.5 winch carrier as need arises. email@example.com; (800) 527-4345
COMEUP SEAL 9.5si
The ComeUp Seal Series are fully integrated 9,500 lbs, fully submersible high performance self-recovery winches with thermo sensing. They also feature a cone-brake system (CBS) outside the drum that is the only external brake design on the market, perfect for synthetic rope. www.comeupusa.com; (503) 783-6142
SMITTYBILT XRC SERIES
Smittybilt’s XRC Series 12- and 15,000-pound capacity winches are driven by 6.6hp motors controlled by heavy-duty weather-resistant and sealed control packs. Planetary 397:1 ratio in the 15K. In-drum automatic brake design. Winches come with 94’ of 3/8-inch cable, roller fairlead and remote control. Limited lifetime warranty. www.Smittybilt.com; (888) 717-5797
MILE MARKER HI12000
The hydraulic-powered Mile Marker HI12000 winch delivers continuous pulling power running off the pickup’s power-steering pump. The solenoid control valve is integrated into the winch body. Kit includes all mounting/installation hardware. www.Milemarker.com; (800) 886-8647
GO INDUSTRIES PRO-SERIES
Go Industries’ Pro-Series Bumper is a one-piece replacement that provides heavy-duty front end protection for full-size HD pickups. It’s constructed from 7ga. steel with 5/16” laser cut uprights. Includes four auxiliary light tabs and carrier to fit popular winch brands up to 16.5K. firstname.lastname@example.org; (800) 527-4345
Warn Industries’ ZEON is the company’s newest winch line. The Zeon 8, 10 and 12 have motors in new sealed housings with equally new exterior styling, stronger planetary gear design, and no exposed wires. Available in both steel cable and synthetic ropes. Limited lifetime warranty. www.Warn.com; (800) 543-9276
MILE MARKER H18K
Mile Marker’s H18K hydraulic model delivers 18,000 pounds of recovery power ideal for many applications from field service vehicles to compact loader/excavators to industrial utility vehicles. It requires only 4gpm at 1500psi flow and can be powered by either stock power steering pumps or PTO systems. www.Milemarker.com; (800) 886-8647
Warn Industries’ VR Series (8-, 10-, and 12K capacity) are entry-level winches perfect for the first-time winch buyer and those looking to save money while still getting a genuine Warn winch. The VR Series have a low-profile design and a separate control box to fit most vehicles. www.Warn.com; (800) 543-9276
The Warn M15000 boasts high-strength carrier plates to handle the geartrain stresses of its 15,000-pound pull. Features a 4.6hp motor, low-profile design; automatic direct-drive braking. Limited lifetime warranty. www.Warn.com; (800) 543-9276
SMITTYBILT H20 10K
Waterproof Smittybilt X2O winches feature waterproof 5.5 – 6.6hp series wound motors and solenoids, as well as the 3-4 stage planetary gear systems. Control box can be mounted over the winch motor or remote. Limited lifetime warranty. www.Smittybilt.com; (888) 717-5797
Buckstop’s heavy-duty bumpers fit applications from the mid 1980’s to current model vehicles. Each bumper includes trailer receiver, OEM tow hooks, latching winch access door, 6” built-in light mounts, and powder-coat finish. Flat-rate shipping: $75. Made in USA. www.buckstop.biz; (800) 431-6978
Engo PW10000 is a winch with a built-in pressure washer. Its 5.6hp motor and 3-stage planetary gear system delivers 10,000–pound single line pull rating. The built-in pressure washer delivers 1650 psi at 300 Liters per minute. www.engousa.com; (360) 573-0882
ROAD ARMOR STEALTH
Recessed light pods for Square Dually/D2 Series, or Vision-X Optimus Series Lights, welded shackle mounts, and winch mount to house up to a 12K non-integrated winches are just some of the features on Road Armor’s Ford Superduty (’11-’13) Stealth bumper. Lifetime guarantee against breakage. www.roadarmor.com; (877) 294-2726
PROMARK 12000 MIDNIGHT SERIES
ProMark 12,000 Midnight Series SR Recovery Winches feature 6hp series-wound motors. This winch comes pre-loaded with 92 feet of the exclusive ProMark Blue Synthetic Winch Rope. www.ProMarkOffroad.com; (888) 657-9997
WARN HD BUMPERS
Warn Industries’ HD Bumpers fit 2011-newer Superduty, Silverado HD, and Ram 2500-5500HD pickups. Welded 1/4” and 3/16” steel for exceptional durability and a bold, customized look. Integrated winch mounts accept Warn Heavyweight Series winches, including the 16.5ti. Available with or without welded, large-diameter tubular brush guards. www.Warn.com; (800) 543-9276
RUGGED RIDGE 10500
Rated at 10,500lbs, Rugged Ridge winches are the affordable workhorses in the industry. The 6.6hp series wound motors guarantee a long life and extra pulling power. Both steel and synthetic rope versions are covered by a 5-year limited warranty. www.ruggedridgeoffroad.com; (800) 449-6649
BULLDOG GRILL GUARD
Bulldog’s Pickup Grill Guard Program is a modular, bolt-together, 3-piece design composed of grill guard, winch carrier and brush/headlight guards in black or chrome. Carrier rated for 15K winches. Fits most Chevy, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Toyota pickups. www.bulldogwinch.com; (623) 581-0121
FAB FOURS BUMPER MOUNT
Fab Fours, well-known for heavy-duty bumpers, now offers a winch mount system to fit all full-size pickups including Nissan and Toyota. The welded 3/8” one-piece steel winch bolts to frame in 30-minutes and slips over factory tow hooks. www.fabfours.com; 866-385-1905
WINCH ACCESSORY KITS
A winch on your truck is almost worthless without a proper accessory kit. It’s akin to having a ratchet without sockets.
Every pickup equipped with a heavy-duty winch should also have a winch accessory kit that includes tree saver straps, choker chains, shackles, a snatch blocks, winch straps and leather gloves.
Notice the items listed above are plural. Most winch accessory kits come with one item each.
But heavy-duty winches being used around the jobsite or in the field often require longer, heavier and more difficult pulls than those encountered during a weekend recreational outing.
Two 30-foot winch straps, a pair of ten-foot choker chains, a double-sheave snatch block, and three or four shackles in your truck will handle most winching situations.
Like the Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.”
WIRE OR ROPE
Many of today’s winches come with the choice of either traditional aircraft cable or synthetic rope. Rope looks cool and is very easy to handle. It’s also just as strong as any cable as is exhibited by Samson Amsteel-Blue (www.samsonrope.com), one of the favored winch ropes.
Synthetic winch line stores zero energy under stress and, in the event of breakage, doesn’t snap back with the deadly whiplash action of cable. It floats and is easy on the hands.
But synthetic ropes are susceptible to cuts from sharp metal and abrasion. They also need to be regularly cleaned.
Cable has its weaknesses, too: It can be easily damaged wrapping over itself on the drum, by kinking or bending over sharp edges. Choose accordingly.
DOUBLING WINCH EFFECTIVE PULL
Sometimes we need more pulling power than the winch can provide – or we want to get the winching job done faster. Either scenario requires maximizing the winch’s capabilities.
A winch only delivers the maximum-rated pulling power when the cable is on the innermost layer. Pulling from subsequent layers reduces that power roughly 20 percent per layer.
Still not enough pulling power? Use a snatch block (or blocks) in the winching setup.
Running the cable/rope through a snatch block connected to the item being winched – or to the anchor point – and back to the vehicle with the winch doubles the effective pulling power of the winch. Double it back and pull triples.
Using this simple setup speeds up the recovery process while reducing the electrical load on both winch and batteries.