Winch Maintenance: Stagnation means Decline

Sliding off the road in Brazil [©photocoen]

So you drive a 4×4, with added goodies such as a winch, high-lift and maybe a compressor. Most of the time you will not use these extras, or even engage the 4×4 function of your vehicle. But you should. Frequently even. Let me tell you what I discovered last week.

We were camping at our friend Elmer‘s place in Boa Vista (north Brazil). We had just returned from our annual trip to the Netherlands and had brought some tools and goodies with us [read about that here] that needed installing. Luckily Elmer and his father have a great gusto for tooling on cars so we drove to their workshop and worked on numerous things [I will write about that in another post].

What Can Go Wrong With the Winch?

In the past we had some security issues with our winches. Like the night we went for dinner, after which we returned to our camping spot. As we drove I heard a strange noise, but ignored it. The next morning I found two meters of cable behind the Land Cruiser. Kids, we assume, had played with the clutch lever the night before and had free-spooled a few meters of cable.

A melted battery due to a short in the winch cable [©photocoen]

Another tricky moment was the result of five years of cable rubbing: big sparks while driving and a melted battery. All because the positive lead was connected straight to the battery. This made me install a kill-switch near the battery.

I’ve wanted to modify the clutch lever for years, so nobody can free-spool the cable, and that’s what got me to my recent discovery and, as a result, this blog post.

The Clutch Lever

I had made a prototype of a tamper-proof clutch lever a couple of months ago in Ecuador, and installed it. I drove around for a while to test it. At one point I noticed a cracked O-ring under the bolt I had made, which was not the way it should be so I re-installed the original clutch lever.

Prototyp tamper proof winch clutch [©photocoen]

I asked my friends of 4×4 Service Valkenburg if they could give me an identical clutch lever so that I could make the modifications on that one. I met Dennis on our annual Overland Reunion event [read about it here] where he gave me a Warn clutch lever [as well as some heavy-duty engine mounts]. Fantastic!

When I was changing the levers, however, I discovered that they are not identical. I needed to improvise to seal the top properly. Unfortunately, in this remote Brazilian Amazon I can’t get stainless steel washers, so I’m holding off the project for a moment [to be continued in the future].

new prototype tamper proof winch clutch [©photocoen]

But, obviously, that’s not the end of the story or I wouldn’t be writing this blog…

After I had reinstalled back the original clutch lever once again, I checked its movements.

No movement! Nada, zilch, noppes… Nothing. The thing was not budging at all!

Elmer concluded that the winch had probably not been used very much. Yes, I confessed, we have had this winch for two years now and we haven’t needed it. As a result the grease must have dried out.

Fixing the Clutch Section of Our Unused XD9000 Warn Winch

We took apart the clutch section and found it full of caked grease and even a couple of rusty spots. The latter, I think, is the result of that cracked O-ring I talked earlier about. During that time we traveled in the Amazon region where we had some pretty fat rain over the months. I now assume that some of it must have gotten into the clutch of the winch.

Cleaned all the planetary gears of the Warn winch [©photocoen]

We soaked the clutch section in diesel for the night, wiped and cleaned it, applied new grease and reassembled it. The result: a clutch smooth as silk.

Rope Stretching

According to the manual we should have stretched the cable when we installed the winch but we had never gotten to it. In good spirits Elmer and I decided to do it now. Better late than never. We lined up Elmer’s famous home-build Jeep ‘Crocodillo’ on one side and the Land Cruiser on the other side of the workshop’s terrain.

We free-spooled the cable until there were five wraps left on the drum. Attached the remote. Turned the key on the kill-switch. Started the engine and let it run just a little over idle with the hand-gas handle.

Elmer Jeep's Crocodillo and the Land Cruiser [©photocoen]

I hit the winch-in button.

“Click”

Nothing happened.

“Wow, that looks like a serious problem, my friend,” some bystander noted. I got my multimeter and measured the voltage between the battery and the winch. The source of the problem was the highly robust Hella kill switch. For some odd reason it wasn’t letting any juice through.

I disconnected the switch, cleaned the terminals and the inside with ample contact spray until it worked again. I assume that the elements affect the functioning of the kill switch as it sits on the outside of the vehicle.

Lessons Learned on Winch Maintenance

After all this we spooled the cable on the drum without further issues. In hindsight this has been a great learning experience and I am glad it happened at a place where I have a knowledgable friend and all kinds of tools. Had we been in the middle of nowhere, it would have put more tension on the situation.

Coen and Elmer after they fixed the Warn winch [©photocoen]

Preventive maintenance is what we need. I will admit it’s not exactly my forte. If a winch isn’t used much it will degenerate, it will not lubricate and grease dries out and seize the mechanics. Or worse, moisture will get in and rust the complete innards of the winch.

Of course maintenance goes for other stuff as well. Like the Locking-Free-Wheel Hubs and the front-end of a part-time 4WD system. I am learning the hard way and I hope this post may save some of you that lesson. Regularly checking to see if your stuff works can save you a lot of headaches when need arises.

Note to self:

Let me know if you have more handy tips on this subject in the comments below.


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