From the beginning, Jeep (or is that jeep?) vehicles have always been off-road capable. They were designed that way from the start. That tradition was proven beyond doubt with the rollout of the first Wrangler Rubicon in 2002 and is still the case with today’s JK-based Rubicon. Even base Wranglers and other Jeep models can go much farther into the boondocks than most vehicles. With that much capability already built-in from the factory, you might want to make your first modification a winch. Not because your Jeep is weak, but because it only makes it better—and will always make it more capable for years to come. No matter how many other mods you make—suspension lifts, larger tires, lower gearing, traction-adders, or others—you can still get into predicaments where a winch is your only way out. Or it might be your friend’s only way out. A winch is a tool that will always be there to help you out of any sticky situation.
There are some things to think about when you install a winch for the first time. Just pulling a new winch out of the box and bolting it on a bumper can cause issues when you really depending on it. There is plenty of information out there on how to decide on which winch to buy and how to use a winch safely after it’s mounted. We wanted to show you the basic tips to get your first new winch up and running correctly. That way it will become a dependable tool ready for all of your future adventures. And those just might involve a few “stucks” along the way!
This is what we’re going to install. Your first winch may not be a top-of-the-line Warn Zeon (no, not Warren Zevon!) 10-S Platinum, yet these basic install techniques will work for any winch. When you open the box, your new winch will normally come with a remote control (the one with this Warn model is wireless), electrical cables for connection to your vehicle’s battery, a winch hook, mounting hardware, winch line (either wire cable or synthetic rope), and possibly a fairlead (Hawse type shown). Fairleads come in two styles: Roller and Hawse. Either fairlead can be used for wire cable winch line but only the Hawse type is suitable for use with synthetic rope. Make sure to read all the manuals and safety warnings that come with your winch. Winches can inflict injury and be dangerous if used or installed incorrectly.
The rule-of-thumb for choosing the capacity of a winch is 1 1/2 times the weight of the vehicle it is pulling. More pulling power is fine but don’t use less. Most winches for Jeeps are available with 8,000-, 9,500-, or 10,000-pound capacities. Just as important is that your winch mount or winch bumper should be rated to pull at least as much as the winch you buy. A winch rated to pull 8,000 pounds does no good if your bumper rips off at 5,000! A standard winch mount should be solidly built from smooth, flat 1/4-inch steel plate and have a four-bolt mounting bolt pattern that measures at least 10 by 4 1/2 inches.
Usually, you’ll need to bolt the fairlead on your bumper or mount before you bolt up the winch. This is because once the winch is mounted, there sometimes isn’t room to fish the two fairlead bolts through from the backside. Pay attention to how your bumper or winch mount is designed to decide what order you’ll use to install the winch. Some bumpers require the winch be installed into the bumper first and then the entire (heavy!) assembly lifted and attached to the vehicle. Other bumpers might not allow much room to attach the winch line to the drum after the winch is mounted. It’s nice when you can install the winch onto the bumper mount separately and then install the winch line, but this isn’t always possible.
It’s time now to attach the winch line to the drum if it wasn’t already (sometimes wire cable is factory spooled on the drum). Some bumpers or winch mounts may have enough room access to the winch drum so
who the cable or rope can be easily attached after the winch is bolted in place. Other bumper/mounts are easier to hook up the line on the workbench or garage floor before putting the winch in the bumper. Most winch lines attach to the side of the drum with an eyelet and a bolt (which does not support the rated capacity of the winch). Many Warn winches now attach lines with a loop and key system through a slot in the drum, which can just about support the winch’s capacity. Using a thin wire (a cord, a shoelace, or a zip tie can be used if in the field), pull the loop through the slot in the drum. This can require pulling with some force, so pliers and leverage will help. Insert the key into the rope loop and then pull the winch rope backwards, locking the key and rope in place.
Before mounting your winch, wind 7-10 wraps of winch line on the drum to help hold it in place being sure the winch line wraps from the bottom of the drum. You can unlock the clutch and spin the drum by hand or temporarily hookup the electrical cables and power in the line with the remote control. Caution! Be sure all hands and other body parts are nowhere near the drum when doing this. Mounting the winch was done traditionally using four 3/8-inch bolts with square nuts
who slid into little pockets on the underside of the winch. Today, the nuts still slide into the pockets for mounting but now the hardware is sometimes metric 10mm flanged bolts with flanged locknuts. Moving and lifting the winch into place can cause these mounting nuts to fall out and they might be difficult to manipulate back into place with a drum full of winch line or an enclosed bumper mount. A tip is to smear a little grease on the nuts first to make them stick and stay in the pockets. If the winch line is already attached to the drum, feed the thimble or eye loop of the loose end through the fairlead as you lower the winch into position. Tighten the four winch mounting bolts to 30 to 35 ft-lb.
Go ahead and attach the winch hook to the eye loop (or thimble) at the end of the winch line. A pin in double-shear drops through the end of the hook and the winch line and is secured with a cotter key. Note the red
Warfaren hook strap. Be sure to grab it instead of the hook when you are pulling on a winch line. It will keep your fingers clear from danger inside the throat of the hook and the fairlead. Smashed fingers (or worse) are no fun when you’re out off-roading. We decided to try the new
Warfaren Epic hook, which is forged steel and electrostatically coated to help prevent wear and abrasion, and rated for 12,000 pounds (PN 92090). It may or may not also have a hidden bottle opener built right in. Of course, it’s getting harder to find bottles with crimped bottle caps these days!
The last thing to do during installation is to connect the winch’s electrical leads to your vehicle’s battery. Don’t get ahead of yourself and do this before the other mounting steps are done. A winch being fed power might take a bite out you accidentally. It’s possible that your vehicle’s grille may need to be partially or completely disassembled in order to route the power leads. Be sure to run the cables responsibly and don’t let them contact sharp edges, get pinched, or run too close to other moving parts. Cover them with protective wire loom material if necessary. Be sure to connect the electrical cables directly to the main posts on your battery. Winches can pull tremendous amounts of power when working under load. Connecting to secondary posts might not be able to handle the amperage causing them to burn out and leave you with a dead battery in the middle of nowhere.
It’s possible to attach the winch electrical connections directly to the battery terminal clamp bolts if they are long enough, but you might want to invest and install military-style terminals as shown. These are available from auto parts stores and online for a few bucks each and have a second extra-long bolt just for hooking up all sorts of extra electrical items. They are even handy for hooking up temporary 12V electrical items for trail and camp use!
While the weight of a winch with synthetic line is not too drastic at around 65-70 pounds, a winch with wire cable adds about 20-25 pounds. When you figure in a solid winch mount or bumper at approximately 80-100 pounds, your front suspension can begin to sag. You might want to figure in the cost of some spring spacers like these for coil springs (which most modern Jeeps have) to help recover your lost ride height. Owners of leaf-sprung Jeeps should not use spacers or any kind of block up front as they can become dislodged while cornering, creating an unsafe condition. Leaf springs can be replaced or taken in and re-arched if necessary. Synthetic ropes can deteriorate being exposed constantly to UV rays from direct sun. If your Jeep parks outside permanently (like ours), you might want to also buy a winch or rope cover to extend the life of the rope.
The last step to perform before using your new winch is to pretension the winch line. This makes sure the winch line (cable or rope) is tightly and evenly wound on the drum. This keeps the winch line from getting pinched or smashed between gaps in underlying layers while under load causing premature wear or even a locked up winch. If your winch came from the factory with the winch line already wrapped on the drum, don’t think it’s already been done under tension. You should take the vehicle out to a flat and open area for respooling under a load. Disengage the winch’s clutch lever (free spool) and unwind the winch line leaving only 7-10 wraps on the drum. Pull the winch line straight ahead of the vehicle and hook it to a solid object or other vehicle (please use a protective strap if you connect to a tree). Now be sure the vehicle is running (to keep the battery charged), lock the winch clutch, and begin winching the vehicle with a couple clicks of the parking brake for added resistance (a slight uphill can be used also). You’re shooting for about 500-1,000 pounds of force on the winch. Slowly run the winch line in as you watch the drum winding. Stay away from the fairlead but you may need to push on the side of the winch line to guide it as it winds evenly across the drum. Stop winching when down to about the last six feet of line left. Disconnect from your anchor and grab the hook strap to slowly spool in the last bit of line. Use gloves (especially with wire cable) and keep your dang hands away from the fairlead!