Winch Installation 101 – What You Need to Know

If you’re new to the off-road adventures…or if you’re a serious off-road “junkie”, then you need to install a winch on your 4X4. This isn’t even an option if you plan to really go “where no man has gone before”…so to speak. And there are 3 basic components to installing and using a winch:

  1. The right winch and bumper combination
  2. An efficient power source, and
  3. The right gear for the type of off-roading you’ll be doing.

Of course, a fourth component to keep in mind is something to attach your winch cable to when you’re stuck, but for the sake of this article we’ll assume you can find a tree or boulder or whatever. Now; get your electric drill, screwdriver, wire cutters, and socket set together. It’s time to get to work.

First thing…select a winch with the highest weight rating you can afford. And before you take it home, make sure your vehicle’s power source can handle the pressure. You’ll find the amperage listed on the winch and your battery’s documentation should tell you how much it can handle. Most importantly; though, is to be sure your bumper can handle the type of winch you want. Stock bumpers usually can’t so if that’s what you have, you’ll also be looking at investing in a specialty bumper.

As a side note; you’d do yourself a favor to buy a winch kit that includes extra gear like snatch blocks, chains, tree-protecting straps, and shackles.

Warn Medium Duty Winching Accessory Kit

The Warn Medium Duty Winching Accessory Kit includes gloves, a shackle a choker chain, a Snatch Block, a tree trunk protector, and a nifty red case. All for about $200 (click for details).

Next…Make sure you have all the correct hardware for your type of winch and for the location you’ll be mounting it. If you’re not sure which hardware to use, check with a 4X4 specialty shop or your dealer. It’ll save you a big headache later.

Getting Started

Be sure you disconnect the “negative” cable to your battery before you get started. You’ll be working around electrical wiring, and you don’t want the shock of forgetting. It would also be a good idea before you install the winch to install any power cables along the vehicle frame securing them in place with plastic ties. And if you leave enough slack at each end, you can easily access the quick connectors for plugging in the winch.

Winch mounting specifics will depend on the winch you buy, the bumper you have, and any extras you opt to install. So you’ll have to follow individual instructions. There may be some drilling involved to match everything up. If so, here’s a handy tip: use some silicone caulking in the hole to prevent rust.

The next step is to hook up to your power source. In most cases you’ll simply connect it to the car’s battery and install a power switch. You might consider installing an extra battery just for the winch if you buy a really powerful model. It helps ease the strain on your vehicle’s starting battery, and could provide backup in emergencies.

Finally...if you plan to use “wire” cable on your winch, you should pre-tension it. In other words, make sure the wire is properly “stretched” and tightly spooled on the winch’s drum. Most winches nowadays come with the cable already wrapped around the winch drum. If yours does, you should…

  • Un-spool most of it
  • Attach the cable to a heavy object
  • Keep the vehicle in park with the emergency brake set
  • Stabilize the wheels
  • Start the winch

The heavy object you attached will make sure the cable wraps around the winch drum correctly. Doing this process a couple of times will make sure the cable is stretched out and ready to go.

One last thing…since you’re going to all this trouble you ought to install a locking hitch pin. It really helps to prevent anyone getting their hands on your winch, and you certainly don’t want to have to go through the installation process again anytime soon.