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December 1998: The ABCs of Winch Respooling - Trails End

Posted in Features on June 27, 2015
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Many of the stories we publish are timeless and are as applicable today as they were when we wrote them years ago. Seventeen years ago, in the Dec. ’98 issue, we wrote a story about respooling winch cable, and the story is as relevant today as it was then.

If you sauntered out to our Dodge Power Wagon and took a gander at the winch, you’d see that the cable resembles a road map of Vermont.

What’s the big deal about respooling winch cable? Well, improperly spooled winch cable can cause all kinds of problems. Binding and fraying are the two most common problems that could be remedied by winding the cable properly on the drum. We’re guilty of ignoring proper winch respooling. If you sauntered out to our Dodge Power Wagon and took a gander at the winch, you’d see that the cable resembles a road map of Vermont. There’s cable going every which way. We use the winch quite often, and its common practice for us to forget to properly respool after we finish with a recovery. The worst is when we go to use the winch again and we’re stopped cold by bound cable or some other glitch. Ugh.

One of the first things the story notes is that respooling winch cable isn’t about aesthetics. “Sure, a correctly wound winch cable looks better than one that’s just reeled in at random, but the important part is function. A loosely wound cable tends to cut into the layers underneath when under tension, fraying it and creating kinks in the process,” we wrote. Your buddies may poke fun at you for having a tight, symmetrically wound winch cable (“Hey man, you just got that winch up there as an ornament?”), but this is one of those occasions where something that is aesthetically pleasing on your 4x4 is actually functional.

When it came to recommendations for respooling winch cable, we noted that the easy process begins by “reeling out all but the last few wraps of cable.” “Attach the hook to a sturdy anchor point (another vehicle, or a rock or tree, using appropriate straps or attachment points) that allows for a straight path between the winch-equipped vehicle and anchor point,” we said. We recommended using the e-brake or some other means to create drag as the vehicle moves forward while the winch cable is respooled. “It’s easier to have one person steering the vehicle right and left as needed to get the cable to wrap nice and tight, but doing it solo is also feasible; it may just take a bit longer,” we noted. We have respooled winch cable by ourselves when dragging the vehicle, but it’s important to note that for an extra degree of safety, it’s always recommended to have someone behind the wheel. “Be sure to guide the cable all the way to the ends of the drum before letting it start the next layer. You don’t want any voids in the layers that the cable can later dig into,” we wrote when referencing the actual process of respooling the cable. The respooled winch cable should be tightly wound side to side and “built-up” on the drum.

As we read this timeless story we were reminded that, once again, a small amount of preventative maintenance can make a big difference in the long run. It also reminded us to respool the winch cable on our Power Wagon.

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