No matter if you use your 4x4 for work or play, chances are, the best tool you can have onboard is a winch. For the recreational wheeler, a winch can be the lifeline that gets your rig out of a hairy situation. On the work side, a winch is a tool that can earn its worth in just a few uses on the job. With so many winches available and prices ranging from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars, people are always searching for the best deal on the must-have recovery tool. In this edition of Buying Used, we give you pointers on scouting a used winch. We are focusing on electric-powered winches, as they are the most common. As is the case when buying anything used, it’s important to do your homework beforehand to make certain that a good deal is really a good deal.
A. Never buy a winch without testing to see if it works first. Assuming the winch is no longer attached to a vehicle, bring along a set of jumper cables and hook the jumpers to the winch’s power leads. Make sure it winches in and out and that the free spool feature (clutch) is working correctly. This test will also tell you that the controller is the correct one and is in working order.
B. If at first glance the winch appears to be in rough shape, it is a good indicator of how it was treated and used. Flaking paint is not uncommon, but look closely to see if rust or corrosion is present. If it looks like it’s been underwater, it probably has.
C. Typically, vehicle recovery winches will have four mounting points on the bottom. Look closely for cracks around the mounting feet and make sure the square-nuts and assorted hardware are included.
D. Power leads can be damaged from poor routing, so examine them closely for exposed wires or damage. These are easy to replace and a good negotiating point to get a better deal.
E. Ask if the cable or rope is the original one and how long it has been on the winch. Steel cable can have flat spots and hand-slicing frays, so be sure to wear gloves when checking it out. Rope is a bit more delicate and can deteriorate from sitting in the sun and lack of maintenance. Unless the cable or rope is in perfect shape, we would plan on purchasing a new line of your choice, simply to be on the safe side.
F. Make sure the winch is rated for your 4x4. The rating should be listed prominently on the motor plate. A good rule of thumb is to purchase a winch that is rated for 1.5-times the pulling power of your 4x4s total weight. For example, a 5,300-pound rig would need an 8,000-pound winch rating.
G. Do your research. Not all 9,000-pound winches are built alike or close to the same price. Even manufacturers such as Warn have multiple models that appear alike and are rated for the same weight, but have extremely different price points, speeds, and features.
H. For winches that have a non-integrated solenoid box (such as the one shown), check for discoloration or hot spots on the terminal studs. This can be a sign of arcing and an indicator of past or current damage.
I. You can rebuild nearly any winch, but parts range in price and availability. If the seller lists that the winch is not working or has been recently repaired, ask for a receipt or repair estimate. A dead solenoid is pretty common and inexpensive to replace.
J. Depending on the manufacturer, there should be an easy to locate serial number listed on the name/motor plate. A quick phone call to the manufacturer (or even a web search) can reveal the date of manufacture and give you the specifics of the winch if the seller is unaware.
K. Check the remote, cord, and plug for damage. They often get sucked into the winch and can have exposed wires or cracks.
L. If the winch has a Hawse fairlead, it needs to be smooth or new for rope—if gouged, it will cut the rope. Rollers on roller fairlead should spin freely. Replacement rollers are available.