Tech Letter Of The Month
Best Winch For Prospecting?
Q. I need a winch for those one or two times a year that I manage to get stuck (I'm an amateur gold prospector).
What is the difference between the "less expensive" and "premium" winches? Do I have to spring for a "premium" unit to be confident it will work when I need it?
What are the weak elements (what fails) in the "less expensive" winches?
Poor metallurgy (rusts easily or actually breaks)? The motor overheats and fails?
Poor wire quality (control wire overheats and melts)? Relays overheat and fuse, causing failure? Solenoids short out? All of the above?
Do any of the "less expensive" winches have durable motors?
Can I take a "less expensive" winch and inexpensively address the weak points? For instance, coating with CorrosionX to deal with corrosion, or upgrade solenoids and relays to quality parts
Besides Warn, what are the "quality" reliable winches?
Can you recommend a "less expensive" product that's worth working on?
A. You brought up a lot of good questions as to winches, as well as an important statement: "I need a winch for those one or two times a year when I manage to get stuck." In reality, most of us only use our winches once or twice a year. In fact, I luckily have not had to use mine in the last two years. However, it's not something that I plan to get rid of just because I have not used it. That would be like saying, "I have not had a need for seat belts in the last two years, so I might as well not use them."
My wife and I run a lot of trails by ourselves, and more than a few times have got into situations where the winch has saved us from a long walk out, and in a couple of cases perhaps saved us from serious injury or death. There have been a few times where we had to use every bit of cable and make numerous pulls to extract ourselves, and put a towel over the winch motor and pour water on it to keep it cool. But most of the winch pulls are just a few feet in length. My 8,000-pound Warn winch is well over 20 years old now, and the only failure has been one solenoid. The cable has been replaced a couple of times, and the drum's side flanges had to be straightened (from pulling from one side and letting the cable stack up against it).
Would one of the "less expensive winches" hold up this long? I don't know, and probably no one else does either, as only time will tell. Your questions are hard to answer because the only experience I have had, and the people that I four-wheel with, all use one of the big three in winches: Warn, Ramsey and Superwinch. Each of these have their own benefits as well as weaknesses.
Do you have a back-up method of extraction if the winch fails, such as a Hi-Lift jack or another vehicle along with you?
Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying that one of the other winches is not capable of working hard and not failing but-and it is a big but-you have to remember that you generally get what you pay for. For instance, Warn's wire rope meets the same standards as those applied to the aircraft industry. Is this true with the less expensive winches? The parts situation can always be a problem on those units acquired overseas. (As an example, on the other hand, I have an imported lathe, mill, sheetmetal brake, and several grinders that have held up quite well and do the job that's intended of them. I did break a part on the lathe, and it took nearly six months to get a replacement. I would not want to use them for producing a product day in and day out.) So the bottom line is that yes, maybe one of the less expensive winches may just be fine for an occasional use. Only you can make that decision. As to recommending one of the "other winches," I don't have clue.