I bought a T-Max winch about a year ago. I used the winch often in the first few months, not because it was needed, but more for me to familiarise myself with its operation.
Admittedly, it’s been more than 10 months since the winch saw any action and now I’m worried about it. The winch still works fine, but I’ve got a big trip to Moremi coming up and I’d like to be sure it doesn’t suddenly bomb out on me. What can I do to service the winch and make sure it’s in tip-top working condition for Botswana?
Winches are generally very robust pieces of equipment, so ordinarily, we would say, ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.’ However, your concerns are justified, and as far as maintenance is concerned, a winch should be treated (and serviced) like any other car part.
There are two reasons why a winch may fail: overuse; or lack of use. The former usually applies to commercial applications where the winch works hard on a daily basis. An off-road 4×4 challenge is another place where you’re likely to witness excessive winch abuse. However, the chance of a winch failing (mechanically) in a recreational 4×4 scenario is minimal. A far more likely situation is that the winch will pack up because of lack of use. When this happens, it’s usually due to an electrical fault, and almost always the result of corrosion.
Moisture is a winch’s worst nightmare; it can be the result of submersion, mud or adverse weather conditions, but most of the time it’s due to condensation within the winch itself.
Corrosion can happen in a number of places, so, when you service your winch, be sure to check all electrical contacts and connections. If you see signs of corrosion, remove the electrical connector, rub it with Scotch-Brite, and apply a water repellent. (Q20 works best).
Winches can also fail because of corrosion within the solenoids; unfortunately, most solenoids are sealed units and cannot be serviced. However, well-known winch brands generally stock spare parts, and a solenoid is a relatively easy thing to replace. A few modern winches are now using full electronic operation rather than electromagnetic solenoids, making them even more reliable and water-resistant than before.
The winch motor is another potential hotspot for corrosion and is generally easy to remove and clean. Again, use Scotch-Brite to buff the motor’s rear contact surface area, but a wire brush can be used on the motor’s main body. Sandpaper is not advised as it can break down and clog up small gaps and internal parts.
A winch motor is very similar to an engine starter motor, so the procedure to clean and refurbish the unit would be much the same. Most auto electricians could probably do the job.
As for general winch maintenance, here’s what you should remember:
1) Your winch should never be allowed to stand for more than two months without being used – even if this means using the winch in your driveway. The idea is to get the winch nice and warm, so that the grease circulates and all accumulated condensation evaporates. An idle winch is a dying winch.
2) Winches are lubricated for life, and don’t require oil or grease changes. However, an occasional squirt of Q20 on the electrical components and remote plug points will keep moisture at bay, prolong service life, and ensure that the winch is ready to be used when you need it.
3) Your 4×4’s battery is the lifeblood of your winch, so make sure that the power cables are heavy-duty, and that the battery terminals and connections are corrosion-free and tight − but not too tight. There may occasionally be a skin of corrosion on the inside of the terminal connector − in other words, the connector looks clean, but isn’t.
4) Some installers make the mistake of earthing the winch cable to the vehicle’s bumper, because they assume that the bumper is adequately earthed. Double check that this isn’t the case with your winch.
5) Always check your winch cable for kinks, frays and broken strands. Never leave the cable bunched up unevenly on the barrel. And remember that pulling the fairlead in too tight can squash the cable’s eyelet / thimble. When this happens, you must replace the eyelet.