We all hear about winch safety but we always assume the winch we use is safe. But winch safety starts with what it is mounted to: The bumper. The fact of the matter is: Not all winches or bumpers are made the same. We all know this but we rarely look into which winches or bumpers are safer than the others.
This past weekend I learned that a winch and bumper can break and that it can break in a catastrophic, unsafe way: Unsafe to the vehicle and more importantly the people in the vicinity of the winch.
I’m not talking about the cable breaking. Having a synthetic winch line doesn’t make your winch safe. Having a well-built winch on a well-built bumper is the foundation to safe winching.
Taking it one step further, the foundation to your winch is really where it starts. What you mount your winch to is very important. A cheap bumper can flex which can cause the type of catastrophic failure in the image to the right. Every winch relies on the strength of the plate on which it is mounted to for its strength. Without a 1/4 inch thick plate the winch will torque when it pulls a load. This is why every winch manufacturer requires a 1/4 inch plate for the winch mount.
Before anyone decides they know better and assumes I was winching up a cliff while dragging 3 other jeeps behind me or using the winch as a snatch strap, the winch in this post was broken while winching the vehicle it was mounted to: a 2012 Jeep Wrangler 2-door. The Jeep was struggling for traction (yes, it was aired down to 12 PSI) while trying to go up the final obstacle on the most passenger-side line of the trail called “Playground” at Choccolocco ORV Park in Jacksonville, AL. To get a look at the exact obstacle check out this post from Josh V aka “@Vandecon” on Instagram. The Jeep wasn’t able to get traction to get over the final obstacle and in the interest of keeping the traffic flowing on the trail it was decided to just winch.
In the image to the right, the winch was mounted to a bumper that had 3/16 inch thick steel that was trussed under the winch. On the passenger-side winch mount, the bumper is pulled up over 2 inches. Whether or not the bumper failed first by flexing or the winch failed first by breaking under the torque from the lop-sided pull is open to discussion (forum link or comments below) but one could easily argue that if the bumper was 1/4 inch it would have added to the strength of the entire system.
That’s right: The winch and the bumper form a system. The weakest point in that system will be the first to fail and it will start a cascade of failures like you see above.
Luckily the events of this weekend resulted in no injuries but imagine if the climb required the winch to prevent the vehicle from tipping. The winch would have ripped off and the electric cables would have come with it too and the vehicle would have toppled over to roll down the mountain with the occupants hanging on for dear life. All because the vehicle builder went with a cheap winch or a cheap bumper.
Lesson Learned: Winch Safety Starts With Your Winch and Bumper
The lesson learned from last weekend is to not cut corners on the quality of the bumper or the winch. Because I chose to go a less-expensive route I not only jeopardized my safety but I am now also out of a winch and a bumper – Smittybilt will not offer warranty on the winch because I did not heed the mounting requirements of the winch despite having a lifetime mechanical warranty on the winch. Time to start saving my pennies to start over with a quality-built winch and bumper! Lesson learned!
The winch that broke appears to have a chassis that is made of low quality steel. The edges that broke, exposing the interior portions of the chassis, show that the steel was very granular and low-grade. The high granularity of the material makes it prone to fracturing like I experienced first hand.
I could have also have used a snatch block/pulley to reduce the direct load on the winch. This would have halved the load on the winch and placed the other half of the load on one of the shackle mounts on the bumper.
More photos to come when I remove the bumper and winch to see the full extent of the damage. Follow me on Instagram @DoozerJK