touring, travel and photography

Winch Test 2005

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WHICH WINCH?
Tech Article written by Andrew Hiscock
photos by Trevor Beck, David Lindholm, Andrew Hiscock & Russell Bambridge

The Inspection and Testing team:
Andrew Hiscock, Haydn Meyers, Pat Raets
Trevor Beck, Mike Hayes & Andrew Schwenke
With assistance from other members of the Whyalla & Dist. 4WD Club

Let the arguments begin!
After lots of discussion amongst 4WDers about the merits and value of winches around and under $1000 we have decided to test a few out. We are testing them in situations that a “recreational” 4WDer would have a use for a winch. Most people looking at these winches are not High Country regulars who use their winch up to a dozen times on a day trip. They are likely to have rarely, if ever, had a need for a winch but are looking for extra security as they travel further or attempt new harder tracks. These people would most likely use a winch a couple of times per year once they have bought one. What we want to find out is how durable, reliable and capable these winches really are and if they are up to occasional use.

During research for this story we have been told that there are at least four chinese factories making winches that outwardly appear the same but are made to varying costs, component quality, fit & finish and most importantly how the are assembled. In addition to this companies that supplied us with winches – Terrain Tamer & Ironman 4×4 – have their own specific requirements and modifications that are included at the factory.

We are NOT trying to see if a $400 ebay winch is as good as a $2,100 Warn winch. Its not. Not even close. If that was your only interest in this story then you can save yourself some quality time and move on to the next story in the mag. For those that are interested in the relative performance of these winches then read on…….

We have obtained four 9500lb winches and plan to test them regularly over the next 12 months, with an updated report here each quarter. This is the only way we can test both performance and reliability. Although we are recording data like motor temp and current draw these are only for comparison purposes. See manufacturers data for more detailed information on capacity and current draw. Our overriding interest is to keep the testing equal for all of the winches so that real comparisons can be made. The winches we have are a Warn 9.5XP as our benchmark winch, a $400 winch bought new on ebay as our cheapie and two winches that we believe recreational 4WDers would be considering, available from reputable companies with good warranties for around $1,000. These have been provided by Terrain Tamer and Ironman 4×4. For comparison purposes we also have an ARB Magnum winch which we have stripped and photographed but isn’t included in the physical testing. Due to the amount of people around this testing – recording various items and taking photos – for safety sake we have removed the steel cables supplied with the winches and fitted Amsteel Blue synthetic winch rope. As these are all low mount brake-in-drum type winches extra care is needed when using synthetic ropes, including minimal powering out of the rope which generates a lot of heat as the motor drives against the automatic brake.

Our planned testing includes self recovery up a steep hill, retrieving a “dead” vehicle up a hill, use in sand with a ground anchor, winching after taking the vehicle swimming and other recreational 4WDing scenarios.

Winch Testing Part 1 Going inside the winches
Our first stop on the wonderful winch tour 2006 was to the workshop where each winch was taken apart, inspected, picked on, meggered, and generally poked and prodded. We then reassembled them and weighed them. We weighed all of the winches, without the cable, and found the following:
TerrainTamer 9500lb winch was the heaviest and weighs 22kg. The ebay, Ironman4x4 and Warn XP all weighed 20kg. The ARB Magnum9K weighs 16kg.
94feet of steel cable (5/16”) weighs 8kg and the Amsteel Blue synthetic only weighs 2kg for 125 feet of 3/8”.
Roller fairlead weighs 5kg and the Aluminium hawser weighs 0.5kg. That’s a 10.5kg weight saving at the front of your 4WD when you change from steel cable to synthetic!

Terrain Tamer 9500lb Winch
This one has been fitted to my GU Patrol into a Nissan steel winch bar. The winch and roller fairlead bolted up without any mods. The fairlead was replaced with an aluminium hawser, supplied by Mike Hayes, to suit the Amsteel Blue synthetic rope which was also supplied to us by Mike. A quirk of the Nissan bar is that the winch needs to be mounted upside down. This requires the gearbox to be rotated to bring the clutch lever back to the top. This was an easy task and done after the stripdown.
This was the second winch we pulled apart. All of the team were surprised by the obvious difference in quality of components and assembly when compared to the ebay winch. Externally they are nearly identical but internally its chalk and cheese. The gear quality was far better, fit and finish were better and general assembly was better. The only thing we didn’t like was that the gearbox was completely filled with grease. Chocka block full. The ebay winch was under lubed but this was a bit over the top.

Warn 9.5XP 9500lb Winch
This winch belongs to Mike Hayes and has been mounted on the front of his Defender for about 4 months. It has never been used and in fact had never been connected up!
When we stripped this winch the quality of the unit was obvious. All of the attention to detail and quality of components went some way to justifying the price (more than double the cost of the dearest Chinese). Wiring, electrical connections, the motor and the gears were all exceptional.
The only negative we found with the XP (and Mike was pretty disappointed) was that sealing of the motor end cover wasn’t up to scratch and corrosion of the internal surfaces had already begun.

ebay 9500lb Winch
I bought this winch on ebay from an “ebay shop” for around $400.

These winches are the main reason for deciding to do this testing. Having seen so many requests for opinions on “cheap Chinese winches” I did a bit of research and bit the bullet and bought one. Within a week the parcel arrived and the stripdown and inspection could begin.

Externally it looked a lot like a winch—well what else can I say? When we stripped it we were disappointed in most areas, not least with the quality of electrical connections and the poor insulation around the motor. When we hardness tested the gears we found the three gears to be hard, medium and soft, which didn’t look good for longevity.

General assembly was OK but not really good enough for an item like a winch on a 4WD. This winch was installed into an ARB Commercial Winch Bar on an 80series Landcruiser. We made up some 12mm thick steel spacers to fit between the bar and the winch as the winch is too wide. Other than this, the winch bolted straight onto the bar.

Ironman4x4 9500lb Winch

The Ironman4x4 winch was a late arrival and was stripped and inspected separately. Externally and internally it is very similar to the TerrainTamer with a few small differences in detail but overall it is of similar quality and construction. Both companies claim to have made their own changes to the specification and build of the winches and although this is evident in some areas its hard to tell (visually) if one is superior.

The Ironman winch arrived just at the right time as the ebay winch had just lunched itself so this one went onto the 80series. As per the notes about the ebay winch, its an ARB Commercial Winch Bar with some 12mm thick steel spacers. This winch also bolted straight onto the bar.

ARB Magnum 9000lb Winch

ARB lent us one of their Magnum 9K winches which is marketed as a budget alternative to their Warn range. As it is a 9000lb winch we haven’t included it in our testing but may do so in the future.

Although we wouldn’t be physically testing it, we stripped down the winch for inspection. Component and assembly quality appears to be very good and it generally appears to be an excellent winch

Somewhere down the track we would like to put this winch through its paces and see how it performs against the 9500lb winches.

Winch Testing Part 2
the long haul
We found a suitably long, straight and steep hill for this part of our testing which enabled us to spool out the full 38 metres of rope. At the top of the hill our winch vehicle was secured and the cable pulled out leaving 10 turns of rope on the drum. We then attached our Ammeter to the power cable between the battery and the winch (control/solenoid box actually) and the temperature probe to the winch motor. At the bottom of the hill we have a LandRover Defender as our “test weight”.
This test would allow us to fully test each winch in a repeatable exercise without excessively working the winches.

The Test – Winching a Land Rover Defender up a moderate slope. Testing involved a cycle of 90second pull time with a 60 second recovery period until the Defender had been pulled 30m up the hill. All stops and start times were accurately followed to ensure fair comparison and repeatability. Winching was started with 10 turns of rope on the winch drum. Winch and batteries were given a 10minute (timed) break before the test was repeated.

Note for the pedantic – battery capacity and condition can have an effect on winch performance but as we are real world testing there is no way to control this variable. We aren’t claiming these figures to be any more than a real world indication of winch performance.

Winch Testing Part 2a
real world recovery exercise

Now we are getting serious. A fully loaded 80 series Landcruiser halfway up a steep loose hill with no way of going back as it has slid off the track. This is the sort of scenario that can happen on even the mildest of 4WD tracks and is exactly why a 4WDer wants a winch for occasional use. Due to the weight of the vehicle, the large loose rock and the steepness of the hill we elected to use a snatch block in this recovery.
First up was the Terrain Tamer winch. Parking the Patrol facing downhill was never going to work as the Patrol slid down the hill more than the Cruiser came up the hill. We backed the Patrol back up the hill onto level (but side sloped) ground and used 50m of winch extension straps to reach the Cruiser. The winch was making good, slow progress. After the third rest stop the winch wouldn’t power in any more. It powered out OK so the motor was fine so obviously a solenoid in the control box had died. I was operating this winch and have to take responsibility for my ham fisted operation. I have now learned my lesson about the importance of regular stops to allow cooldown. The “recoveree” reckons I was on the power for at least 3 minutes each time. Chalk one up to experience, however we will rerun this test with a new solenoid to ensure that I was the problem!
We changed the webbing around and started using the ebay winch, fitted to the Toyota, to pull the Cruiser up the hill. The winch was pulling well, albeit slowly, and when we had pulled the vehicle up to the snatch block we stopped to remove one of the extension straps. It was while we were doing this that we found the clutch wouldn’t disengage. We also found a LOT of metal filings coming from the bottom of the gearbox. Oh dear. Not a good sign. We stopped the test there and consigned the ebay winch to the workshop for a strip down to find where the metal was coming from. Didn’t look good for this winch unfortunately.
So what did we find when we opened up the ebay winch? The gears had tried to climb over each other (not surprising after our hardness testing) locked up and then sheared the retaining screws. The screw heads then did a very rough machining job on the drum end plate. The gears are wrecked and the drum is damaged. Can anyone think of a use for a hardly used 5.5HP electric motor?
RETEST: Terrain Tamer sent us a replacement solenoid for their winch and we retested it on the same hill. The winch was pulling so well using 30 seconds on 30 seconds off that we took the snatch block out and hauled the 80 series up the hill easily with a single line pull. Impressive! We will repeat this pull with the other winches later.

Early conclusions
So that’s it for Part One of the winch testing. For the next edition we will be taking the winches swimming and then running them and, after a few weeks, we will be stripping them down again to check for corrosion and any wear and tear.
Early thoughts? The Warn is a quality winch but the corrosion in the end housing was a worry and so was the current draw. Its clearly the best built winch in this group though and if your usage can justify the price then go for it. The ebay winch was poorly constructed and suffered an early exit. The Terrain Tamer and the Ironman4x4 are of similar construction and quality and have both performed well. For reliability the Terrain Tamer has done a LOT more work than the others and has performed impressively (if you discount my cooking a solenoid).
We look forward to the next stage of testing……

Requiem for a winch – RIP our $400 ebay friend
So the cheapie is dead. Ripped itself apart. Very sad.
Did we go out of our way to try and kill this one? Hell no – we were barracking for it to be a useful 4WDing tool that the occasional user would get value from. But it wasn’t to be. When we first stripped it down before any of the testing started it was obvious that it was poorly assembled, barely lubed and had many examples of poor finish in critical areas. This became even more apparent when we disassembled the Terrain Tamer which had far better fit, finish and component quality. Sorry fella, we wanted you to do well but it just wasn’t to be.
Buyer beware……

Above and beyond the call of duty—TerrainTamer winch to the rescue
On the night when Haydn and I were stripping down the Magnum winch in his shed I received a phone call. A woman—a friend of a friend—had taken her Nissan Micra for some sightseeing on the salt flats at Eight Mile Creek just out of Whyalla. She was bogged to the chassis and had walked back to town to get help. Damsel in distress and all that so Haydn and I picked her up and headed out there in the Patrol. After about half an hour of searching we found the car on the far side of a large claypan. Believe it or not the Micra has a tow point that many 4WDs would be proud of—10mm round bar loop securely attached to the chassis. We hooked up the winch, including a 30m extension strap and cable damper, and winched the Micra sideways until the rear came around and we then winched it off the clay.
Damned handy these winches—for recovering other people!

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