How Does a PTO Winch Work?
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A winch is an important tool for off-road enthusiasts. It doesn’t matter if you’re enjoying dunes or crawling on steep rocks; a winch can help you and your friends when you get stuck. Without it, a well-planned offroading experience can be a nightmare.
Winches have been part of man’s history for eons. The first recorded use of a winch is in 480 B.C. Expectedly, the winches back then aren’t the same as those in use today, but the operational basics have remained.
In their early days, they were used to tighten cables for bridges and relied on human power. Today, they can do a lot from adjusting the tension of the line to hoisting objects, and are used in different industries, including sailing, mining, manufacturing, and vehicle recovery.
Moreover, winch technology has become more sophisticated and offers different varieties, including:
- Hydraulic winches
- Portable winches
- Hand operated winches
- Electrical winches
Though they differ in design and application, they operate in the same way.
With that said, the most popular winches with common consumers are those used in vehicle recovery. And these also come in different varieties, including hand-operated, electric, and PTO winches.
The latter is famous for its peculiar features and has a strong community and following behind it. So let’s explore the inner workings of PTO winches to understand why it’s beloved by many.
A Power Take-Off (PTO) winch is different from an electric winch because it derives its power from a running motor. Therefore, it’s driven by the vehicle’s engine through the gearbox instead of the vehicle’s battery.
They are perfect for prolonged heavy-duty winching since the engine has a lot of power even when it’s closer to idle speed. Moreover, car engines don’t have electric motors or solenoids that’ll overheat because of prolonged pressure. You can use the gearbox to vary the winching speeds.
How Does a PTO Winch Work?
Many PTO winches in use today are in trucks and tractors. Usually, truck transmissions have one or several provisions for PTO winch mounting. Unfortunately, PTO winches aren’t built-in stock options even for off-road vehicles – you’ll have to buy one separately. But before purchasing, you have to ensure it’s compatible with your vehicle.
Last update on 2024-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Here’s how you go about it.
The PTO winch manufacturer will request that you submit your car’s specifications so that they can confirm if any of their models are compatible with your car. For installation, you’ll have to hire a professional to do it. But if you are knowledgeable about the process, you can do it yourself. Remember, you’ll be leveraging the gearbox for power during your installation.
Luckily, operating a PTO winch is never a hassle since disengaging and engaging it is possible through the clutch and remote control. However, different PTO winches have slight operational differences, so it’s prudent to first go through the manufacturer’s manual.
PTO winches are connected to hydraulic pumps. The pumps allow for the distribution of mechanical force through the vehicle’s hydraulic fluid system. During this process, the hydraulic motor takes the mechanical force and converts it into rotational motion.
We started by saying that gearboxes power PTO winches, however, they aren’t directly connected to them. Instead, the hydraulic system mentioned above operated between the gearboxes and the winches. A hydraulic system is simply a collection of tubes full of hydraulic liquids. You can think of it as an electrical circuit, but instead of wires, hydraulic fluids flow through it.
Because a PTO winch gets its power from the gearbox, the vehicle’s engine has to be on to operate it.
What’s the Weight Capacity of a PTO Winch?
This is a common question among newbies. The one thing you’ve got to remember is that a PTO winch relies on the car’s gearbox to PTO winch. As such, how much weight it can pull depends on your engine’s power.
If you are worried about the PTO winch pulling your car, you can relax. The same force the engine generates to move your car will be transmitted to the PTO winch.
How to Use a PTO Winch
Operating a PTO winch is the same as operating other types of winches. Below we break down the operational process.
Safety, Safety, Safety
We cannot stress this enough. Before you start using an electric winch to pull your car from a tight spot, you should take some precautions. A PTO winch is one of the most powerful of all winch types. As such, you should accord it the respect it deserves. Disregarding safety measures might lead to serious injuries or death. To be safe, take the following precautions:
Wearing protective gloves is even more important when dealing with steel wire cables. This is because the cable might have frays and kinks that might pierce your hands. Moreover, the gloves provide an extra layer of protection if your hands accidentally get into the Power Take-Off winch.
Operate the Winch from a Safe Distance
If the cable’s strength is compromised or you haven’t attached it to a strong anchor, it might flick or snap. And because steel cables store energy from the tension exerted, when suddenly released, it can tear through flesh and break your bones.
Inspect Before Use
Always make sure the winch is in perfect working condition before use. Any damage to the cable or the winch can cause serious accidents.
Now that you know the precautions to take, let’s learn how to use PTO winches.
Using a PTO Winch
Plug the remote control into the PTO winch
The rule of thumb is that the remote control shouldn’t be plugged into your winch if you aren’t using it. When you plug it in, stretch the cord away from the winch. The last thing you want is the cord to dangle in front of the winch as it acts as a hindrance. If your PTO winch has a wireless remote control, use it.
Locate an Anchor in Front of the Car
The anchor you use should be strong enough to bear the weight of the car. In addition, it should be an immovable object like a tree or a big boulder. If the off-road locations you frequent don’t have natural boulders, you can purchase a ground anchor.
The anchor you spot should be in front of the car. Avoid winching the car from an angle since the cable could get damaged even if it has a decent fairlead.
Start Free Spooling
To pull out the cable to the anchor, you need to activate the free spooling clutch on the winch. The clutch is designed as a lever, so it’s a matter of flipping to release the drum and allow it to rotate freely. As you handle the drum and the cable, remember to have gloves on.
Set Up the Snatch Block
Snatch blocks are pulleys designed to increase a winch’s pulling power. Sometimes it also helps to make the angular pull a little easier.
Wrap a Tree Trunk Protector around Your Anchor of Choice
Most PTO winches come with tree trunk protectors. But if you purchase one that doesn’t, they are readily available online and are affordable. Aside from ensuring you have a firm grip and don’t damage the tree, tree trunk protectors also protect the cable from damage. They are even more important when you’re dealing with synthetic rope.
Once you have the tree trunk protector in place, attach a D-ring shackle to it through the loops on the protector.
Attach Your PTO Winch to the D-Ring Shackle
At the end of every winch cable is a hook that attaches to the D-shackle. Connect the two before you start winching.
Lock the Free Spool Clutch
When you activated the free spool clutch, the drum was detached from the gear train allowing the drum to rotate freely. Locking the free spool clutch locks the drum into the gear and transmits the power from the engine to the winch.
Pull the Winch Cable Taut
Before you start pulling the car, you should ensure the cable is taut. It’s important because sudden tension might damage your winch.
Pro Tip: drape a jacket or a blanket over the taut cable about 5 feet from the hook. This way, even if the tree trunk protector breaks or the hook lets go, the blanket will dampen the snapback, and the cable won’t go flying into your windshield. It’s also a good idea to open the hood for extra protection.
Pulling the Winch – How-To
Clear the immediate environment
Before you engage the gears, ensure no one is close to the vehicle and the winch.
Pull the vehicle slowly
Shift the transfer into neutral and engage the gears. When you put the car in reverse, the winch goes in reverse. So if you put it in first, the winch will pull the lowest gear, and if you want to speed it up, you can put it in 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th gears. However, we don’t recommend using anything over third unless you are retracting the cable. The key thing to remember is to go slow.
If your PTO winch has a remote switch, press the winch button, and you are good to go. If you need faster winching, release the remote button every few seconds and resume.
Note: We’d advise taking breaks during long pulls to avoid overheating when working with electric winches. Luckily, PTO winches don’t have mortars that can overheat and are mainly designed for farm and industrial work, so self-recovery is light work.
Stop winching when you are on stable ground
When you think your car is on good and stable ground and can proceed without help, turn off the winch and unplug it or turn off the remote control. Also, test the ground by stepping on the gas pedal.
Final stretch – Unrigging
Unhook the winch
Once you are done, unhook the cable from the D-shackle and, with the remote, rewind the cable slowly. Make sure you guide your cable with the gloved hand to ensure it spools back evenly and cleanly on the drum.
Pack it up
Unplug the remote control and store it in a safe and dry place. Next, remove the tree trunk protector, and the D-Ring and store them in a spot you can easily access in the future. Do this for all other tools you’ve used.
Winch Rigging Techniques
Regardless of the PTO winch power and efficiency, some situations will call for creative and more efficient winching techniques. These situations could range from having too little distance for a maximum pull with a single line rig, increasing the PTOs pulling power, or maintaining a straight line pull.
You always have to assess the situation to choose the correct pull and be safe.
Changing the pulling direction
All winch operations should have a straight line from the car to the anchor. This reduces the chances of the cable collecting on one end of the drum, which will affect the pulling efficiency or damage the cable. In addition, securing a snatch block directly in front of the car will allow you to change the direction of the pull while the rope remains at 90-degrees for easier and proper winding into the drum.
Increase pulling power
In some instances, you might need higher pulling power. For example, using a snatch block will increase the pulley’s mechanical advantage, which will increase the pulling power.
Usually, pulling power reduces with the number of layers of cable on the drum. As such, you can use a snatch block to create a double line from the cable. This will reduce the number of cable layers on the winch drum and will increase the pulling power. You can start by pulling out enough cable to release the winch hook, attach it to the vehicle’s frame and run the cable through the snatch block.
Disengage the clutch and with the snatch block, pull out enough cable to reach the anchor.
Note: You should not attach the hook to the mounting kit.
As we pointed out, you should secure the anchor with a choker chain or a tree trunk protector. Then, attach the shackle to the two straps/chain ends, being extra careful not to make them too taut.
Using the same technique as the double line, choose a robust mounting spot on the vehicle for your snatch block and the shackle. Ensure the cable and the winch are at a 90-degree angle as you run the cable to the first anchor and through a snatch block. Secure the cable to the car and put the cable through the snatch block, and secure it with a shackle on the car as close to the winch drum as you can. Afterward, run the cable to the last anchor.
As always, secure the anchor with a choker chain or a tree trunk protector and attach the shackle to the two ends of the chain or strap without making it too tight.
Secure the hook on the winch while keeping it closer to the ground. Insert the hook through the shackle, and then check your anchors to ensure all connections are secure and free of debris before you start winching.
What does PTO winch mean?
PTO stands for Power Take-Off Winch. These types of winches source their power from the car’s engine. As such, the car’s engine has to be on before you can operate it.
Are PTO winches better than electric winches?
Many PTO winches will outperform electric winches in many different conditions. As such, they are better than buying electric winches for under $2,000. In addition, their low maintenance makes them simple and reliable offroading tools.
Are PTO winches good?
Yes, they are. They are stronger, more reliable, and more efficient than electric winches. When performing heavy duty winching for prolonged periods, you don’t have to take breaks for fear of overheating.
How to engage the PTO winch?
Usually, the lever closest to the seat is the PTO winch. When you pull it towards the car seat, it should be engaged. But before engaging it, the transfer case into neutral. Later, use the car gears to drive the winch.
PTO winches are one type of the many types and variations available. Hopefully, this guide sheds light on what they are, how to use one, and the precautions to take. Remember, offroading is fun, and getting stuck doesn’t have to scare you out of seeking out the adventure.
Last update on 2024-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
I’m Ruiru Kibet, an avid writer and techie that has taken a keen interest in offroading. As I explore nature and troubleshoot with different offroad products and techniques, I’ll share them with you. The goal is dumb it down and help you experience the best of nature.