A General Guide on the Winch Rope
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Quality winches are designed to be long-lasting. Of all the moving parts, the winch rope is arguably the easiest to damage mainly because it’s exposed to damaging elements, including weather. Unlike other parts, winch ropes are under high tension when winching and are exposed to abrasion.
Overall, there are two main types of winch ropes – steel cable and synthetic ropes. In this guide, we’ll examine their differences and different elements that can cause damage to either type to help you make an informed decision of which to pick for your winch.
Steel Wire Cable
Steel wire cables are the original option for winching, and they’ve been in use for decades. Vehicle owners love steel wire cables because they are durable and strong. In addition to this, steel cable wires aren’t susceptible to heat generated during a pull.
Despite these obvious perks, steel cable wires have disadvantages too. First, it’s prone to rusting since it’s exposed to moisture. Second, the steel wire burrs when scraped. These burrs are harmful to the skin and bare hands. Because of this, it’s advisable to wear protective gloves when winching and handling steel wire cables.
Aside from these two, the biggest disadvantage of using steel wire winch cables is that it holds high tension when winching. If it breaks when winching, the tension suddenly released is dangerous and can cause a lot of damage like tearing through flesh. Usually, the danger of using steel wire cables increases the thinner the steel cable gets.
Because of this downside, most off-roaders prefer using synthetic winch ropes over steel wire winch ropes.
Synthetic winch ropes have been growing in popularity over the past decade. They carry a lot of benefits, given that different brands can design different ropes with varying properties, meaning it’s easier to get the perfect winch rope for your needs.
Generally, it’s impressive how synthetic winch rope manufacturers can make these ropes stronger than steel wire winch ropes while remaining 70% lighter. Aside from their strength, they are also safer since they don’t hold high tension during a pull. As a result, when the rope breaks when winching, it doesn’t snap.
Another plus for synthetic ropes is that they are buoyant and float on water which comes in handy when you are winching through deep waters.
With that said, like steel wire cables, synthetic rope cables have some downsides. Compared to steel wires and winch cables, synthetic ropes are more expensive. Moreover, they are less durable and get damaged from the heat generated when winching. To help prevent such damage, synthetic winch rope brands design their ropes with a heat-treated sleeve.
Finally, the synthetic rope gets damaged by UV rays over time and is more susceptible to dust, sand, and abrasion.
Types of Synthetic Winch Ropes
Synthetic winch ropes come in different types. Most of them are constructed from Dyneema fibers, and some are made from Kevlar, Spectra, Vectran, and Technora. Each of these fibers has its set of pros and cons and can be picked depending on the unique application.
For instance, Vectran and Technora fibers are heat resistant, but on the flip side, they are prone to bending fatigue. These synthetic lines aren’t the best for winching since you’d need to bend them around a radius like a snatch block and fairlead.
Spectra fiber is similar to Dyneema. However, it’s not as durable and strong. Given the durability and strength of Dyneema, it’s often used for winching. There are several types of Dyneema fiber, but the most popular are Sk60 and Sk75, with the latter being the strongest.
Regardless of the fiber used, every winch line is braided into a 12-strand construction. Every strand features multiple fibers and is then woven together to form a rope.
How to Protect a Winch Rope from Damage
As we’ve mentioned, winch ropes are damaged by small particles, heat, tension, abrasion, and other elements they get exposed to. However, with the right protection and maintenance, you can help the winch rope last long.
For a steel wire winch cable, keeping it away from moisture will help you avoid rusting. If you frequent humid places, you cannot avoid moisture. However, not putting the winch cover back on helps. This is because the over traps the moisture inside the winch, creating a conducive environment for rusting. The best practice when handling a steel cable wire is to dry it off immediately or before storage.
On the other hand, to prevent abrasion, you should always use a tree trunk protector when winching. Tree trunk protectors are simply long pieces of fabric or material that you wrap around your anchor point to protect both the anchor point and the winch rope.
Another trick you can use to reduce abrasion on steel wire cables is to replace a hawse fairlead with a roller fairlead.
In the case of synthetic ropes, there is very little you can do except for regular cleaning and avoiding exposing them to the sun and other weather elements. Regularly cleaning your synthetic rope will help in preventing sand, mud, dust, and other particles from getting stuck between the fibers. Although little, the particles will damage the fibers progressively. Because of this, it’s prudent not to expose the small particles to the rope.
If your winch rope came with a winch cover, we advise you to use it on your synthetic winch rope. This cover will protect the rope from tiny particles as well as harsh weather elements, including UV rays.
Winch Rope Conclusion
When using a winch, it’s crucial to learn how it works. Understanding the inner workings of a winch includes knowing what the ropes are made of, their pros and cons, and how to protect them from damage. This way, you can protect your winch rope investment and enjoy your winching experience.
If you need to purchase a specific winch rope, read through our winch rope reviews making sure you compare all winch ropes we’ve reviewed. If we’ve not reviewed a specific brand or model, consider its strength to determine if it’s ideal for your winching needs.
Hi, my name is Joe, and I’m the Founder and Editor behind Rugged Driving.
I made this site to share what I have learned as an off-road enthusiast. I hope my personal experience will help you enjoy this exciting activity even more!