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What Is a Recovery Winch?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A recovery winch is a device usually mounted to the front bumper or frame of an off-road vehicle or to the bed of a towing and recovery wrecker used to haul vehicles. When the recovery winch is mounted to a wrecker, it is used to pull disabled vehicles onto the wrecker bed using a cable. When it is mounted to the front of an off-road vehicle, the winch is used to help pull the vehicle out of the mud, snow, or other situation by wrapping the cable around a fixed object and retracting it.

The size and function of a recovery winch can vary, though most work in a similar fashion. A wide pulley wheel is mounted to a motor that turns the pulley when activated using a hand control unit. A long cable is wrapped around the pulley several times, and when the pulley is turned in one direction, the cable is fed out. When the pulley wheel turns in the other direction, the cable retracts. If an off-road vehicle becomes disabled or cannot overcome a certain obstacle, the recovery winch can be used by feeding out a long stretch of cable and wrapping it around a fixed object such as a rock or tree. A hook at the end of the cable can be used to help secure it. Once the cable is in place, the user can begin retracting the cable, thereby pulling the vehicle forward and, hopefully, out of the mud, snow, or other object.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In order to ensure proper function of the recovery winch, the entire unit must be secured to the frame of the vehicle or to another fixed part of the vehicle. It cannot be mounted to any part of the vehicle that has a possibility of failing or otherwise tearing away, which would negate the advantages of the recovery winch. Most off-road vehicles feature a designated mounting spot for such a tool, though others do not and a custom spot must be made for it.

A specific weight capacity is outlined by the manufacturer when the unit is purchased. The vehicle weight should not exceed this weight capacity, as the machine will not be able to support the weight of the vehicle safely and effectively. If a user exceeds the weight capacity, they are risking damage to the machine as well as potential injury, as the cable has the potential to snap and cause the vehicle to become unstable.

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