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What Is a Winch Fairlead?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A winch fairlead is a type of guide that is intended to aid the winch cable off of and onto the winch spool. There are two basic types or styles of winch fairlead: the plain fairlead, which is commonly a soft metal plate such as aluminum or brass, and a roller fairlead. This type of winch fairlead uses a rollerized device to allow the winch cable to move across the fairlead with no friction. The fairlead can be mounted to the winch mounting plate on shop-type winches and onto the bumper or the winch bracket on a vehicle-mounted winch.

The typical winch is rated at a maximum pulling force, however, the average winch is typically not able to pull this amount of weight. The reason for this is that the winch cable consumes pulling energy as it scrapes across the winch mounting bracket, vehicle bumper or chassis. The solution to this problem is often the installation of a winch fairlead. This device allows the winch cable to slide easier by providing a soft surface for the cable to ride on. Preventing even more friction is the roller winch fairlead, which uses a system of roller-type bearings to provide as little resistance as possible to the cable as it passes over the fairlead.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Non-roller fairleads are designed to wear away while providing a soft surface for the cable to slide on. This type of fairlead is commonly made of a soft metal, such as brass or aluminum, that also acts as a type of lubricant as the winch cable digs into the softer metal, filling the crevasses of the cable with the worn metal. As the fairlead is worn away, it is meant to be replaced with a new fairlead cover plate. Another variation of this type of fairlead uses a case-hardened steel plate that is machined to a smooth radius to allow the winch cable to slide easily over the surface.

This hardened-steel style of winch fairlead provides a durable surface for the cable to slide over, however, it is not the best style for reducing friction. The roller winch fairlead is commonly the choice of serious winch applications. By providing a rolling surface for the winch cable to pass over, the fairlead eliminates virtually all of the friction drag and power loss of the winch. The roller winch fairlead also provides longevity to the winch cable. Allowing the cable to pass over the roller winch fairlead adds pulling force to the winch by eliminating the parasitic loss comparable to a non-fairlead-equipped winch.

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