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What is a Winch Cable?

Erika Peterson
Erika Peterson

A winch cable is a wire rope or cable. There are many types of winches, in different sizes and strength levels, but they all have the same function and operation. Winches are used to pull items. They are usually attached to a vehicle, but they do not have to be.

A winch cable is wound up and let out by a machine called a winch. A winch is a mechanical device that adjusts the tension of the winch cable. Winches can come in many forms. Some of the machines are as simple as a hand crank and spool, but others can be elaborate. Elaborate winches can come with gear assemblies, solenoid or mechanical brakes and a ratchet and pawl device. Regardless of the type of winch, it may be powered by pneumatic, hydraulic, electric or internal combustion drives. Winch cables are used to tow cars and boats and are the heart of the function of machines like elevators, cranes and steam shovels.

Cranes rely on winch cables.
Cranes rely on winch cables.

Winches are most commonly found on the bumpers of off-road vehicles or trailers for loading boats or ATVs. They are used for the aid of recovering a vehicle when it becomes stuck in sand or mud. The winch cable is often made of steel and tends to fray. It is best to always wear gloves when grabbing the cable to avoid cuts, and put a heavy jacket or other soft item in the middle of the winch cable when pulling to absorb the energy in case the cable snaps. The weight of the jacket or a blanket will transfer the energy to the ground to avoid injury.

Winch cables generally come with a steel core or fiber core. Fiber core cables are more lightweight and flexible than steel core cables, and offer more versatility for travel and off-roading. For more heavy-duty jobs, steel core cables will be the best bet, as they hold their shape better and designed for greater durability longer lasting performance. They may come with a plain end or include a fixed or swivel hook at extra cost. Synthetic winch cables were introduced in the 1990s and are a preferred option for many winch users. They weigh about a sixth of a steel winch cable and the high-end brands have higher breaking strength than steel cable. They do not store energy or fray, which may be a better option for a more inexperienced user.

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    • Cranes rely on winch cables.
      By: Alexander Potapov
      Cranes rely on winch cables.