Baja Winches -

Sometimes the Only Way to Pull it Out

SandLizrd appreciates the hell out of his readers.

SandLizrd also knows when he's out-classed, out-bugeted, out-experienced or otherwise out-of-it. ('least, most of the time)

So when I exchange email with a reader who knows his stuff, it's not uncommon for me to request a write-up from said individuals. Most of the time they never respond - what a shame or the Baja Page would be twice as big and twice as good.

Thom knows his winches, as you're about to find out. I appreciate his efforts in writing an excellent tech article!

Here's a quick reference to the materiale' -

Why a Winch?
Choosing a Winch
Mounting the Winch
Wiring the Winch
Winch Accessories
Winch Safety
Suppliers/Hardware Listing

Winches for your Buggy or Baja
by Thom Singer

Why a Winch?

What good is a winch anyway? Well I'll guess you've got some idea of what good they are or you wouldn't be reading this. I'll try to address the unique problems involved in mounting a winch on a VW based vehicle.

A winch is primarily a means to get un-stuck. Everything else you have done to your vehicle ultimately is a means to get stuck. Think about it, the bigger tires, the bigger engine, that killer 5.38 geared bus IRS, all of those enable you to get stuck. The further you go, the further you go. That is, the more of these goodies you have, the further back into the boonies you will be before you get stuck. They're called the boonies because the further out you are, the further away from help you are. Which brings us to the winch. With a winch, some accessories, and some knowledge you should be able to get un-stuck. Far be it for me to claim that this one article is all the knowledge you need. This is only the beginning. There is truth to the saying "Beware of experts." Read everything you can find on winching, regardless of the context. While a baja is lighter than most 4x4's, the problems and techniques are the same.

Choosing a Winch

The first step is to weigh your vehicle. Do it with everything that would go in, on, or through the vehicle for a trip somewhere. This includes the kids, dogs, food, mother-in-law, spare parts, tools, full tank of fuel, tents, jacuzzi, whatever it is that you take because you can't live or get there and back without it. The point is you want to know what your real weight is.

Now look through all of those catalogs you've been accumulating. Find all of the winches rated between 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 times the vehicle's gross weight and note their specifications. The specifications of particular interest are the pull rating (and is it stall or working limit?), the unit's weight, it's power consumption in amps, and how long the cable is. Of secondary concern is the line speed on the first wrap of the cable and on the last wrap. You want the lightest winch with the lowest amp draw, highest rated working pull, the longest cable, high no-load speed and a low loaded speed.

I'll save you some time, that winch doesn't exist. The lightest winch will probably have a high current draw. The longest cable model will suffer from considerably lighter pull value with most of the cable on the drum. The more cable on the winch drum, the lower the leverage the winch has to pull the vehicle with. A winch with a fast no-load speed is a good thing, unfortunately these usually come in a winch with a fast loaded speed as well. This can be a problem because a winch like this tends to jerk rather than smoothly take in the cable. If you're willing to carry a few straps and shackles, then a winch with a shorter cable may work for you. In short, find the best compromise for your situation.

Not all winches have remote controls. Some require you to stand at the winch to operate it, kind of hard to stand there and steer also. If remote control is important, look to see which ones have it standard or as an option. It is possible to remote control a winch that isn't set up that way by the maker, but that is another whole article.

What winch do I have on my dune buggy? A Superwinch X2F. Did I know what I was getting? NO. Did I know what I was doing then? NOT REALLY. Did I get it on sale? YES. God does watch over drunks and crazy people, and since I can't drink....

Mounting the Winch

How is this critter going to attach to your machine? Is it going to be removable? Or is it going become a permanent part of a bumper? I would recommend for most applications that it be removable. Remember that you could be loading the winch mounts as much as 2-1/2 times the vehicle's own weight. So a 2000 lb baja becomes a 5000 lb load to the bumper. The standard baja bumpers, as manufactured, are not candidates for winch mounting, period. They barely can function as bumpers. So, to mount a winch you are looking at one or two custom bumpers. It might be possible to supplement the baja bumpers with additional winch mount parts, it depends on your real (not perceived) ability as a designer/fabricator and the specific bumper. The front attachment points for the winch mounts are easy, pick-up all of the beam bolts and if possible the body mounts on the top of the beam. Do not weld the winch mount to the beam. If you have added Chenwth style beam braces, then pick up the front of those clamps. Be sure to design into your bumper(s) a place to hook the cable on each side for double line winching with a doubling pulley.

If you intend to be able to winch from the rear, spend lots of time thinking the mount design through. You aren't given much to work with there. Remember that you will rarely be pulling straight into the winch. More often than not, you will be pulling at an angle to the winch. This means that there will be what engineers call a "moment" at the mounting point. Think of this as a torque trying to rotate the winch around the center of the mounting bolt-hole pattern. Your mount has to be rigid enough to resist this torque, and not just at the winch mounting point, but all the way forward to the hard points that the mount bolts to. When the winch is cantilevered way out back past the engine, this gets tricky.

My Dune Buggy can be winched from both ends. I used 1-1/4" socket receiver hitches for the removable part of the mount. This way the winch can ride behind the seats, where the weight serves me better until stuck. The female sockets are integrated into both bumpers. My winch is also remote controlled from the driver's seat.

Wiring the Winch

The first decision to be made is if you are going to remote control the winch. If you intend to remote control the winch there are two ways to achieve it. The first is to buy two of the Cole-Hersee polarity reversing solenoids. The second way is cheaper, but more involved. Four Ford starter relays can be used to reverse polarity. The layout and wiring require 12V electrical knowledge. This may be a subject for a future article. One safety aspect of remote control is that both cables are 'dead', they have no power in them until a relay or pair of relays are energized.

The second decision is if the winch is going to be removable or permanently mounted. I personally recommend removable although I recognize that the added complexity of the mount and the electrical connection isn't for everyone. A convenient connector to use are the connectors used for charging electric forklifts. These are available from a number of sources. Grainger, McMaster-Carr and Del City all list them. For most of the winches likely to be mounted on a VW the 175 amp series connector is big enough. While your winch probably draws more than 175 amps, it doesn't do it for very long and that 175 amp rating is a continuous duty rating. Only those of you that insisted on mounting a 12,000 lb MegaWinch will need the 350 amp series. You'll want a Del City catalog for this and other wiring projects anyway, their number is 800.654.4757

If it's going to be permanently mounted then you can simply run a "+" and "-" cable from the battery to the winch. I would advise that the "+" cable have one of those racecar battery disconnect switches in it near the battery for safety. Hella makes a really nice one with a removable key.

With the battery in the rear and the winch in the front, look into using the tunnel to route the cables. There is a sheetmetal access panel at the front of the tunnel. Getting the cables in at the rear may be trickier. It might be possible to route them into the rear of the tunnel at the shifter coupler inspection plate. Notch the plate in such a way that it keeps the cables from making contact with moving parts. If you have an IRS bus t/a, then you can use the hole that the shifter shaft used to use. Remember that anytime an electrical wire goes through a panel it needs a grommet in the panel. Consider using polyurethane spray foam to locate the cables in the tunnel forward of the shifter where you can't anchor them with Adel clamps or Ty-wraps. The key here is to make 'walls' in the tunnel, not to fill the tunnel full of the stuff.

Cable size is crucial to winch performance. Minimum cable size for both conductors is #2 ga. Do not attempt to use the chassis for the ground leg of this circuit.

The remote control pendant can be made to plug in wherever convenient with a 4 pin trailer socket and plug. Looks like I'll have to write a separate article on remote control of winches.

Winch Accessories

There are two essential winch accessories, a tree saver (with a shackle) and a pulley block. The pulley block can change the direction of pull or double the winch's pulling power. Be sure that the pulley block is rated for twice the strength of the winch. The tree saver can be used to, curiously enough, anchor to a tree. Anchoring in this manner keeps the cable from cutting the tree. Tree savers are wonderful for rigging up all kinds of winching contraptions. Setting that cross-rammed 413 wedge motor into your neighbor's slammed (cool, even if it can barely make it over speed bumps)'53 DeSoto, etc.

Other accessories are more straps (Load slings to longshoremen), shackles or clevis'( they are the same) (almost can't have too many of them, minimum is one per strap) and anchors for both the vehicle and the winch cable hook. 4x4's need a dedicated winch anchor for the times when are there is nothing but Creosote bushes around. In your VW you already have one, it's called the spare. That is, if the ground is soft enough to dig and you didn't leave the spare behind so that the jacuzzi would fit. Just haul the spare out and take it out to the end of the cable. Dig a hole and bury it with the cable attached. This usually enough of an anchor, sometimes you may have to help it with the throttle, but be careful not to overrun the winch. The trick here is to slide the clutch just enough to help the winch past a hard spot, then let the winch have it all again. There is an anchor made for those times when the spare isn't enough, it's call the Pull Pal.

Sometimes when attempting to rescue someone else with your winch, they are so stuck that the winch wants to move you instead. Sometimes all it takes is a rock, other times require that your other buddy hook to your back and tug on you while you're winching. If it's just the two of you, the device you need is a set of SureClaws. They are the mother of all wheel chocks, you have to drive into them. Both the Pull Pal and the SureClaws fold flat, but they are designed for 4x4ís, so they are beefy and big. Pull Pal has a smaller model for Samurai-sized machines that probably would be correct, depending on your baja tire size.

If you're anticipating anchoring to big rocks, then a length of 3/8" system 8 chain is called for. Wrap the chain around the rock and attach with a clevis.

When available, opt for the roller fairlead. This will considerably lengthen the cable life, not to mention make off-angle pulls easier.

An accessory few people think about: the battery. For 4x4's the recommended battery has at least 800 CCA, in fact for heavy winch use, two are recommended. Here is a justification for getting that Optima Red Top you've been lusting over.

Winch Safety

USE GLOVES! A broken strand in the winch cable will cut you and not even know you were there. In the size winch appropriate for VW's, this results in a painful wound. With a bigger winch the possibility of amputation exists. Do not fool around with this, anyone who's ever been punctured this way will tell you it hurts a lot.

A rule that rock climbers have is to use as few components in the anchor system as possible. That is not to say to be frugal with anchor pieces, but to be efficient. Each new piece is another potential failure point, use as few as safely possible.

Sometimes you need to extend the winch cable's reach with straps. Do not use straps with metal hooks on them. Buy quality straps. If your budget means hooked straps, carefully cut the hooks off. Do not even touch the strap material with what you're using to cut the hooks off. This is a safety issue. The hooks are notoriously weak and will fail with disastrous and possibly deadly results. I have seen one of these break and go through a Heep's windshield AND through the driver's seat back. Good thing the driver was standing off to one side. Now you know why smart 4x4ers ( No, that's not an oxymoron ) always open the hood when winching. Replace these straps at the first opportunity. This same kind of 'fly-back' is why you should always put a blanket or jacket on the middle of the winch cable. Winching safety articles are regular feature in 4x4 magazines, keep an eye out for one and read it thoroughly. Warn has, or at least used to have, a pretty good safety publication that may be free for the asking.

Some leading authorities in the 4x4 world consider the winch to be the first necessary upgrade. Before lockers and gears and 500 cubic inch motors, before all of that. I think that's sound advice, do as I say, not as I did! Have fun and I'll start to work on the Remote control article.

Suppliers/Hardware listing :

Cole-Hersee Polarity Reversing, or 4 pole Solenoids:
Try a real auto parts store like a NAPA or find the one that the local pros buy from, a local Starter, Generator, & Alternator Rebuilder, or an Automotive Electric parts house.

Battery Kill Switch:
Your source above may have one, otherwise try Summit Racing (, or one of the VW magazine advertisers. I got some imitation Hella style ones from So. Cal Imports once.

1-1/4" Socket receivers and 4 pin trailer light connectors:
Try a local trailer supply place for these. Some metal dealers stock them as well. Northern Tool & Equipt. (800.533.5545, or has trailer stuff and a whole lot more.

Forklift Charging Plugs:
Grainger and McMaster-Carr have numerous branches around the country, try the Yellow pages. Del City is at 800.654.4757

Adel clamps and Ty-wraps:
Grainger, McMaster-Carr, and Del City all carry them. If you want the best in ty-wraps, you are looking for the Thomas & Betts or the T&B brand name. Buy them in black, the white/opaque ones are not UV resistant and will rot in the sun. Keep things simple, if you only but the black ones, then you donít have think about whether sunlight going to get to a ty-wrap or not.

Shackles, Doubling Pulleys and Straps:
Most winch manufacturers offer winch accessory kits. See also forklift charging plugs, these suppliers carry them also. Well, not Del City, theyíre an electrical supplier only. Also, try industrial or farm suppliers.

3/8" System 8 Chain:
Try an industrial or farm supply house.

Good ones are available through Grainger, McMaster-Carr, Northern Tool, and the local hardware store, industrial or farm supply. These should have leather palms and fingers.

Polyurethane Spray Foam:
Big home suppliers like Home Base, & Home Depot carry this stuff. Your local hardware store may have it as well. This is neat stuff, it is a good sound and heat insulator. Iíve debated painting cavities that are prone to rust, or that have leaks with POR-15 (Net search on them, another neat product) and then filling up the cavities with foam. Let the Sandlizrd and I know about what youíve used it for. Unless that use involves personal hygiene, then I donít want to know.

Winch Accessories:

SureClaw Winching Chocks:


Optima Batteries:

Winch Manufacturers:




MileMarker (Hydraulic winches)-

Did you think Thom was Pulling your Leg?!