5 Simple Ways to Keep Your Winch Cable Tight

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Published By: Aaron Redstone
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Total: 4 min read time

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Having a winch with a loose, damaged cable is not only unsafe, but leads to poor performance.

By following proper maintenance procedures, you can increase the longevity of your winch cable and ensure smooth operation.

This guide will provide 5 simple yet effective ways to keep winch cables in ideal tight and working order.

The Importance of Good Cable Care

Winch cables endure punishing conditions – exposure to dirt, moisture, and extreme stresses that can deteriorate them over time.

Fraying cables are unsightly, prone to breaking, and can get stuck in drum spools. Keeping your cable well-lubricated, wound neatly, and replacing damaged sections is essential.

Proper adjustments and component installations also play a vital role in cable integrity and safety.

Method 1: Regularly Inspect and Replace Damaged Cables

Damaged Cables

Why regular inspection is important:

  • Winch cables are subjected to extreme stresses in operation – the inner wire strands and outer casing gradually incur damage over time. If unnoticed and not replaced, cables can eventually fail completely.
  • Inspections allow you to identify signs of deterioration early and replace cables before they become dangerously worn or snap. This prevents accidents and downtime.

When to inspect:

  • Inspect cables visually before every operation during your regular equipment check. Also examine cables any time winch performance seems compromised – there may be hidden inner damage.
  • Conduct a full hands-on inspection every 1-3 months by unspooling the entire working length. This detects covered flaws.

What to look for:

  • Externally examine for broken strands poking through the casing, as well as severe kinks, flattened sections, and deformations in the casing. These indicate a core wire fracture.
  • Peeling shavings/metal flakes when cables are moving means deep wear. Substantial corrosion also weakens cable integrity.
  • Inner damage like bulges or lumps in the cable’s profile suggests core strand breakage or deterioration.

Determining replacement time:

  • If fraying exposes 4+ broken wires per cable inch, replacement is needed due to weakened load capacity.
  • Any signs of significant deterioration, like large cracks, deep abrasions affecting >10% of the cable surface, or heavy corrosion, mean cables should be replaced.
  • At maximum, if cables are highly worn but still functional, replace them after 36 months from the installation date as a precaution.

New cable requirements:

  • Always install cables precisely matching OEM specifications for your winch model regarding cable dimension, composition, strength rating and drum compatibility.

Method 2: Apply Correct Line Pull Tension

Why proper tensioning is important:

  • Excess tension over the cable’s working strength rating strains the internal wire strands and connection points on the winch itself. This causes accelerated wear.
  • Over-tensioning also means the motor and gears work harder to operate the winch. Higher loading spikes power consumption, operating temperatures and mechanical stress.

Dangers of over-tensioning:

  • Cables flex and stretch slightly in normal use. Too much tension removes the cable’s elasticity margin, bringing it closer to the breaking point.
  • With components enduring higher loads, the likelihood of sudden systemic failures rises – like gears stripping or bolts shearing which immobilize the winch.
  • The cable fails more quickly over repeated minor overloads. This causes unexpected mid-job breakdowns, safety issues and manual recovery work.

How to set correct tension level:

  • Check winch specifications – maximum line pull will be listed e.g. 4500 lbs. Apply 50-80% of this rating during operation.
  • Portable, compact tension testers that attach inline provide precision readings to avoid guessing the tension feel. Match values to specs.
  • For multi-purpose winches, determine expected load requirements per application and confirm minimums are met after accounting for safety margins rather than defaulting to max pull.

Benefits of maintaining proper tensions:

  • Optimally loaded components last for their intended duty cycles without overexertion.
  • Winch and cable performance remain reliable over years of service through controlled operation parameters.
  • Sudden cable or equipment failures are mitigated through managed strain levels.

Method 3: Install New Fairlead or Roller Guide

Why cable routing components matter:

  • Fairleads and roller guides control the direction cables unroll from the drum, as well as the angle and contact pressure against openings that pass cables out to the load.
  • Poor designs or worn rollers allow cables to bind, bend too tightly, scrape against metal or endure concentrated stress as they rotate through. This rapidly degrades casings.

Optimizing angle and contact:

  • Abrupt directional changes over short transitions add friction and strain cables. Check for straight roller pathways and fairlead outlets that gently direct cables.
  • Excessive angular contact under high tension strains cables further. Low friction polymer guides with smooth bored surfaces minimize binding forces.
  • Undersized rollers let cables drop into guides. Larger diameter barrels properly support cables across the back half.

Benefits of upgrades:

  • With optimized routing angles, torque delivered to cables is reduced through gentler curvature paths. This preserves casing integrity.
  • Upgraded rollers and fairleads spin easily under load without impeding cables. The system experiences less resistance.
  • By supporting cables correctly, uneven pressure points that deteriorate casings are eliminated at stress concentrations.

Enabling proper spooling:

  • Spooling issues lead to loose cable winds that compound operational strains. The right lead routing ensures even drum layers, maintaining tighter winds.
  • Low friction outlets provide consistent, predictable cable alignment, so winding patterns remain uniform with no binding.

Method 4: Clean and Lubricate Cable Periodically

Why routine cleaning is vital:

  • The winch operation drags cables through dirt, sediments, and other contaminants that embed into the woven exterior. Particles also infiltrate inner crevices.
  • Without removal, buildup causes accelerated abrasive wear each time cables run through the system. This erodes casings rapidly.

Back-winding to pre-clean:

  • Before unwinding for operation, run the cables back onto the drum at low speed. This helps dislodge and eject debris caught in windings through friction.
  • Slowly respooling cables also straightens bends, allowing full debris expulsion. It’s an initial cleaning step.

When to lubricate:

  • Lubricate cables immediately after back-winding and inspection, before heavy duty operation. This ensures slidability through guides when loaded.
  • Reapply lubricant once monthly during average use to offset cleaning wear-off. Increase frequency after extreme loads or muddy/sandy conditions.

Lubrication process:

  • Always use manufacturer-approved lubricants designed specifically for winch cables to avoid reactions. Apply liberally along entire length.
  • Use dedicated brushes or rags across the surface in straight motions to work lubricant into cable woven jacket, not just superficial coating.
  • Ensure lubricant penetrates into cable as much as possible to reduce inner friction and keep cores flexing freely.

Benefits of proper lubrication:

  • Optimally lubricated cables easily overcome system friction, preventing overloading. This significantly extends service life.
  • Lubricant buffers underlying strands from abrasive contact, maintaining integrity.
  • Flexibility retained through ongoing lubrication prevents stiff, cracked casings prone to failure under loading.

Method 5: Always Rewind Neatly on Drum

How overrunning damages windings:

  • After loaded pulls, cables unload and reaccelerate back onto the drum rapidly during self recovery. This creates a sudden dramatic speed differential.
  • Existing winds cannot absorb the impact of new layers overlaying at high velocities. The rapid unspooling impact physically loosens underlying coils.

Secondary effects:

  • Loosened winds have more play to shift and settle unevenly across rewinds, magnifying loosening over time through inconsistent, loose patterns.
  • Loose cable windings increase operational friction and resistance, straining systems through binding actions. Performance suffers.

Benefits of speed control:

  • Portable hand crank winches provide incremental manual rewinding at optimal pace without overrunning forces.
  • Maintaining slow, steady pace through manual operation means each wind layers closely onto prior ones through even controlled speed and tension.
  • Tighter, uniform winding prevents the loosening cascade and maintains almost factory conditions over years of use.

Optimizing tension:

  • Loose winds may also indicate improper tensioning – the rewind tension can be adjusted on many winch models through bolts or settings.
  • Find the ideal tension level through testing that tightly spools cables without over-straining. Marks on drums indicate proper layers.

The small effort of regulated, manual rewinding preserves cable integrity and winch performance over the long term by preventing mechanical loosening damage.


By consciously applying these 5 preventative maintenance guidelines, your winch cables will deliver reliable service life. The small investments of replacing damaged cables, installing upgraded components, lubricating adequately and precisely controlling tension leads to increased utility, safety and rewind speed. Make cable care a regular routine.

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. But all my reviews and guides are genuine and come from my experience.

Aaron Redstone 

Hi, I'm Aaron, the founder of Off-Road Pull. My love for off-roading began in my teenage years while exploring the diverse landscapes of Arizona.

With more than 16 years of experience in off-roading and winching, I bring a blend of practical know-how and a background in mechanical engineering to provide you with detailed and trustworthy advice.

My passion is to share this knowledge with both newcomers to adventure and experienced off-roaders. When I'm not tackling rugged terrain or crafting in-depth articles, you'll find me capturing the scenic beauty of the outdoors through my lens.

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