Winch Me Up Scotty!

I’m sure that Captain Kirk ‘could’ have said that at one point or another, as much as he never said ‘Beam me up Scotty’. Anyhow, this story isn’t about Star Trek but about winches and the replacement of my cheap Aldi winch that I’ve had in my Nissan GU Patrol for the last eight years. I haven’t had to put the Aldi winch to really serious use in that time but, in the last couple of years it has been called into duty and it’s failed me on four occasions. The first involved a failed solenoid and the following two involved broken wires, which can happen even with the most expensive winch. However, on our last excursion, the motor seized and I was left to be recovered by others. Later in the day, the use of a hefty mallet fixed that seizure and I was able to rewind the cable that had been wrapped around my bullbar. Now before going on one of our Cruises, I test the winch to make sure that it’s working, given that it’s spent many of those eight years going through rivers, and each time things have been fine. But considering where we go, I was no longer confident that I could rely on this winch when called into action and decided to retire it and replace it with something more substantial and modern.

Winch anchor plate for periodic testing of winch

Winch anchor plate for periodic testing of winch

In the early days, and I mean the 70s/80s, you didn’t have much choice when it came to winches, it was either a Warn or a Ramsey (the Ramsey winch was especially a favourite of tow truck operators) and both were hideously expensive. Then in the mid-2000s or so, significantly cheaper Chinese winches began to appear on the market and the affordability of winches changed dramatically. The competition between the various Chinese imports increased (often the same manufacturer but with different labels attached to the winch) and the price of winches dropped even further, such that you could buy a 9500lb winch for under $400, this is when a Warn or a Ramsey winch was selling for between $1500-$2500+. Now there’s no disputing that these cheap winches aren’t perhaps as good in all respects as the name brands, but many have managed years of active service in recovery situations (though once broken, they are usually not repairable). These cheap winches in turn put a lot of pressure on the likes of Warn and Ramsey, who introduced their own cheaper models, though still no where near as cheap as the cheapest ones.

Going nowhere - Fultons Creek Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Going nowhere – Fultons Creek Track Victoria (source: Grahame)

Then into the fray came many other suppliers offering something in-between and one such is Runva. Runva has been around for some time as a worldwide supplier of winches, but it’s only fairly recently that it’s become widely recognised in Australia and has quickly developed an excellent reputation for performance and reliability amongst the 4WD crowd. Runva winches sit between the cheap Chinese winches and the expensive US branded winches (also made in China, Brazil or wherever), but offer performance and quality that in most cases exceed that of the expensive brands. Warn winches have always been the standard by which other winches have been compared (in Australia at least), but over the last decade or so, that reputation has fallen by the wayside. One of the biggest issues with Warn winches, at least in Victoria, is that they are anything but waterproof or water resistant and, in Victoria, you’re always likely to be putting your winch into water. There are many tales where brand new Warn winches have failed after doing a water crossing or two, and any such evidence voids the warranty. A winch that can’t handle water crossings is not worth having in Victoria. BTW, I know personally of several Warn winches that have completely seized after a few years, having done water crossings, compared to a number of Aldi winches that have kept going so, in that regard, the cheap Aldi winch deserves kudos.

Mitta Mitta River - Taylors Crossing Victoria (source: Grahame)

Mitta Mitta River – Taylors Crossing Victoria (source: Grahame)

When it came time to consider a new winch, I decided on doing what many others have done and that is to get a Runva winch. Certainly the majority of reviews and such appear to give the Runva a big thumbs up but, as with anything, there will always be instances where things can and do fail, so it’s not always positive views that you will find on the internet. But that’s life with any product and the internet. Anyway, given all the positive reviews I’ve read, as well as watching one in action on one of our recent Cruises, I decided to opt for the Runva 11XP (11,000lb winch), which is IP67 rated for the motor. The winch arrived not that long after I ordered it, which was surprising given that it left from the Queensland factory. Everything came well packaged and appeared to be of a high standard. The instructions that came with the winch were very clear and concise, with additional information available on the Runva website if you wanted to do any changes to the control lever positioning.

Runva 11XP Winch

Runva 11XP Winch

Runva 11XP Winch

Runva 11XP Winch

After reading the manual, the first ting that I did was remove the wireless remote module from the control box (where the module and solenoid resides). The manual noted that while everything else was waterproof or water resistant, the wireless control unit was not and, from my experiences with the Aldi wireless remote (almost identical and a fairly cheap unit, which I also removed), these things don’t work all that well and the battery in the remote is invariably dead when you need it. The solenoid in the control box on the other hand was a very substantial looking unit, considerably better than the one I bought to replace the failed unit in the Aldi winch. The solenoid is one of those fully sealed units that doesn’t use the traditional type of starter solenoids (cans) found in many winches (usually four, as in the original Aldi unit) and should last a long time. So it was out with the old and, thankfully, due to our last cruise, everything was nice and clean underneath, making it much easier to fit the new winch.

Aldi Winch Location

Aldi Winch Location

The Old Aldi Winch

The Old Aldi Winch

However, there was one aspect that was not so easy. The nature of my bullbar meant that I couldn’t place the control box on the top of the bullbar, as is the norm, so it had to go behind the bullbar and behind the winch, which makes access to the remote control plug impossible. So I had to employ a similar modification as I did with the Aldi winch and that’s to remotely locate the plug from the control box, but this time I put it on the top of the bullbar rather than in the engine bay. I also decided to install an in-cabin switch so that when winching, I didn’t have to drag the remote cable across the bonnet and through the window. I will still use the remote to draw in the final few feet of the winch cable and for times where the winch may be required to assist others but, for the main part, in-cabin control is so much easier.

External, cable, remote control plug

External, cable, remote control plug

In-cabin winch control switch

In-cabin winch control switch

The other aspect with access is the engage/free-spool lever. I could have turned the gearbox housing around so that the lever sat on top, but given that access isn’t really a problem (that is, reaching in), I left everything as it came so that the lever is at the back of the winch. That’s how it’s been with my Aldi winch and engaging the lever has never been a problem. In some respects, it probably keeps crap away with the lever being right at the back and certainly when I removed the Aldi winch, that part was reasonably clean. However, I did have to locate the winch in the reverse order to the normal position (gearbox on the right – looking from the front), because the hawse fairlead couldn’t be bolted to the bottom of the winch mounting. As with my Aldi winch, the provided bolts weren’t long enough for attaching the hawse fairlead, so I used the bolts from my Aldi winch. The two Allen key bolts that came with the hawse fairlead were also too short and came with nuts that wouldn’t fit in the slots anyway, as they were much larger than the standard ones. Sadly, the square Aldi winch nuts wouldn’t fit in the slots either.

Hawse Fairlead

Hawse Fairlead

(L-R) Runva Nut, Aldi Nut, Hawse Nut

(L-R) Runva Nut, Aldi Nut, Hawse Nut

Attaching the cabling was a non-event, as everything is very clearly labelled and it was only connecting the wiring for the two remotes that took me some time. The two wires that you see coming out of the control box are for the remotes mentioned earlier. However, it wasn’t all bouquets when it came to this winch, there were a few brickbats as well. I’m not sure what was intended with the mounting bracket for the control box, but it was a very poor fit. I had to drill new holes in the base plate of the control box, because the two mounting screws would not fit (it was a case of threaded holes mating with threaded holes and one screw head in the way – a photograph wouldn’t have shown this clearly). Additionally, the bolts attaching the interface plate to the bracket were touching the rope. You can’t see it in the photograph, but the black cover over the orange rope is touching the bolts on the bracket. This is something that I’ll have to keep an eye on.

Winch ready to lift into position

Winch ready to lift into position

Then the final item to fit was the isolator switch and, once again, I came across not so good design. The isolator switch came with a mounting bracket and bolts for mounting the bracket and switch, but the bolts for the switch were far too big for the holes in the switch. I couldn’t drill out the holes, as the brass inserts held the two parts of the switch together but, thankfully, I found a couple of bolts that would fit. You’ll also notice that the terminals are exposed. Every other cable provided with the winch had terminal covers, but not the ones for the isolator switch, so I’ll have to try and find some covers other than electrical tape. The other thing that astute observers may note is that the nuts aren’t the originals. The original nuts are thin, like the ones under the main nut, and while trying to fit the first one, I dropped it and lost it who knows where in the engine bay. So I found some more substantial ones and decided to use those.

Isolator Switch

Isolator Switch

Once everything was more or less in place, I tested out the winch and everything worked perfectly, including the in-cabin control. All was good to go and so I went to reattach the bash plate only to discover that the control box was set too low and I couldn’t lift the bash plate into place. With much cursing, I was able to remove the control box and mount without removing the winch and turned the control box around 180 degrees such that it was well out of the way and now the bash plate went back into position. If the control box could have been mounted in the centre as it should, this wouldn’t have been an issue. So once that was done, I did my usual test by reversing to the bottom of our back yard and tested the winch under load. In this test, I just put the Patrol into neutral and let the winch do its thing without any assistance from the vehicle. And here’s a short video showing that it actually works. The winch is slower than the Aldi winch, but I wasn’t after high speed, just good hauling capability.

As a final note, I think I would have preferred some terminal covers rather than the neoprene hat (winch cover) that came with the winch (something that wouldn’t last a day in a public carpark, if I could have fitted it, and it looked kind of lame anyway). So, despite some minor quibbles, I’m very happy with the new setup and now when I go to the High Country I’ll have much greater confidence in my recovery gear than I’ve had of late. Well, I certainly hope so.

Update 1: After receiving some questions and having a discussion about isolator switches, I did some further research and found that the isolator switch that came with the winch is only rated at 100A continuous (Narva 61038). I wasn’t overly happy with this as, when I did further searching, winches can draw much more current than 100A, so I decided to change the isolator switch to something more robust. I initially thought about some welding cable connectors, but then I remembered that I had another isolator switch that I bought years ago with the intent of using it with my campervan dual battery system, but never got around to it. This switch (Narva 61084BL) is rated at 300A continuous, which is significantly better. I had to do some serious searching, but eventually found it in my shed and the installation was fairly easy, and it works a treat.

Narva 61084BL Battery Master Switch/Isolator Switch

Narva 61084BL Battery Master Switch/Isolator Switch

Update 2. And here’s a much more serious test of the winch:

And something completely unrelated (kind of):

7 thoughts on “Winch Me Up Scotty!

  1. Shawn K.

    Ah, now that’s a proper switch!

    I’m still finalizing my own bumper and winch installation, and it’s been helpful reading your notes and discussing options with you. To complicate matters, I just ordered some overdue solar charging parts to make a stationary truck less likely to have warm food and a dead battery. Once I figure out how large a second battery I can squeeze under the hood, I’ll probably add one of those, too.

    Reply
  2. Shawn K.

    I’ve seen a few of those battery boxes, and they could be useful in many ways. I think it’d be slick to use one in an established campground with large bear boxes. Stuff a fridge in the bear box, and prop a solar panel next to the battery to keep it charged for a few days. Fortunately, I don’t go to established campgrounds any more. A battery box like that might also be handy in a group sized tent.

    I have a decent spot atop the passenger fender for a second battery, and my aux fuse box will be easy to switch over to it, but I’ll have to rearrange some of Toyota’s work first. That location will also block the usual route for a snorkel, but I’m not sure I’ll ever run one anyway.

    Reply
    1. Ray Post author

      If you can fit a battery in the engine bay and link it to the main with a smart charger, it can’t be beat. Many put a deep cycle battery in as the second battery, but I’ve had so many premature deep cycle battery failures that I now use starting batteries as the second battery (plus they are a lot cheaper). There are new types of starting batteries that are kind of a hybrid battery that work as a starting and can perform partly as a deep cycle battery. They will also charge much faster than a similarly depleted deep cycle battery. I’ve been using these types now for around 10 years and the batteries last at least five years. Small battery boxes like the Waeco CoolPower, which I have, are great for putting in a tent or around a campfire to power 12V lighting.

      Reply
      1. Shawn K.

        I’ve got the CTEK D250S Dual and Smartpass combo, so that should simplify things. Even have a slightly mangled road sign to use for the mounting bracket.

        http://smartercharger.com/battery-chargers/#CTEK D250S DUAL

        Hybrid batteries like that are commonly referred to as “Marine” (fish, not foxholes) batteries around here, as they do a fair job of emulating a deep cycle and starting battery. I can’t recall if the Group 31 AGM under the hood is categorized as one or not, but it gets the job done. I’m going to mock up a cardboard box the same size and see if I have a chance of getting a second one in the space without too much remodeling. It’ll be close, but I’d rather not step down to a smaller size.

        Reply
        1. Ray Post author

          Keeping the starting battery and deep cycle battery to a similar capacity I think is important, so that you get proper charging. There’s a lot of debate in Australian 4WD/camping/caravanning forums when it comes to the likes of DC/DC chargers. CTEK are good products, I have one of their 240V battery chargers and it’s almost permanently connected to my campervan batteries to keep them alive (the campervan unfortunately lives more in the garage than on a campground nowadays).

          Most 4WDrivers in Australia use dual battery isolators like these: https://www.redarc.com.au/battery-chargers/dual-battery-isolators. They are designed to put up with harsh engine bay conditions and keep batteries properly properly maintained. Even ARB, which supplied my isolator, has now gone to REDARC because they are so good. If the one I have starts to play up, I’ll be getting a REDARC.

          Reply
  3. Shawn K.

    You’re right about keeping batteries alike, even to the point of age. It makes sense, in light of chemical differences, and if the charging source can’t differentiate between the two to customize the charging program. One of the reasons I went with the CTEK combo was their ability to charge dissimilar batteries properly. They aren’t cheap, but I haven’t read a bad review on their products yet.

    That’s some nice looking gear. Looks like REDARC is just starting to enter North America. They should do well.

    https://www.redarc.com.au/international

    Reply

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