Waterproofing a Winch

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I've been reading winch reviews a lot lately. One of the criticisms of some of the more popularly priced winches has been that they aren't "water-proof". I'm purposefully NOT mentioning names here, except what I have experience with particularly, because I'm interested in information, not bashing. I think there are a lot of good winches on the market nowadays, but you need to be aware of any product's limitations to get the most out of your investments in the environments you'll be using it in.

I ask because as an electro-mechanical device (excluding PTO and hydraulic), the biggest problem any winch is going to have when it isn't actually being used is sitting there, reliably waiting to be used.

I've had a couple of Warns years ago and don't remember them being particularly waterproof. The solenoids would eventually get grungy. That's just a fact of life in a vehicle used hard outdoors over the years. You do some PM and make sure things work when you head for the trail or wherever you anticipate needing it. They were reliable and worked when I needed them, which wasn't much. And they did get corroded, etc. But that was back when you could get an 8274 for less than $500.

But some of the critiques indicate that if you virtually park some winches outside, they'll fill up with water and then you're...sunk:eek:

Is the price difference in lower cost winches because:
Some winches are better sealed?
Higher quality, stainless hardware?
Use of certain lubricants?

I have no issue with looks, so long as it performs. I can take apart and grease things, if that prevents problems by repelling water. I can silicone or cut and add a gasket as needed to keep water out.

I guess what I seeking is some explanation how good winches keep water out. Has something changed since I had what I now realize were pretty expensive winches?

I'm also seeking here some tips from satisfied users of economical winches of ways they've anticipated or resolved problems with water. Or maybe just to be told that you took "Xtremis-brand" winch through "Hell Hole Trail's 13 water-crossings, then dashed through old McDonald's pond and snatched Willie's old Willys right out of the mud!"

Me? I haven't used a winch in 15 years. Now there's a lot more choices and it seems like a lot of the reviews are more about the size of your wallet and a certain male member, than about what actually works. I'm just trying to learn some helpful consumer info here about a very basic aspect of long-term winch performance before I make my investment.
 
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1911

chupacabra
 
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The venerable Warn 8274 gearbox is well-sealed, and the motor and solenoids are up pretty high, but it is large and doesn't fit on every truck.

Planetary-gear winches, I don't know how well sealed everything is - but electric winch motors typically need at least a small vent. I've got a Warn M8000 on my FJC and it has been reliable for 3+ years, 100,000 miles, and lots of wheeling including some submersions (knock on wood) but I don't expect it to last forever without rebuilding. The 32-year-old 8274 I bought for my 40 was rusty and the drum bushings were shot but it still ran fine. Re-built it for about $100 in parts and it is like new again.
 
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1911,
If I'd kept the 8274 I had, it would be just a little older;)
But it went with the FJ55 in my avatar. I'm sure it was more waterproof than the pig, so has probably lasted longer 'round here.

So maybe a Warn of that vintage is not so much waterproof, as rebuildable.

Or maybe there's some new mojo in an 8274 that makes it cost so much more? Although I'm not biotchin' understanding how inflation works and all that. I'm more curious if I'm comparing apples to apples or apples to oranges versus other things on the market now. The whole planetary gear thing is somewhat different. Back then that's what Ramsey had, right?

My second winch was a 6k Warn, one of the first planetary ones, IIRC, but that was the 80s and a long time ago. Worked fine, but did have a tendency toward electrical issues the 8274 didn't that taught me to PM it.

Just to clarify somemore what I'm getting at personally here with this thread...
I'll be mounting winch-X on an ARB on our 80-series. Have to go at least 10k as a matter of course, as it will be near mud at some point, much as IH8it. The winch will live in the garage with the rest of the 80 most of the time, but will play rough maybe a total of 15 days out of the year.

And I understand about spending $XXXX and being "sure". I'm just a Hoosier by birth and cheap by circumstance. I know what I'd prefer and I know what I can probably afford, arcs that don't necessarily intersect or exclude each other, if that makes any sense. I don't get hung up on brand names, bling, or bottom dollar. I can take care of my tools if that's what it takes to make something that isn't top dollar work like it is top dollar. I'm just trying to figure out if that's possible, since I can't figure out from what I've been reading whether it's people not PMing their gear or just stuff that isn't good 'enuf.
 

73fj40lc

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Alot of winch companys address your winch being submerged. Most just recomend running your winch on freespool until you get a little heat from the motor to dry out the motor. I re-built a XD9000I awhile back that had been used hard and there was very little rust internally. I re-packed with alot of synthetic grease and run on freespool every so often just to keep the grease distributed in the winch. Also I used electrical cleaner in the motor and then coated with dielectric grease to help reduce any corrosion. If you try to waterproof a winch and water does eventually get in you have now traped the water so it will really rust out the internals of the winch. I really feel that if you have a sufficently greased winch your major problem would be the motor rusting internally hence the above advise. I am curious though if there is a reliable way to waterproof. My ATV winch is waterproof from the factory.
 
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Greg,
I think you make a couple of excellent points. Getting and using the right lube in the right places does a lot. I wonder if you've got anything specific in mind? What you mention in general terms gives me some guidance, especially in conjunction with a decent owner's manual.

The other important point you made is that it may not be about making the winch totally waterproof. In most cases, that's not possible. Running it long enough to "steam" it off works and/or making sure there is some drain still open if some DIY measures are taken to prevent water entry are points to consider.

Your mention of a truly waterproof winch is interesting, because that was what I was wondering about in the beginning. New designs and modern materials may mean that is in reach, but I get the sense this isn't really true yet for truck-size winches? Or is it?:hmm:
 

bjowett

 
 
 
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There are not many consumer winches that are truely waterproof. The 8274 and Superwinch Husky series come close by at least having sealed gear cases, as mentioned. The old RE Series Ramsey has some sealing, and Warn's Endurance 12 has seals on the drum, too. None are an easy fit to an ARB Bumper.

Warn does make an Industrial Series that has better waterproofing, and one variant is totolly waterproof, the Deep Fording unit. The major problem with any of them is that they are built in short and long drum configurations. Neither fits the standard bolt mounting pattern, but the short drum is only off in width by 1.5", so fitting to an ARB won't be a huge fab project. Anyway, if interested, I have a couple posts about it.

https://forum.ih8mud.com/winching-recovery/335528-project-big-yanker.html

Warn Series 12 Deep Fording Winch Project - Expedition Portal Forum
 
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Brian,
Yo, that is one hunk-o-winch!

I actually stumbled across it the other day poking around over there. Didn't know that they made a winch designed to run underwater. If you had a submarine, that's what you'd need;p

I saw your question about lube in the MUD thread and here, too: XRC8 Maintenance - Expedition Portal Forum
Did you settle on a good lube to use with it?

The guy that was working on his XRC8 has me thinking that is what I'll need to do. That stuff looks like something they had left over from coating some old AKs or something.:p I've gone ahead and pulled the trigger on a XRC12 since I started this thread, so after I'm sure it works, I may take a peek to see what's inside mine before buttoning it down.

All this has led me to think this thread would be better titled with something like "Water-Resistant Winch" or "Water-Repellent Winch." With the exceptions that you've mentioned, I'd say that everyone who owns a winch needs to pay some attention to PM and taking some steps to properly lube and prevent water intrusion to get the best use and life from a winch. This includes the solenoid pack, of course.

Maybe what this thread needs next are some specifics. I don't think many people are going to have that bucket of space-age $25k grease sitting around that one guy used, but I'd think a good lithium bearing grease should work. Anyone know?

And does anyone know if the Smittybilt manual gives any recommendations?
 

73fj40lc

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winch lube

I did some searching on the net about winch lube when I was re-building my winch. I was concerned about using the right grease. My xd9000i owners manual said to use Aeroshell or some other grease that I can't remember right now. I talked to some long time offroaders that I know and they all recommended just using a good quality synthetic grease. I eventually called tech support at Warn and they tried telling me about the recommended grease at $$$ that I couldn't source locally. Eventually after many questions I got the answer that I was really looking for. You can use any good quality bearing grease. I was concerned that the origional grease had gotten very tacky and hard. It did the job that it was designed to do but made freespolling the rope out hard to do. In my experience synthetic grease doesn't get as hard over time like regular grease. I bought synthetic grease at the local parts house and it has worked great. Freespooling rope now is alot easier and it is smooth pulling. The best advice that I can give a winch owner is to operate the winch every couple of months just to keep everything lubed and coated internally. Biggest winch problem is lack of use or proper use and not servicing the winch every so often. Winches are forgotten about after mounting until you really need it.
 

73fj40lc

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I forgot to mention the smaller winches for atv and utv are commonly made waterproof from the factory. I don't know why these small winches are made waterproof but on the larger winches you don't have many options. It must be all based on production costs and the final cost of the assembled winch. This world seems to operate on cost to profit ratios and not on the old time pride of just making the absolute best product that can be made. :crybaby:
 
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Greg,
Thanks for the insight into the legwork you've done on this. I concur with what you've found. Now that I've got some knowledge on this -- plus a couple of decent snatch blocks -- I can hardly wait until the winch and ARB arrive:bounce:
 

bjowett

 
 
 
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Caterpillar supplies some awesome moly greases in both regular and synthetic versions. They use a calcium sulfonate thickener, which deals with water well... it absorbs the water and keeps it away from the metal (the water likes the polar end of the sulfonate more than steel) yet still lubricates well. I use the Ultra 5 for my winch as the Desert Gold dosn't come in NGLI 0. The Desert Gold Synthetic is apparently seeing some use in CV joints with outstanding results.

Caterpillar<sup>®</sup> Grease Reduces Wear & Corrosion
 
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Brian,
Thanks for the tip on the Cat grease. I know where their local shop is, used to have to pick up a part there every once in awhile in a previous career.

UPS dropped the XRC12 off Friday morning. Darned good service via 4 Wheel Online, with drop-shipment from Denver warehouse after I ordered it around mid-day on Monday.

Lubrication instructions in the manual suggest that "All moving parts in the winch are permanently lubricated with high temperature lithium grease at the time of assembly. Under normal conditions factory lubrication will suffice."

Naturally, one must wonder if "normal conditions" include being mounted on the front bumper of a 4x4, then plunged through water and muck periodically.

Interesting thing about the Cat grease is that it does not contain lithium, since one of the problems noted with lithium is that it tends to absorb water and hold it. Your description and the Cat lit notes that the Ultra 5Moly sticks to the metal and repels the moisture away from it, which is a much better thing for winches.

No ARB yet and I'm reluctant to start tearing down a new winch without testing it first. However, I'm considering getting the install right, check for proper operation, then cleaning the guts up and re-lubing with something better than the factory grease. A grease that attracts and holds moisture just doesn't sound like the best option here.

If I do go with the Ultra 5Moly, I'll probably go with either NGLI 1 or NGLI 2. It gets cold around here, but rarely would I be in position where I'd expect to be using the winch below -22 degrees F, but it's possible I might need it in Utah, where with the sun shining on it, it might reach 104 F or even approach the top end of the NGLI2 ambient temp, 122 F! [pass the ice water, honey!]
 

73fj40lc

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Mike,
You will have to post some pics once it is all mounted up. I love having that extra insurance when wheeling. Winches aren't the fix all but it sure helps out. You will end up finding uses for the winch that you never thought of. My winch sees alot of use at the hunting club and most of it isn't pulling people out.
 
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Here are some pics showing what I did in greasing my Smittybilt XRC12 before mounting it. I used what I hope is "good grease" in hopes of keeping corrosion at bay by using a grease that repels water better than the "factory" grease.

The OEM grease looks like a very conventional lithium base grease, which tends to attract moisture. This is not a good thing inside your winch.

Taking it apart, it's obvious that any standard planetary-geared winch will be subject to moisture infiltration where the drum rotates around the motoer and geared ends. There is not seal, although the parts fit closely together. The Smittybilt winch is a T-Max clone, FYI, as the castings display "T-Max" inside. I doubt that any planetary winch that is not specifically waterproofed in some way at the drum ends would be subject to similar infiltration.

I did not totally disassemble the winch to clean every bit of the OEM grease out. I did clean up the grease that is accessible in taking the winch apart to "clock" it for proper mounting. While it may seem intimidating to take apart a brand new, supposedly functioning winch before hooking it up for a test, doing this is completely OK re the manual. It describes howto do this (sort of) so you can't get into warranty trouble in doing this to your spanking new winch. Mine worked fine when it was finally hooked up.

The grease used is one that's been discussed as potentially better than OEM for this sort of application. It's Cat "Ultra 5Moly" Grease. It's available at your local at dealer. They may only carry one of the 3 NLGI grades available, depending on the climate where you are. In my case, it was the all-around middle of the pack NLGI Grade #1. The higher the number, the more resistant to heat, but also the thicker it is when cold. #1 is suitable for applications between -31 degrees F and 104 degrees F. Sounded OK, unless I get stuck winching in the desert.

Anyway, enough talk, let's see the pics. The first 3 show the motor end, taken apart and cleaned. There was very little grease applied by the factory. It is probably suitable for limited use. Before you head for the mud pits for regular, repeated winch use, you might want to check it over after the first few uses anyway.
CleanedUpMotorEnd1.jpg
MotorEndReel2.jpg
CleaningMotorEnd3.jpg
 
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The next 3.

First, a pic of the Cat grease with the drive sprocket in my hand.
Then, showing the gear end with the factory grease.
Third is the driveshaft with the Cat grease.
CatUltra5Moly4.jpg
GearEndGoop5.jpg
DriveShaftGoop6.jpg
 
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The final 3.

First, well greased.
Second, forgot I still needed to clock this end, so taking the inside side of the gear end apart allows greater access. Should've done this first before any greasing, but no biggie.
The last shows things fully greased.

Some may say that I used TOO much grease. But the intent is to submerge moving parts in a grease that repels water. Time will tell.

One more thing, IIRC the T-Max castings have a couple of small drain holes. These will hopefully end up facing somewhere close to downward even after clocking. The apparent intent is to leave an easy way out for any moisture that does get inside. So you don't want to goop the holes up with grease. However, I wanted lots of parts submerged in the 5Moly to help prevent corrosion. The stuff still allows you to easily pull line when the clutch is disengaged. If I have an update in the future, I will post pics, but I'm hoping that the Cat Ultra 5Moly mainly keeps the winch in ready-to-go condition for what I hope is little use.

But you never know when you mix an 80 with a winch!
GoodGrease7.jpg
ClockingAccessGrease8.jpg
FullyGreased9.jpg
 

73fj40lc

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Mike it is looking very good so far. I think that your winch should be good to go for a good while. I still want to see pics of it all mounted on your 80 though. Next time I re-grease my winches I will have to go by the local Cat store and pick up some grease. Good info on this thread for all winch owners. I bet that most winch owners that have had their winches for a couple of years have never even thought about doing PM on it. Most are happy just to run it until there is a problem.
 

lshobie

 
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If you want a waterproof winch out of the box I don't believe you will find one, that being said out of all the winches probably the easiest to make "waterproof" is the 8274 - that among other things is why they are using 8274's in competitions in OZ, and the UK. For the most part a low profile winch is not waterproof and is very hard to make waterproof - count on water getting in when you do deep water crossings- and better take it apart after wards or chances are it won't work for you the next time you really need it. Those cheapy low profile winches are not meant for xtreme use like deep water so don't even bother:)

To waterproof the 8274 this is what you can do:

1. Throw away the solenoids that come with it and buy an Albright waterproof solenoid, it is more compact, easy to mount remotely away from the winch ie. under the hood, and doesn't fail like the warn solenoids.

2. If your 8274 is old - buy new seals, (and the O ring for the free spool) when putting it back together use a sealant on the mating surfaces of the case, where the motor mounts to the case, and seal up the motor as well - all the bolts and screws on the outside of the motor.

3. The real way to make sure nothing coming in is to pressurize the case and the motor - run 2 small air lines in to the case and motor and pressurize them with air from your air compressor - or buy a small low pressure compressor for a horn. Passing air through the motor can also keep it nice and cool for extended operations.

Now - all that being said - after a year of abuse in the water and mud the winch should be taken apart and checked, just normal maintenance.

If you really want to learn about modifying winches then go here, it blows any north american info out of the water:

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