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Troubleshooting Article Archive:  May 2004          
Weak Winches
"My winch lacks pulling power."  It's the most common winch failure I hear about.  Typically, the winch in question will be a worm gear-style winch.  It will work okay without any load, but when you try to winch a car onto the deck of a flatbed, the winch will come to a stop.  Although many different conditions can cause this problem, lack of gear oil inside the winch is the most common cause.  It's also the most commonly overlooked.

Last year, I learned from one of my customers how much money you can throw away by disregarding basic troubleshooting items like oil in the winch.  When the winch would no longer pull any load, he became convinced that there was some "blockage" inside the hydraulic hoses and had them replaced for over $100.  

The problem remained.  "Well, I guess it must be the winch motor."  Then $350, and the problem remained.  He was about to embark on a fanciful theory about marbles traveling around inside the hydraulic system when it occurred to me to ask if anyone had checked the oil level in the winch.  Seventy-five cents worth of gear oil later, the winch worked fine again.  In science, the simplest theory that fits the facts of a problem is the one that should be selected.

Other conditions can cause loss of winch power.  A partially burned-out hydraulic pump, for example, or an improperly installed winch motor can be the culprit.  You will be "money ahead," though, to check the level of winch oil before moving on to other parts because it's simpler, less expensive, and more obvious.  

Add the manufacturer's recommended gear oil through the hole in the top of the winch housing until oil comes out the level check hole in the side of the winch housing cover.

Fourteenth century English philosopher William of Occam identified the important troubleshooting idea here:  the simplest explanation of a problem is the one you ought to go with.  This idea, which is known as "Occam's Razor," does not tell us that the simplest explanation is always correct, but that you ought to try it first before you try more fanciful explanations.