A few weeks ago, I went up to Olsen Creek, just northeast of Bozeman Montana, to get a Christmas tree with my two sons. As we chatted about the kind of tree we might find, we ended up encountering a fairly substantial situation. The single lane cutout road we were traveling, which rose vertically to my left, and dropped steeply to my right, became very steep and even slicker. Seconds later, with traction virtually non-existent, I decided to put the our 100 series Toyota Land Cruiser and the X Venture trailer I was towing, to a very gentle stop. As I backed off the throttle, the Land Cruiser came to a smooth stop-but then immediately decided to slide backwards. Total focus was now engaged, and the only objective I had (in addition to the safety of my boys) was to get the Land Cruiser and the X Venture trailer to the uphill side of the road where I knew I could find some grip in the untouched snow.

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After sliding almost 60 yards down the hill, the trailer dropped into a rut, and the front of the Land Cruiser decided to head in an even worse direction. In the process the trailer jerked the Land Cruiser and immediately jackknifed. The Kaymar bumper had done its job protecting the side of the Land Cruiser, suffering some damage in the process, with the tool box on the trailer seeing the worst of it-it was completely demolished. When the Cruiser finally stopped, the front end had slid of the road, so naturally, we hurried to recover the vehicle from the predicament.

After the using my winch to get myself out of the situation, a fellow off-roader stopped by to help. He proceeded to unhook my winch line and then hook it to the bumper of his jeep. In his eyes he thought this would give us an additional safety measure in case we started to slide back down the hill again. I asked that he remove the winch line, for it was not fit for towing (from what I had been told…) He insisted that it was fine and that he had been winching and logging for years, and that the winch and its internal brake were designed to handle the load of the vehicle. Being as polite as possible, knowing he was trying to help, I reminded him that it was my equipment and that I was not comfortable with the scenario. I told him I would much prefer to use the Masterpull Snatch strap (while it wasn’t a tow strap, it was a better option) to perform the short distance tow. He cordially obliged and we set to it. Later I found myself wishing I had a better answer for the gentleman when it came to my reasons of why you shouldn’t use the winch line as a tow line. I called WARN a few days after and asked if they could fill me in.

This is WARN’s response to the question: “Why should I not tow with winch line”.

WARN: When you introduce a quick, sudden load to a winch, that’s called a “shock load.” Imagine taking a piece of rope in both hands, then quickly pulling it taught-that’s a shock load. Shock loading is very stressful on a winch’s internals. Proper winching gradually places a load on the winch, which is how it is designed to be used. You should never use a winch rope for towing due to shock loading. While you may have the best intentions of gradually introducing the load while attempting to tow a vehicle, the vast majority of the time it doesn’t happen that way, and the winch will receive shock loads. Always use a proper tow strap for towing. For those attempting a recovery with a strap, be sure to have the proper unit as well. Recovery straps will have a bit of elasticity to them that allow for that rubber-band effect that aids in recovery. Tow straps do not have that elasticity.

So there you have it. Then next time your faced with wondering if it’s alright to use your winch as a tow line, you will know what to do-or at least what to say!

– Clay