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What Is a Winch Solenoid? What Does It Do?

by xuxiaomin 04 Apr 2023

Nothing beats the thrill and excitement of driving through an off-road trail. Adventurers and thrill seekers spend time scouting for the perfect trail. However, regardless of the scout work, it is impossible to prepare for every possible scenario.

That’s part of why off-road enthusiasts preemptively account for any occurrence on the open road. If you ask any off-roader, they’ll tell you having a winch solenoid is effectively one of the best ways to safeguard yourself in the great outdoors.

What exactly is a winch solenoid and how does work? More importantly, how can it help you get out of a sticky situation and what are the best maintenance practices for a winch? Read on for a comprehensive guide on winch solenoids.


What is a winch solenoid and what does it do?


Basically put, this is an electric device used to activate the motor on your vehicle winch. This means the winch acts as an electronic switch for the actual smaller switch. The subsequent switch can be operated remotely or from where the winch is controlled from.

Solenoid is another term you’ll hear frequently when talking about a winch. A solenoid is a switch that can be controlled electronically. The solenoid transforms a small control signal into flowing power. This, too, can be controlled remotely.

From the above, you can tell a winch solenoid is just an electromagnetic switch. Its main role is to facilitate power flow to the motor. Typically, winches consume a considerable amount of power to facilitate the current flow.

This means winches can use considerably large wiring. Since these large wires can be counterproductive, the solenoid is instead used to pass the vast power required for this operation.


How to deal with solenoid failure on the trail


As mentioned above, one of the very possible realities for off-road enthusiasts is the damage to your solenoid. While this shouldn’t happen every time you’re outside, it can still occur. As such, I help to be prepared with the right information and tools to deal with the eventuality.

Most winches use between two to four solenoids. It is likely that one of these solenoids malfunctions at some point. You can tell it’s broken since the winch will only work perfectly in one direction and barely on the alternative side.

So, what do you do when a solenoid breaks while you’re on the trail? The best place to start is to just reverse the motor leads. One of the benefits of using a winch is reverse control.


Must you use a solenoid in a winch?


The simple answer here is yes. Solenoids control the electric current delivered to the winch motor. Without the solenoid, the winch switch and motor could easily and repeatedly burn out.

However, if you’re out of options and need a quick fix, you can temporarily wrap the faulty wench until you can properly replace it. It is vital to note that this is just a stop-gap fix and not a lasting solution.


Testing a winch solenoid


When diagnosing an issue with your winch, it’s only appropriate to check and eliminate the solenoid. The first part of this test is rather straightforward, you just have to listen to the clicking sound when the solenoid engages.

If there’s no click, you’ll have to turn off the winch. Then, with a voltmeter, attach the probes to the studs on the winch’s side of the solenoid.  If the solenoid is working optimally, the meter should read zero.


How to replace a winch solenoid?


You can comfortably replace a dysfunctional solenoid at home. However, you will need to remember where each wire goes. A quick tip is to take photographs and label the wires as you go. This will make the reassembly quicker and much more effective.

Remove the solenoid cover and disconnect the plus wire at the battery. Next, remove the smaller gauge wires followed by any jumper wires or large gauge wires. Replace the solenoid and carefully return everything back to its position.

You can also temporarily bypass the solenoid if it’s faulty. This is achieved by accessing the solenoid wiring and attaching the red jumper cable to the positive terminal on the battery.

Ultimately, a winch solenoid is one of the most essential components of your off-road vehicle. If it starts malfunctioning, you might end up stranded. Fortunately, with this guide, you now know more about the gadget and what to do if it breaks.
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