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Smittybilt Winch Install

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Bald Mountain Loop, near Buena Vista, Colorado

If you have a Jeep, off-road truck, or a car hauler, a winch could be one of the best accessories you can buy. For my trips up into the Colorado Mountains, it is an essential tool in case I get stuck on top of a rock or can’t get enough traction through the mud. If off-roading isn’t your thing, maybe buying too many project cars that don’t run is. Outfitting your car hauler with a winch will make loading a breeze. When it comes down to it though, if you need one, you’ll wish you had one.

For my Xterra, I chose the Smittybilt 98510 X20-10K Gen2 Comp Series Winch. After doing plenty of research, here are the reasons why I picked this winch:

  • Synthetic Winch Line: Since I already put an extra 110 pounds on my front end with the steel off road bumper, I wanted to keep the overall weight down as much as possible. The synthetic line is about a 40 pound weight savings over traditional 3/8” steel cable. While steel cable is more durable, synthetic line actually has a higher breaking strength. Synthetic line is also generally safer than steel line for multiple reasons including that it stores less potential energy if it breaks and you can run your hand down the line without getting steel splinters(though I still recommend using leather gloves anytime using the winch). Synthetic line also allows for field repairs if it does break by braiding the line back together.
  • 10,000 LB. Capacity: The general rule of thumb when deciding what capacity of winch to get is to have at least 1.5x the fully loaded weight of the vehicle it is going to pull. Since my Xterra is around 4,500 lbs., I needed a winch with at least 6,750 lb. capacity. I could have gone with a 8,000 lb. winch, but I would rather have more power than I need than not enough.
  • Completely Waterproof: Both the electronics and mechanics are sealed and rated IP68 which means it is completely sealed from dust, and can be fully immersed in water beyond 1 meter continuously with no adverse effects.
  • Wireless Remote (with hard-wired backup cable): It doesn’t get much more convenient than not having to worry about being tethered when using the winch remote. But if the remote battery dies, it’s nice to have the wired connection as a backup.
  • Lifetime Warranty: Smittybilt has a lifetime mechanical warranty with a 3 year electrical warranty.


Installation was super easy, especially since I already had a bumper installed that had a winch plate. Removal of the front grille and license plate was all that was required for me to get started.

I placed the winch on the winch plate to test fit how everything would fit. I quickly noticed that the clutch release lever is on the top of the case, and while that might work for a lot of applications, my grille will be covering this area up and it would be quite difficult to reach it. My bumper has an access hole on the lower side to reach the clutch release, so I had to clock the clutch release housing 180 degrees to get that easy access.

Placing the winch back on the bench, I took out all the bolts holding the outside part of the case together. This allowed the case to simply rotate and be in the position I required. With the clutch release lever clocked, the winch can now be mounted to the winch plate with the four provided bolts.

Smittybilt designed the solenoid so it could be mounted in different locations as needed for your application. You can also extend the wiring if needed and place the solenoid in a remote location. I didn’t want to extend the wiring but I wanted everything to fit nicely behind the grille, so I slightly modified the mounting brackets for the solenoid. This allowed me to put the solenoid in a position where the socket for the remote could be accessed if needed and it is far back enough to mount the grille.

Wiring the winch is probably the easiest part of the install. All the wires are clearly marked on both the terminals and the wires. Simply attach the cables from the solenoid to the winch, and the positive and negative cables go directly to the battery.

The positive cable lead gets wired directly to the battery without any type of inline fuse. Since the winch can draw upwards of 500 amps during a full weight pull, a fuse with that high of capacity just isn’t available. The winch is essentially wired up the same way as the starter on your car, and as long as your wires are installed in a way that they won’t rub and cause abrasions, you will be safe.

I used the old zip tie wire separator trick to manage the cables and keep everything looking nice and clean.

The fairlead and grille were ready to get bolted up and the last thing that needed to be done was to wind the winch cable onto the drum. When winding the cable you must have at least 10 wraps around the drum, and it must be under at least 1,000 lbs. of tension. This is so the cable doesn’t fall between each wrap and cause a cable jam.

The worse thing for a winch is letting it sit for excessive amounts of time unused. It is recommended to pull the winch cable out all the way (except for the last 10 wraps) and pull it back in under tension at least once a month. This will keep the internals lubricated and you will know that it is ready for use when you need it.

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