It’s obvious that a winch cable is a requirement for a tow truck. Without it, the tow truck is useless unless the vehicle being towed is operable and that’s usually not the case considering it needs to be towed. The cables on tow truck winches are the backbone to many of the operations of a tow truck. Like a backbone, they have to be strong; very strong. They take a lot of abuse and get worked a lot. That is why they are made with special materials and methods.
Typically, tow truck winch cables are made out of steel or synthetic materials. They can have a core that is made from different material than the exterior. They can have a 15,000 lb. load limit or a 5,000 lb. load limit. They can have different break strengths. There is a lot of effort and focus that goes into manufacturing a cable and there is good reason why. Should the winch cable fail, it can not only be dangerous; it can be deadly.
Winch cables have their limits. When these limits are reached, the cable can snap and cause severe consequences. . Let’s say you have a winch cable with a rated pulling capacity of 9,000 lbs. This means the cable can pull 9,000 pounds. However, to be safe and to take into account all the possible scenarios a cable can be put into, the “break strength” of that cable should be at least 13,500 lbs. If that break strength is surpassed and it snaps, that’s 13,500 lbs of force suddenly whipping back from its source which is the tow truck and most likely, its driver. That force can easily dismember a human with little to no effort. There are ways to prevent cable failure and prolong cable life.
Before using the cable, visually inspect it. Look for frayed sections and deep cuts. These are weakened areas of the cable. Should those be found, it’s time to replace the cable. Also, make sure cable is clean. It’s not uncommon for the cable to be slashed with oil, grease of fuel when they are used on tow trucks. Make sure to use good degreasing cleaners to keep the cable clean. Not only is it safe, it keeps it looking good! Another large part of which cable care is to ensure the cable does not get bound up in itself. Make sure the drum roller is clean and rolling freely as the cable wraps around it. This can easily be fixed by extending the cable as far as it goes and then keeping tension on the cable as it is retracted to ensure even winding on the roller. That’s the technical stuff!
Just use common sense. Use snatch blocks to take direct pressure off the cable. Don’t stand in the cable’s direct path. If your truck has a remote controlled winch, use it. Keep your customers away while winching. Your tow truck is your lively hood. Don’t let it take your life!