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A 4x4 winch is a device used on off-road vehicles to assist in moving fallen trees and other obstructions from the trail, or to help get a vehicle pulled from a stuck condition. Commonly mounted to the front bumper area of the vehicle, the 4x4 winch can also be mounted to the rear bumper area of the vehicle, or be mounted to a winch plate, that will allow the user to attach it to a hitch at either end of the vehicle. The most frequently used style of 4x4 winch is operated off of a battery that is typically wired into the vehicle's electrical system, however, some extreme-duty winches are powered off of a power take off (PTO) shaft that is attached to the vehicle's transmission.
While the earliest versions of the 4x4 winch used a steel cable to pull obstructions or vehicles, the cable was dangerous and injured many users. When pulled too tightly, the user had no warning that the cable was about to snap, so there was no time to release the pressure or to step out of the way of the cable as it broke. This eventually led to the use of synthetic winch cables or ropes that were not as dangerous.
Unlike the steel 4x4 winch cable, the synthetic cable does not store energy. When the steel cable of a 4x4 winch breaks, the cable might snap back and injure or kill the winch operator or an onlooker. The synthetic cable simply falls to the ground if broken. This is not only better for anyone near the 4x4 winch, it is actually better for the winch as well as released energy, in the form of a snapping winch cable, does not jolt the winch as hard against its mounting brackets.
Most users mount the 4x4 winch to the front of the bumper since it is much easier to see what is being winched from the driver's seat of the vehicle doing the winching. Many owners of off-road vehicles, however, are beginning to place a winch at the rear of their vehicle as well as at the front. This mounting position allows the user to easily winch the vehicle out of a mud hole or other obstruction that the vehicle may have been driven too deeply into to back out. By running the rear-mounted 4x4 winch to a solid object such as a tree or other vehicle, the owner can simply winch the vehicle out of its stuck position and resume off-roading.