Winch Only Works One Way: All You Have to Know

It’s frustrating when you are stuck in the mud and water, and the winch works in only one direction. Yes, many off-roaders and ATV owners have been in such trouble. But worry not, we are here to help you out of this difficulty.

This article is going to discuss all the possible reasons and the solution for your winch working in a single direction only.  You’ll have to take it apart, but you should be back in business and good to go within a very short time.

If you’re grappling with why your winch goes out but not in, or facing troubles with a Warn winch going in but not out, the key lies in understanding the roles of solenoids, winch spool polarity, and conducting tests to pinpoint whether the problem is with the motor or the controller.

Key Takeaways

In addressing a winch that only works one way, several key takeaways emerge from the troubleshooting and maintenance process:

  • Solenoid and Motor Testing:
    1. Begin by testing your solenoid for the specific model of your winch
    2. Proceed to test your winch motor, including standard and heavy-duty types, to identify any faults
    3. If the winch operates when directly powered from the battery, the issue may lie with the switch or controller box
  • Maintenance Tips:
    • Regularly lubricate all grease points and inspect bolts
    • Ground your winch properly to prevent electrical issues
    • Regularly inspect the cable/rope and the braking system for wear or damage
    • Check the gearbox, transmission, and all electrical connections for signs of wear or malfunction
    • Perform load tests to ensure the winch can handle its rated load
  • Installation and Safety Measures:
    • Mount the winch on a clean, flat surface using the appropriate mounting bolts
    • Ensure the wire rope is of proper length and diameter, and maintain at least 4 wraps of cable on the drum
    • Install an emergency shut-off valve on the air supply adjacent to the winch for safety

Let’s get started on the full guide to diagnosing the problem….

Why does my winch only work in one direction?

You turn to a winch for help if your vehicle becomes trapped in the wild. However, much like any other piece of machinery, a winch can experience physical or functional problems.

Today we will see why and when a winch becomes unidirectional and you end up screaming that your ‘winch would not go’.

  • Loose Cables or Connections

Electrical faults are common among machinery tools. Wires and cables can loosen in a winch after a long period of usage. Regularly do maintenance checks to keep them clean and operational.

  • Busted Motor

Needless to say, one of the most important components in a winch is the motor. Without it the winch is practically useless. After all those off-road endeavours it’s possible that the drive machinery is unclean. Dirt particles can clog the inner parts of the brushes causing it to cease working.

  • Defective Solenoid

Solenoids in your winch work as a switch. They provide the necessary current to it. When you engage a winch, current goes from the battery to the solenoid / contractor relay, it then sends the current to the motor to start towing. For forward and reverse spooling, a winch contains two pairs of them.

If any of the contractor relays are dead or malfunctioning, the winch may not rotate at all or only rotate in a primary direction and not in the opposite direction.

  • Defective remote control switch

The winch will not activate at all if the remote switch is out of order. Water may potentially cause it to stop working by corroding its internal components.

Warn winch goes out but not in

9 out of 10 times it’s usually a flawed solenoid causing this nerve-wrecking issue. But this can be solved easily. Test your Warn winch solenoids following this process:

  1. With the help of a tester tool, check all the cord connecting the solenoids to the motor. Clean the terminals and replace any dead connection.
  2. Unscrew the mount and disconnect wiring from the solenoid. Inspect all of the connections within the housing.
  3. If the connections are in good working order, try switching the winch again.

Does everything check out properly? If not then try replacing your solenoids with brand new ones or move onto the next segment to learn about other possible solutions.

How to fix winch that works only one way

Even the finest winches occasionally run across technological difficulties. Fortunately, with proper guidance it’s possible to repair a winch that isn’t working properly. Let’s check out the following solutions:

  1. Analyse Wire connection

With the help of a voltage tester, check all the lines connecting the control box to the battery and the winch. If any of it is faulty then replacing it should solve this problem.

  1. Repairing Busted Motor

Motors usually don’t go bad entirely. Often it’s dirt particles that cause these issues of the brushes getting stuck. However, you can check if the drive machinery is functional by Jumper cable test. Follow these procedures to perform the test:

  • Disconnect the battery’s positive connection (pos). The connection to the ground should stay.
  • Spool and the motor are disengaged.
  • The three cables that travel from the control pack to the three posts on the motor should be marked and disconnected.
  • “A”, “F1”, and “F2” will be imprinted next to the three posts on the motor. Run a small jumper wire from “A” to “F1” and put power from the battery to “F2”. At this moment, the winch motor should run in one direction.
  • Next, place the jumper wire from “A” to “F2” and connect “F1” to the battery. This time the motor should run in the other direction.

Check out the following video in order to understand better:

If the motor doesn’t work you will need a new one

  1. Solution: Inspect the Solenoid

Now that we are here it must mean the motor works fine. So it’s probably the solenoids that are damaged. Examine all of the wiring, as well as the solenoids themselves. It’s possible that they are rusty, corroded or broken. In this case try replacing the defective Solenoids

For visuals on completing this task securely you can watch this:

  1. Solution: Flawed remote control switch

Another possibility could be a damaged remote switch. To fix the problem, try to repair the components or replace the remote.

Switch Problems and Fixes

When encountering switch problems with your winch, it’s essential to diagnose and fix the issues promptly to restore full functionality. Here’s a step-by-step approach:

  • Diagnosing Switch Issues:
    1. Test for Click: Activate the switch. If there’s no click, the issue likely lies with the switch or controller box 
    2. Bypass Test: Use jumper cables to bypass the switch and test the winch directly. Successful operation indicates a faulty switch or controller 
    3. Apply Voltage: Connect 12 volts to the coil terminal of the switch. A functioning switch should make an audible click 
  • Common Switch Problems and Solutions:
    • Stuck in ON/OFF Position: Disassemble and clean contacts with electrical cleaner. Apply dielectric grease before reassembling 
    • Intermittent/No Power: Tighten loose connections. Check and ensure adequate power supply voltage  For no power, inspect the fuse or circuit breaker, replacing or resetting as needed. Verify wiring integrity and proper connection to the power source
  • When Replacement is Necessary:
    • If cleaning or testing doesn’t resolve the issue, replacement with a compatible switch or controller box may be required. For specific cases like an ATV winch switch problem where power is available for ‘IN’ but not ‘OUT’, a simple double pole toggle or rocker switch replacement is suggested

These steps offer a systematic approach to identifying and rectifying common switch-related issues, ensuring your winch operates smoothly in both directions.

Do winches work both ways?

Yes. Winches can be used in either direction. These mechanical devices have the ability to spool in and out as needed. You can use the hand held remote that is provided with the winch to spool in and out as per your requirement.

Does it matter which way a winch spools? 

It’s advised that winches should spool in from the bottom of the winch drum.  This configuration prevents unnecessary load on the winch that comes from the overwound setting.

Final Thoughts 

There are so many electrical components in a winch  that contribute to its flawless operation. We hope that this detailed guide has assisted you in becoming familiar with your winch, diagnosing problems, and resolving them.

Happy Off-Roading!

Ricardo Vaughn
Ricardo Vaughn

Vaughn is a seasoned off-roading expert and professional winch specialist. When he's not out on the trails, he shares his knowledge and experiences through his writing as a blog author in the off-roading and outdoor lifestyle space.

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