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What’s Better for Your Winch: Wire Cable or Synthetic Rope?

Wire cable or rope for your winch?

It’s a debate 4x4ers have been having for ages. In this article we’ll help you figure out which of the two is most effective and under what circumstances.

Pros & Cons of Steel Cable & Rope for Your Winch

There’s pros and cons of both steen cable and rope for your winch. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of each.

Wire Cable

  • It can be brushed against rough, rocky surfaces.
  • It can’t be damaged by sunlight.
  • It’s less expensive than a synthetic rope.
  • It’s heavy and lethal when it snaps.
  • It becomes useless once rust consumes it.
  • Hard on the hands.

Synthetic Rope

  • Light and easy to handle.
  • Stronger than wire cable.
  • Less dangerous than wire rope.
  • Easily damaged by sunlight..
  • Absorbs water.

The Traditional Wire Cable

winch wire rope

Wire cable has been the traditional choice of off-roaders, due to its surface’s high resiliency from abrasion (or surface friction).

While it doesn’t necessarily mean that a wire cable’s almost akin to having a superhuman composition, it only implies a wire cable, being made of steel itself, generally doesn’t easily break.

Areas of Susceptibility

rusted wire rope

So, if it doesn’t easily break, you might be wondering, what makes it weak eventually, to the point that it can finally break? The primary reason wire rope breaks is because of rust. This is because rust eats portions of the wire cable, when left unchecked for a very long period.

Another unpleasant thing to note about a wire cable is it develops sharp burrs or splinters over time that can cut or hurt your hands. As a result, it can be very difficult to spool it around your winch, especially without wearing some form of hand protection like leather gloves.


The Burden of Additional Weight

Steel is basically heavy and adds up to the overall weight of your 4×4. Because of this, the tension between the vehicle and the wire cable, during the pulling process is greater than ever, which could compromise the wire cable’s structural integrity.

And because it’s literally made from steel, it’s typically dense or heavy when submerged in fluids. This explains the reason why it doesn’t float on water as well.

Conductor of Heat and Cold

One more thing to note about a wire cable is it’s a conductor of heat and cold. Because it’s metallic by nature, you can expect it to either feel scorching hot during the summer season or freezing cool, during winter.

To avoid the hassle of such problems, it’s always best to slip your hands on a comfortable pair of gloves, before holding on to it. Doing so, gives your hands the needed amount of protection.

Wire Cable Maintenance

wire rope maintenance

Even though a wire cable has glaring down sides, one of its positive features is it’s easy to maintain. If you want to extend its lifespan against rust, you could just apply oil or a WD-40 substance to preserve its fibers and make it properly moist.

Plus, it’s Ultra-Violet (UV)-resistant which means sunlight exposure doesn’t have much effect on it. As a matter of fact, it’s normally resilient against some harsh elements that can cause damage.

Furthermore, contrary to what others say, you can still repair a broken wire cable. However, it would take professional skills and a higher level of knowledge in such a field to be able to do it. After all, it’s not as easy as a common patchwork.

But because of a wire cable’s huge availability on the market, you can easily buy it at a very low price.

Synthetic Winch Rope

synthetic rope winch

Synthetic rope stole the spotlight on the wire cable when it was introduced as a substitute to the latter around mid-90s. Synthetic rope had always been popular in the boating world until experts finally discovered its benefits in the off-roading field.

Since it’s made from an advanced polyethylene material, synthetic rope is up to 15 times stronger than a wire cable. Yes, rope is stronger than cable.

Lighter is Better

A synthetic rope is also known to be up to four times lighter than a wire cable which reduces the possibility of it hitting you at a great speed and force, upon breaking.

Moreover, you won’t accidentally damage certain parts of your 4×4 because of additional weight and pressure. It can even float on fluids as opposed to a wire cable.

But apart from these obvious facts, a synthetic rope offers quite a reputation when it comes to flexibility, too. As a result, you can conveniently stretch it as far as you can, without the possibility of kinking.

Gentle on the Hands

Unlike the traditional a wire cable, a synthetic rope doesn’t develop sharp burrs that could hurt your hands. This means that you can still comfortably hold on to it, even with your bare hands.

Plus, you won’t be worried about accidentally burning or sliding your hands against it, due to certain weather conditions. In fact, a synthetic rope usually includes sleeves that protect it from overheating and slipping accidents.

Secure Hold

One of a synthetic rope’s remarkable features is its strange ability to firmly secure itself in place. This is because whether or not you stretch it to properly fit your winch, it still manages to “auto” fit.

Additionally, a synthetic rope has a higher breaking strength compared to a wire cable. Some of it could even go up to 18,000 Pounds, depending on the available sizes.

Synthetic Rope Maintenance

Even though it’s clear the synthetic rope has more benefits than the wire cable, it doesn’t automatically make it flawless. To be honest, a synthetic rope isn’t UV-resistant; meaning, too much sunlight exposure can damage its composition.

Another thing is its tendency to contain water, once it gets soaked or drenched. It’s because it’ll eventually feel heavy that could add up to your 4×4’s weight. Take note, it could completely freeze as well, during extremely cold conditions.

Because of these, you might need to replace a synthetic rope frequently (which could cost you more) unlike a wire cable. But you can definitely repair it easily, if it breaks, by using the correct braiding method.


Synthetic rope is now the overwhelmingly most popular choice for off-roaders who don’t mind splurging a bit. It’s combination of strength and light-weightedness means it’s an excellent choice for your winch. Wire cable is still a perfectly acceptable choice though, especially for the more budget conscious 4x4er.

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