Hard Wired Winch
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By: Terry L. Howe - 4/2000

Winch wiring
Close up of Warn 8274 with face plate removed
Winch wiring
Warn 8274 with face plate removed

Hard wiring an in-cab switch for you winch is well worth it for convenience and reliability. Sometimes, when you need your winch, you don't want to spend time digging through your winch accessory bag for your controller. You might not want to crawl out and plug in the controller or route the controller cable back to the cab. Most likely, you want to get out of a bad situation as fast as possible. An in-cab winch controller can be a big time saver when seconds are important. You can stay in the driver's seat and run the cable in and out while someone else sets the cable.

Having an in-cab controller will also improve the reliability of your winch. One of the most common winch problems is a damaged winch controller. Either the controller gets run over and the wires break or the plug gets damaged from a pull or hit. Having a switch hard-wired and neatly tied up will prevent these types of winch failures.

If you are into competitive rock crawling or think you might like to compete, the in-cab winch controller could mean the difference between timing out or making an obstacle. Recently in the ARCA event down in Phoenix, Joe Shaff and Steve Fotion almost didn't make an obstacle because of a winch controller. Joe rolled his Wrangler on a stage and winched his Jeep over and made the final gate with only 8 seconds remaining. If it wasn't for a winch controller falling out, it wouldn't have been so close. It could easily have gone the other way.

How it is Done

There are several ways to wire the controller. I happened to have a damaged winch controller, so I just cut the plug off and used it. It is very straight forward, there are only three wires. On my Warn 8274, the white wire is hot and the green is in and the black is out. Actually, I'm not sure about the directions on the green and black, it could of been the other way around. These wires correspond to the colors in the winch controller wire. The hot wire, I just put a round terminal end on crimped and soldered. This end went right over a terminal on the solenoid pack. The in and out wires I had to splice and solder in. All spliced wires were covered with heat shrink tubing.

Before you start messing around with the solenoid pack, disconnect the winch from the battery. With the solenoid pack exposed, it is very easy to cross a connection and start the winch working or just cause a short. The face plate on my Warn 8274 can be removed with a regular phillips screw driver and a 5/16" socket. There is a small hex head sheet metal screw on the bottom that needs to be removed with the socket.

When you look at my picture of the close up of the solenoid pack, the face plate is removed and at the bottom of the picture. The wires from the plug in the face plate are coming up from the bottom and the wires from the controller come in from the top. I spliced in the green and black wires with the green and black wires from the plug on the face plate. The white wire from the face plate plug runs to a terminal and I removed the nut on that and put the white wire from the controller on the same terminal.

Some later Warn controllers have a five prong plug. This plug still uses three wires, I assume the extra prongs were added to strengthen the plug and reduce the chances of damaging the connections.

I left the external plug on the solenoid pack wired up so that I could still use a regular winch controller. I purchased another winch controller that is in my winch accessory bag for use if I want someone else to operate the winch from outside. Sometimes, it is better to have someone outside working the winch since they have a better view of obstructions. Most likely using both controllers at the same time could cause some electrical problems, so be careful!

Use the OEM Controller?

When you hard-wire your winch controller, you can either use the original controller or make your own. If you make your own, it will be much less expensive, but potentially less convenient.

Winching, photo by Dave Gray
With the in-cab controller, you can run out the cable quick!

I did look around for a single pole, double throw, momentary contact switch, but I couldn't find one in normal parts stores. This type of switch could be placed anywhere and wired up. It is important to get a momentary contact switch like the one used in the controller. When you release a momentary contact switch, it turns off, so the winch will not get stuck on. It could be dangerous if the winch does not turn off when you want it to, so I would highly recommend using a momentary contact switch.

If you have a tough time finding a SPDT momentary contact switch, you could use two single pole single throw SPST push button momentary contact switches. They used these switches as a starter switch in many old cars, so they are available at most auto parts stores.

I liked the way the original controller worked. It had has a solid handle, the switch is protected from being hit accidentally, and it is on a wire. Since the controller is on a wire, I didn't have to lean over to the dash to control the winch. I can control it just like I always have, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding the winch controller.

I also like to lean my head to one side or the other if I'm on a hard pull just in case the winch cable breaks. The winch controller on the tether allows me to lean out of the way. It is also nice to have the switch on a short tether if the Jeep is bouncing around while you are winching. With the switch in my hand, I don't have to worry about losing contact with the switch. This could be a problem with a dash mounted switch.

If you use the original controller, you can also wire it up inside a center console or glove compartment for security. If the controller is out of sight and locked up, it is less likely someone will mess around with your winch while you aren't looking.

For these reasons, I'd recommend using the original style controller. You could make your own, but it probably wouldn't be as nice as the original unit.


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