Smittybilt's XCR8 Winch and Viking Synthetic Line Combo

Aug. 26, 2008 By Robert Sutter

As I’ve built up my Jeep JK I knew I needed to have a winch. Winches are an indispensible tool to aid in self recovery and also to assist your fellow wheelers. A good winch will always come in handy when that one obstacle is just a wee bit too much and spinning the tires just isn’t going to get you free.

Unfortunately by the time I got to the point where it was time to buy one, I was already hearing from the accounting department (AKA my wife). I got the feeling I was facing certain death if I brought home anything else. My proof reading department (also the wife) says I’m definitely dead meat for writing this! Have I ever mentioned that I really love my wife?

Buy a winch or certain death? This was a difficult decision. I tempted fate and went with the adage that it’s better to do and ask forgiveness vs. ask permission and get nowhere. Seeing as I’m writing this for you now it looks like I survived. Besides, who would the wife find to do work about the house if she bumped me off?

I decided to get the Smittybilt XCR8 winch. I had read a number of reports from many satisfied users of the XCR8 so I opted to take a chance. Typically I’m leery of products that come at the lowest price but the number of happy users swung my decision.

Smittybilt introduced this winch last year with a 4.1hp permanent magnet motor and a planetary gear system with 265:1 gear ratio. Purportedly this winch was made by Mile Marker or at least very closely resembled a Mile Marker, right down to “Mile Marker” printed on the cables.

Since then Smittybilt has made a running change to the XCR8. The winch now features a 5.5hp series wound motor and planetary gear system with 172.8:1 gear ratio. The cables on this winch are printed with “T-Max”. The specs on this winch seem very similar to the T-Max EW-9000 excepting that the EW-9000 has a 6.6hp motor. Other than that they appear to be very similar animals.

The Smittybilt XCR8 has very similar specs to the T-Max EW-9000 winch. The cables for the Smittybilt winch are printed with "T-Max" giving a major clue to the origin of the XCR8.

To complement the XCR8 I added 100 feet of 5/16” Viking Combo line with an Excel sling hook that I picked up from The Viking Combo line is made up of a combination of Viking Fire Line and Viking Trail Line.

Many winches, including the Smittybilt XCR8, have a load holding brake built into the winch drum. When powering out, the brake engages causing the drum to heat up. Typically synthetic winch lines have poor temperature resistance and the heat build up can cause the winch line to melt to the drum. This is obviously not good.

Blue Trail Line and red Fire line are spliced together to make Viking's Combo Line. We also sused an Excel Sling Hook with crush proof tube thimble eye.

Viking’s Combo Line beats this problem by adding enough Fire Line to completely wrap the first layer of the drum. Fire Line is made up of a highly heat resistant fiber that has a critical temperature of 450 degrees and a melting temperature of 900 degrees. With this sort of heat resistance you’ll never have to worry about line melting to the winch drum. If you do reach those sorts of temperatures you’ve got a lot more to worry about than just winch line melting!

The Fire Line covers the first wrap on the drum protecting the synthetic line from the heat.

I’m going to pause here for a second. If you’re an inexperienced wheeler and reading this you may be asking yourself “why”? Up above I said my wife was going to kill me if I brought home more goodies, so why did I add synthetic winch line?

Synthetic line does a few good things for us beyond just looking cool:

  • Synthetic line is lighter. By removing the steel cable and steel roller fairlead and replacing them with synthetic line and an aluminum hawse fairlead I saved about 35lbs off the front of my Jeep.
  • Synthetic line is cleaner. Steel line needs to be oiled periodically to prevent rusting.
  • Synthetic line is safer to handle. Steel cable tends to kink and snag. When this happens small pieces of wire can stick up from the cable and can easily cut you. These cuts hurt like a $%&#@! and take a long time to heal. You don’t want a cut from a steel cable.

And the last and most important is synthetic line does not store kinetic energy.

Kinetic energy is not your friend when it comes to winch line and cables. We could start discussing Newtonian Physics and how it applies to winching, but I’ll leave that up to my buddies at MIT. Here’s the abridged version:

Kinetic energy is the potential energy built up in an object. When you winch using a steel cable, the winch reels in the cable causing either your vehicle to be pulled or another vehicle to be pulled. The energy imparted by the winch causes the steel cable to stretch.  This stretch causes a build up of kinetic energy within the steel cable. Typically when you are done with the pull, tension is gently released, the stretch goes away and the kinetic energy goes away with it. No problem.

But what happens if the cable snaps mid pull? This is where the danger of steel winch cable comes into play. All the kinetic energy that has been built up within the cable is released all at once. The cable tends to snap back towards its end points and it can do so violently. The flying cable can easily cause cuts, lacerations and has the potential to possibly amputate or kill. Big problem!

Synthetic winch lines solve this problem by having virtually zero stretch. Because synthetic lines stretch so little virtually no kinetic energy is built up. If the line were to snap it would tend to simply fall flat to the ground. No muss, no fuss, no unexpected trips to the ER.

Simple common safety practices like wearing gloves and placing a blanket over steel cables during a pull can reduce the risk of injury, but trading your steel cable for synthetic line is safer still.

So, going back to our question above, why spend the money on synthetic line? Well, my wife likes it when I come home with ten finger and ten toes, not to mention an equal number of arms and legs. We both agreed that this was a wise investment in maintaining that status quo!

When it came time to mount the Viking line to the winch I discovered some unexpected oddities. It turns out that the fasteners used on the Smittybilt XCR8 are metric, despite the manual stating that the fasteners in question are English. The Viking winch line comes with a fastener that screws to the winch drum. Viking also supplies an English fastener. Perhaps this is because most popular winches attach their lines with this size screw. All I can say that it didn’t fit the XCR8. After a trip to the hardware store for a metric stainless steel screw that fit we were in business.

The Smittybilt manual states that the fasteners are English when in fact they are metric. Viking supplies an English fastener so we had to hunt around at the local hardware store. An odd problem was that the original sticker that came with our Smittybilt XCR8 was mislabeled. Smittybilt glady sent us a new one with the proper markings for engagement.

Unfortunately there are a few more things that tell me all is not perfect in Smittybilt-ville. Besides the discovery that the line anchor screw is metric and that the supplied mounting bolts are metric too, I found a couple other issues with my XCR8.  The first thing I found was that the clutch engagement lever seemed to be opposite of what the operation label was showing. Push the lever to “engaged” and you get nothing. Pull it to “free spool” and it pulls. Hmmmm…

The second issue I discovered is that the cabled remote controller is rather, um… fragile. On my first pull I accidentally dropped the controller. It fell and promptly split in half. Me not happy! All that said, the controller still worked fine. I’ll give it that. Even broken in half I was able to complete the pull without issue. The winch itself pulled my friend uphill over some big rocks without even breaking a sweat. But I still had a broken controller.

Our winch controller broke fairly easily. The plus side is that Smittybilt's customer service was excellent and sent us a new controller promptly along with the new sticker for the winch.

I called Smittybilt the following day and spoke with some very helpful customer support folks. The person I spoke with explained that some units had gone out with the incorrect operating label sticker. Smittybilt was aware of the issue and all new units have the correct stickers. They were also very surprised about the controller breaking. They shipped me a new sticker and controller and just a few days later I had them on my desk. I would have been happier had the sticker been correct right out of the box and had the controller not broken, but I’ve nothing but good things to say about Smittybilt’s customer service.

Would I recommend the Smittybilt XCR8? Yes, I would. At the same time the buyer needs to be aware of what they are getting. Mechanically the unit seems very comparable to the T-Max EW-9000. I’ve even heard that the inside castings have “T-Max” cast in them. At the same time it’s probable that some corners have been cut to produce a winch at this price point. Can you accept that?  If you can then the Smittybilt XCR8 seems to be a good combination of cost and function. Newsletter
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