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Answered 2007-08-12 00:03:20

The design of the spare tire winch has been the same from 1996 up to now, perhaps excepting Stow&Go minivans. It works as follows. The nylon "stem" of the wheel holder has a collar that gets caught by a spring latch inside the square tube protruding downward. This is the tube which the cable comes out from. The latch itself is a stamped piece of metal with two "claws" that extend into the tube through the slots on its rear-facing side. That piece is attached to the tube by means of a flat spring, whose one end is riveted to the latch and the other one to the tube, some 3" upward. To operate the latch, there is a rod which pulls it away from the tube (the claws have tabs on their ends so they cannot come out completely). The other end of the rod is hooked to a looped flat spring. The spring is shaped like a hose clamp with two long straight "ears", and the round portion is pressed onto the bottom end of the winch's main shaft. So, as you begin to unwind the cable, the clamp/spring should turn together with the shaft and pull on the rod, thus releasing the latch. And this must happen before the weight of the wheel transfers to the latch throgh the plastic holder (which would occur if the latch fails to move on the first few turns of the shaft). Apparently, when the latch claws get stuck in their slots due to dirt or rust, the shaft just slips inside the spring. It could be a fail-safe feature to prevent the parts from breaking, but it also easily prevents the latch from releasing. Recently (as of this writing), I inspected the winch on my minivan and the wheel was found to be stuck. The previous inspection was two years ago. Back then, the latch did work and I sprayed it with silicone grease. A stuck latch should be easy to release if you lie down on your back and support the weight of the wheel by pushing it up. If you can hold the wheel close to the floor pan, there's enough room to reach the latch with a finger, through the center hole of the wheel. If it's too difficult to hold the wheel up, you can insert a long screwdriver through one of the holes in the wheel and unhook the latch with it. It still helps to at least partially support the wheel so its full weight is not resting on the latch. This time around, I cleaned the mechanism with WD-40 and then brush-painted the claws and their slots with anti-seize, and also applied it between the flat spring and the square tube, to make sure nothing holds it there. Do not lubricate the spring itself, and the machined neck on the shaft where it is clamped on. Now I believe that the winch has to be inspected and serviced at least annually. Don't forget to pump up the spare tire at the same time. Hope this helps.

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