It’s one of the best vehicle recovery tools you need to own, yet many owners still neglect to know how to use a tow strap. They are one of the simplest tools you can keep in your truck, Jeep, SUV, ATV, or UTV. However, many vehicle owners purchase one and never take it out of the package until they absolutely have to use it. This is usually when they come to find out that they don’t know how to use a tow strap or worse they are missing additional equipment. That said, we want to go over the basics of how to use a tow strap and what equipment may be required to maximize the benefits of a tow strap.
What Is A Tow Strap –
When it comes to the term tow strap there is another term that is closely associated, recovery strap. They tend to be used interchangable, but they are actually two different types of straps. They each serve a different purpose for vehicle recovery and towing.
A tow strap serves to pull or “tow” an immobile vehicle to a safe location. For example, you’re car battery dies and you need to tow it to a safe location to replace the battery. Where as a recovery strap is actually designed to extract a stuck vehicle. Typically, you’ll find that recovery straps have closed nylon fabric loops. Therefore, you will require a set of shackles to attach it to your vehicle and the stuck vehicle. Some tow straps will have hooks on either end. Typically, it’s better to have a tow strap with closed ends which can be achieved with a set of shackles. As this creates a much safer system that won’t allow for a hook to fall off when tension is lost.
Tow straps and recovery straps come in various lengths. However, the most common is a 20-30′ length. As for the weight capacity they can range greatly. That said, be sure to find one with a capacity that will cover the weight of your vehicle so that it won’t break or fail under load.
The main difference between the two straps is that a tow strap is designed with less stretch. Whereas, a recovery strap is designed to strength to create extra energy to remove a stuck or stranded vehicle.
Types Of Recovery Straps –
We eluded to a few different strap styles, but to go into greater detail on each of them will help in learning how to use a tow strap correctly.
Closed Loop Tow Strap/recovery strap –
The first to cover is a closed loop end recovery or tow strap. This is the most common type of tow strap that you’ll find in stores and online. The reason is it offers plenty of versatility. It can be attached to just about any type of vehicle as long as you have a set of shackles. Depending on the distance from the two vehicles you may require one or two shackles. It’s always best to give your vehicle’s distance so as to not collide.
A closed loop tow strap will have two ends with both reinforced loops to make attaching steel shackles quite easy. You want to look for a strap with extra strength in the loops as these will be a friction point. As for the webbing itself, a tow strap can be multiple plies and typically made of high strength nylon. This offers durability and some stretch to help improve pulling strength.
Hook Tow Strap –
Very similar to a closed loop tow strap is a tow strap made with hooks on both ends. Of course, these don’t require shackles as they have hooks. These can be a quick and easy solution when a tow strap is needed. However, this poses some issues when it comes to safety as the hooks can fall off and without shackles. They don’t create a closed high strength connection. These types of straps are more recommended for ATV’s and UTV’s as they are less load weight and much easier to handle in a recovery situation.
Size Of Recovery Strap –
When you’re learning how to use a tow strap you want to select a tow strap length that can perform the job. The two most common lengths are 20 feet and 30 feet. Now the biggest thing to consider when selecting one is the space it requires to store in your vehicle, as well as the length to work with. Every stranded and stuck situation is different so I can’t say there is a wrong answer when choosing the size. That said, there are some difficulties with a longer 30-foot tow strap. A long recovery strap on a short pull on a tightly wooded trail may lead to some issues. I have seen some people just loop the tow strap so it reduces the length in half. Plus a 30-foot tow strap can take up quite a bit of space in your vehicle.
However, the last thing you want is a tow strap that is too short for the job. There really isn’t a wrong choice, but rather it comes down to preferences and what you feel is necessary for the situations you may encounter.
How To Use A Recovery Strap –
Now that we understand what a recovery strap is and what types are available it’s time to learn how to use a tow strap. We are going to teach with a closed loop recovery strap and shackles as it’s the safest and most common style.
Let’s consider that you’re out camping in the mountains with some friends and one of the vehicles has gone off course a bit and is now stuck in some soft ground. If you’ve created your very own vehicle recovery kit with a tow strap there is no need to panic.
Begin by unpacking your tow strap and a set of shackles from your recovery kit or box.
Step 2 –
Next, take the vehicle that is free and capable of pulling positioned safely to pull the stuck vehicle. Be very careful so as to not get the pulling vehicle stuck as well. If the ground is soft be sure to use a long enough tow strap so that the vehicle won’t slip or spin. You want to have a solid ground and enough room to drive forward to pull the stuck vehicle free.
Step 3 –
Once your lead vehicle is in a position where the two vehicles are within a distance that is less than the tow strap length. Begin to attach one shackle with one closed loop of the tow strap to a solid location on your vehicle. If you have a shackle hitch or a pulling location attached to the frame of the car this will be the safest place. Next, attach the other end of the closed loop tow strap and shackle to the stuck vehicle. Again look for a spot that is secure and attached to the frame. Typically tow hooks or shackles can be found on trucks, SUVs, or Jeeps. Also be sure to attach cable/strap dampers in the event of a failure.
Step 4 –
Now begin to pull the lead vehicle forward until there is tension on the tow strap. However, don’t pull ahead just yet. Get out and inspect the lines making sure they are free from any rocks, trees or other abrasive objects. Next, make sure all bystanders are far enough back from the strap in the event of a failure.
Step 5 –
With one person in the lead vehicle and another to help steer and brake in the stuck vehicle and all bystanders clear. Begin by pulling the vehicle free, be sure to let the lead vehicle pull and the stuck vehicle steer only. Too many times have I seen a stuck vehicle try and spin there tires at the same time as it’s being pulled only to get unstuck and strike the lead car because of the momentum. The key is to move slow and steady, speed and slack are two of the dangers to look out for.
Step 6 –
Assuming you were able to free the stuck vehicle come to a safe solid location where both vehicles can park. This is when you can remove the tow strap and shackles. Just be sure to put each vehicle in park with parking brakes on. Especially if you’re on a hill or incline.
Due to the fact that tow straps are designed to pull another vehicle. The situation is a bit different than a stuck vehicle. For this case, we are going to assume that your vehicle was stranded and it won’t run. You should still have the ability to steer and place the car in neutral, but it won’t move on its own power.
Step 1 –
Begin by unpacking your tow strap and shackles. Locate to safe locations to attach to both vehicles this may be a tow hook on the stranded car and a shackle hitch on the tow vehicle.
Step 2 –
Position the lead vehicle safely in front of the other vehicle. Attach the tow strap to the two safe anchor points with shackles. Be sure to inspect all connects so that they are secure and tight.
Step 3 –
Ensure the towed vehicle is in neutral and very slowly tow the vehicle. Be sure to locate and use your hazard lights if you’re on roads occupied by other vehicles. Be sure to always be in control with the towed vehicle as you need to brake and steer behind the lead vehicle.