Tow Straps Gone Wrong

After last week’s posting about the difference between tow straps and recovery straps, we got some questions from readers about the importance of the difference in the stretch and also about “dual purpose” tow and recovery straps.

Here’s here’s why you should NEVER use tow straps for recovery (skip to the 2-minute mark to see the damage):

Luckily, no one was hurt, but this is a clear illustration of the force that builds up during a recovery.  The less stretch a strap has the more force that gets released during a break…meaning more damage caused to either a vehicle of a person.

You can imagine the potential devastation if there’s also a metal hook at the end of the tow strap (which is why SECURE Tow Straps have no hardware).

We don’t recommend using tow straps and recovery straps interchangeably.

Please share this post with all your friends so that they are fully aware of the dangers of using two straps for recovery purposes.

2 thoughts on “Tow Straps Gone Wrong”

  1. I think the use of the term snatch strap might be region specific (US, Britain, Australia), I have heard it used here for recovery (i.e. stretchy) straps, because the manoeuvre is called a ‘snatch’, while non-stretchy tow straps are always tow straps. I’m going to use ‘snatch strap’ below meaning the stretchy recovery strap.

    I could argue that in some situations a tow strap is actually better for recovery than a snatch strap, and what those guys do is wrong in many ways, even if they had used a stretchy strap (which they should have done in that sticky situation). You need the right tool for the right job. It’s hard to see from the video as they don’t show where or how it was attached, but it looks like the attachment point broke (so it had a WLL rated below the strap, if they even knew what it was), so they ended up with all the energy of the jerk transmitted into the strap with a weight on the end flying through the air. Using a stretchy strap would store even more energy in the strap thanks to the run-up it allows (which is the point when used correctly) when the attachment reached breaking point, projecting the hardware even faster (ke = ½ m v^2).

    Such as this photo that goes through the back window, headrest, and front window, thanks to the snatch strap and hardware (they attached the hook to the bumper of the towed vehicle, silly, luckily he survived)

    Or this short video of a snatch strap breaking and going through the back window again:
    In this case it is the strap alone that breaks, not the anchor point, and still breaks into the back window.

    Both can kill, and that is what a damper is for. There are titanic forces applied through a snatch strap between two 4x4s, far more than by a steady pull from a winch or another truck using a tow strap.

    It gets down to the big difference between ‘static recovery gear’, and ‘kinetic recovery gear’. Static are things like chains, winch line, straps etc, used for straight on tension pulling, lifting and anchoring. Snatch straps, bungee bands, yankers, and so on are kinetic, and used to pull stuck (literally) trucks out of their holes.

    A tow strap can be used when the vehicle being towed can free-wheel or it can be pulled starting with tension in the line (no jerk). So if the wheels can turn but it is in a mild rut, maybe stuck on the verge over the edge of a track, stuck on a rock etc – somewhere where a direct pull not requiring momentum can be used, essentially like a winch line. Recovery straps are better in sticky surfaces like mud (like the video in the blog above), or slippery surfaces like snow, where the momentum gives assistance to pull the stuck vehicle out, or the stretchiness allows a stronger initial pull with no jerk to put stress on hardware. A winch is best if the truck is really dug in, and there is an immovable anchor point to attach the winch to like a tree or a rock. So the right tool in the right situation is best.

    If you have to jerk the stuck vehicle, use a snatch strap. Even with a snatch strap, start with no slack in the line with a direct pull. If that doesn’t work go back 1 metre or so, try again. Then 2 metres, and 3 metres. If that still doesn’t work change your approach, do some more digging, and try a winch if possible.

    Just don’t use a winch like this (some naughty language):
    where the weak point is on the towing vehicle. Again they pull, the weakest point breaks, and the winch hook flies back. That truck needs digging. Again, a damper on the winch cable would stop it flying back like that.

    A lot of people here recommend that if you have to choose between a tow strap and a snatch strap, choose the tow, and use a winch for stuck recovery, as the safest and most versatile combination. But always use them safely, and never with hooks.

  2. Using a tow strap or chain incorrectly can be extremely dangerous. I have seen too many people injured and it is not something you want to mess with. The damage they can cause to a vehicle or person is ridiculous. I hope people stay safe and learn to use the proper tools and avoid hurting one of their friends. almost just as dangerous is when people trust the factory tow hooks installed on many 4X4’s. I have seen these break and become projectiles.

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