This is the fifth in a series on 4×4 vehicle recovery techniques and equipment, brought to you by 4×4 Mega World and SA4x4 Magazine and written by 4×4 guide, 4×4 instructor and overlanding specialist Bernie Williams. Each month’s content will be accompanied by a short video which you can view at the end of this blog.
It’s time to talk straps, a key element when it comes to vehicle-to-vehicle recoveries. It is so easy to fall into the trap of buying the wrong equipment when it comes to recovery, especially recovery straps. Straps need to be tested and rated for the task at hand. Forget about the tow straps that you get at auto shops or the local supermarket chain. There is no way you can verify that the straps have met stringent manufacturing requirements, nor typically do they carry genuine certification.
Please buy the correct straps from reputable manufacturers. This is the only way to avoid putting yourself and your passengers and others at risk. YouTube is full of videos showing things that can go wrong during recoveries because of using the wrong equipment and the wrong application. Don’t become a statistic. Recoveries have the potential to be dangerous.
Before buying a kinetic strap, for example, it is important to take note of a few vital facts:
• How much does your vehicle weigh?
• Do you have properly-rated recovery points on your vehicle?
• Have you received training in the use of it in a safe way?
Bear in mind that when your vehicle is really stuck (as in stuck up to its chassis and not moving), then it no longer weighs the 2.8 or 2.9 tons that is your GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) as stated on your license disc. Your vehicle now weighs THREE times as much. So 2.8 times three gives you a realistic ‘dead weight’ of the vehicle – a rather different 8.4 to 8.7 tons.
Given that the average kinetic strap is only rated at 8 000kg you can see the potential problem that you are going to have. In this case, you are going to have to get a 10 000kg kinetic strap.
A general rule of thumb is that you should build in a safety margin of 4:1. In other words, always buy a strap rated to recover FOUR times the GVM of your vehicle. Bottom line, it is vital that you speak to sales staff BEFORE buying your gear so that they can help you make an informed purchase.
All too often people are oblivious as to how much their vehicle actually weighs after fitting all the accessories. Often this laden mass exceeds the legal limits, never mind the safety limits. Go to a weighbridge and find out your typical loaded weight, and then make a decision about what the rating of your recovery straps should be.
In almost all cases when recovery failures occur with kinetic straps, there are two areas to blame: first, a failure of the actual kinetic strap, and second, a failure of the recovery point.
Be absolutely sure your recovery points are up to the task. All too often, people (particularly those with SUV-type vehicles) are using transport tie-down points as recovery points. This is asking for trouble.
Also, please forget about using a weighted winch blanket to try and weigh the kinetic strap down in case it snaps. You are fooling yourself and are going to get hurt.
The best and safest way is to make use of a safety harness that is attached to both the strap and the vehicle to safeguard you in the event of failure. Be sure this item is included in your kit bag and ensure it is connected every time you use a strap for a recovery. Once again, it should be rated and from a reputable manufacturer.
Tow straps come in different lengths (either 5m or 10m) and breaking strengths. Use them only for what they are made – towing. DO NOT attempt to use them in a snatch recovery! They are designed to be used for slow, steady pulls only.
A 5m tow strap can, in an emergency, be used as an A-frame or bridle, but, once again, make double sure of the rating; it should at minimum be 10 000kg.
On the other side of the coin, NEVER use a kinetic strap to tow with. You will destroy it.
Care & maintenance
Tow straps and winch straps are typically made of low-elongation polyester. Kinetic straps are made of high-elongation nylon 66 fibre. In each case, the care and maintenance of the straps are much the same. Here are a few simple rules to follow.
- NEVER wash with soap – only, preferably, cold water with a strong pressure hose.
- NEVER dry them in the sun or leave them wrapped around your bulbar – UV rays destroy them. Dry them in a ventilated area making sure they are completely dry before packing them away, or the fibre will rot.
- After EVERY use of the straps inspect them for any damage. Make sure they don’t have small cuts or abrasions on them. As little as 10% damage can reduce the strap’s failure point by 50%.
Stash it right
As ever, throwing a jumble of tow straps and ropes into the back of your bakkie isn’t going to do them much good. Rather get yourself a quality recovery gear bag where you can neatly store all your recovery gear. That way, you know exactly where everything is when you need it.
Finally, it’s a good idea to enrol in a recovery course with a reputable institution and receive the correct training in the safe use of your recovery gear, before you head out onto a demanding trail.
Recovery Series – Part 5
Want to see more recovery series videos?
For more videos on this multi-part recovery series, please go to the SA4x4 YouTube Channel here.