Car Advice

How to use a snatch strap

If you drive off-road, sooner or later you’ll either need recovering or need to recover someone. Here’s how to use a snatch strap correctly and safely.

EVERY TIME I review a four-wheel drive, the first thing I look at is whether it has recovery points as standard, or whether they could be easily fitted. But, just having recovery points isn’t enough. You have to know how to use them properly, because if you don’t you can risk doing damage to your own and possibly someone else’s vehicle and you also run the risk of injuring yourself.

Here’s a quick guide to attaching straps – snatch straps, winch extension straps or whatever you need – to vehicles with towbars.

The right way(s) to attach a snatch strap

How to attach a snatch strap

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(Above) Insert the pin through the eye of the strap.  You’ll need about ten tonnes of force to bend the pin, and by that time something else will have broken, the vehicle will have been recovered or placed into orbit. However, do not use this method if there will be significant side pull on the strap as it may damage the strap eye against the hitch.

How to attach a snatch strap

This is the best method for recovery (above and below).  You can use a special device which fits in the towhitch and allows a shackle to be threaded through.  The better ones can rotate to horizontal or vertical – choose one based on how the strap is likely to be angled during the recovery.  Extended recoveries can see significant wear of the strap against the shackle if the shackle cannot move so it is in-line with the recovery.

How to attach a snatch strap

The wrong way(s) to attach a snatch strap

How to attach a snatch strap

This is very, very dangerous (above) because the snatch strap might slip off, or rip the towball off and turn it into a lethal projectile. Also, the strap itself may slip off under tension and snap back – think a little mud, water, angle and then maybe an accidental slack/tension cycle.

But, the main reason it’s so dangerous is because most four-wheel drive towballs are only rated at up to 3500kg … Recovery loads can exceed 3500kg. More than that, towing 3500kg doesn’t involve 3500kg of force.

The rolling resistance on flat bitumen of a 3500kg trailer is around 90kg. On a 30-degree angle slope, and that is a VERY steep slope the total force required rises to around 1850kg.  Acceleration is never going to be particularly stressful with a 3500kg load, and any trailer that heavy will need brakes.

All this means towing 3500kg doesn’t put anything like 3500kg of strain on a towball, so it’s not rated for 3500kg of load.  So as recovery loads of 4WDs can exceed that amount, and are often shock (snatch) loads then those recovery loads can break towballs and kill people.

Finally, if a trailer did rip a towball off the towball isn’t going anywhere. If the ball is ripped off by a strap which is in effect a giant elastic band then you have yourself a deadly missile.

How to attach a snatch strap

(Above)This has been seen in the wild and is extremely dangerous. It does not make the situation any better.  In fact, it makes it worse as you’ve just made the projectile bigger.

How to attach a snatch strap

(Above) This is not ideal either. Using a standard towhitch with a shackle through the towball hole avoids use of the towball, but leaves the recovery reliant on a tongue which is welded together and does not have a large surface area for the weld.

In addition, the pulling forces are not aligned with the chassis – firstly, the force is not vertically in-line with the hitch even in this example, let alone drop hitchs where the shackle would be at a different height to the hitch. Secondly, any lateral pull will exert significant sideways forces on the tongue and hitch, especially with longer hitches. The square hitch itself is also hollow, and therefore prone to breaking – it has happened, perhaps caused by a buildup of stress as the hitch is hit on rocks, dropped and abused, perhaps over decades across many vehicles.

The one-piece recovery system shown at the top is cast solid with a drilled hole, it aligns the loads with the pin and is much shorter.

So, while it might seem like a hassle to remove your towbar from its receiver when recovering your, or someone else’s vehicle it’s dangerous not to do so. A minute or two of fiddling around with the towbar could save your life. And we’re not exaggerating.


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!