“IF YOU haven’t gotten stuck, then you probably haven’t seen the best bits of Australia yet,” David Cook, Tough Dog Australia’s exports and marketing manager, told us when explaining why every four-wheel drive needs to be carrying high-quality recovery gear.
Believing you’re never going to get stuck – heck, even the best-equipped 4x4 can get bogged down axles deep – is the first problem, because every remote-area tourer can count on getting stuck kilometres from civilisation at least once in their offroading life.
Once you’ve accepted you’re eventually going to encounter a trap too mighty for your rig, it’s a matter of preventing the worst from happening – having no means of getting out – by prepping your vehicle with the best quality recovery gear. If recovery boards and shovels are no match for the dilemma you’re currently facing, then your new best friend within your 4x4 recovery bag is the recovery strap.
GETTING stuck is part and parcel of off-roading, and aftermarket catalogues are full of kit made specifically to get punters out of such predicaments. A vital recovery tool is the strap and, as ARB’s PR and communications coordinator Shannon Diedrich explained, the strap is one of the simplest methods of recovery in certain situations: “In instances such as beach driving, low-traction inclines and even river crossings, a snatch strap is often the quickest and safest solution to get a vehicle mobile again when travelling in a convoy.”
THE easiest way to tell the difference between a snatch strap and a tow strap is that a snatch strap, by law, must be labelled as such. If it’s not labelled, avoid it like the plague. Also, the fibres of the two straps may look similar, but nylon has a shinier appearance than polyester.
Browse the catalogues and you’ll notice a few straps on the market – snatch/kinetic straps, static straps, winch-extension straps – all of which are designed to serve different purposes. Static straps are useful for towing and (on occasion) winching, while kinetic/snatch straps are better suited to recovery situations where you need to ‘pop’ yourself from soft sand or sticky mud.
“A snatch strap is the basic essential when deciding to go out off-road,” Ironman 4x4’s director of 4x4 products Adam Craze told us. “Whether you are in sand, mud or snow, a snatch strap can be a quick and easy way to recover a stuck vehicle. When executed correctly, it is safe, effective and will cause no damage to either vehicle.”
There’s also a bundle of important kit that works in tandem with the straps to improve recovery efforts. “A complete recovery kit should have a damper blanket, which is essential in all recoveries, at least two rated bow shackles, and, if it is a winch-recovery kit, a pulley block as well,” David Cook said. “A heavy-duty carrying solution is handy, too. Too many times I have seen quality kits let down by bags that disintegrate after being lugged around just a few times.”
Other associated gear includes bow and soft shackles, a winch-extension strap, a snatch block, leather gloves and tree-trunk protectors. It’s important to stress the importance of using rated straps and shackles made by trusted brands.
NYLON! ALL of the experts agreed that snatch straps must be made from 100 per cent nylon. No questions asked. While polyester is used for static straps, Terrain Tamer, Tough Dog, ARB and Ironman 4x4 all use nylon for their respective snatch straps as it provides the adequate stretch (give) required for the work at hand.
“We only use nylon as it provides the strength and stretch required to build up the kinetic energy to perform an effective recovery,” Ironman’s Adam Craze said. “If the product is not nylon and is used in a snatch-style recovery, this could lead to dangerous results when performing the recovery.”
Another attribute to look for is the stitch quality of the strap, with Tough Dog’s David Cook emphasising the importance of consistent stitching: “The stitching needs to be uniform to ensure that no inadvertent weak points are created,” he said. “Look for companies that have tested their product and can provide evidence of that.”
Also take a close look at the loops at each end of the strap and ensure they are double-stitched to maintain the strap rating. “(Ironman 4x4) loops are also protected with an outer sheath to protect the strap from any damage at the connection point,” Craze added.
There’s no point buying a top-quality strap when it’s not suited to the weight of your 4x4, so it’s important to take into consideration the weight of your rig when buying a recovery strap. “Get the correct rated strap for your vehicle; a bigger rated strap is no good for a light vehicle, so the vehicle and strap need to be matched,” Craze said.
As a general rule of thumb, a snatch strap – most on the market are nine metres long – should have a tonnage of between two to three times what the vehicle weighs.
“So an 8000kg snatch strap will be perfect for a vehicle that weighs between 2600kg and 4000kg, while an 11,000kg strap is good for vehicles between 3600kg and 6000kg,” David Cook said.
At the other end of the scale, using a strap that is too heavy won’t provide enough stretch to pluck your vehicle out of the bog. “A higher rated strap has less elasticity and if used incorrectly could shock-load both vehicles, potentially causing damage,” ARB’s Shannon explained. “For most four-wheel drivers, the 8000kg strap is the most popular.”
Static straps are a little bit different, “These straps come in a host of different lengths,” Tough Dog’s Cook told us. “Being static straps they are able to be doubled over and used at half their length as well. When it comes to static straps used in winch recovery, the stronger the better. All Tough Dog static straps are rated to a minimum breaking strength of 10 tonnes.”
David was adamant to remind us that under no circumstances should a kinetic strap be doubled over!
Other features of a top-quality strap include full sewn (reinforced) eyes, protective sleeves, wear indicators and compliance tags. Brand reputation is also very important, as all trusted brands set strict safety standards.
DESPITE no national standard for testing 4x4 recovery straps, it’s important to ensure individual brands have conducted thorough R&D and safety testing of products. That’s why browsing unknown manufacturers on the World Wide Web is a big no-no (more on that later).
“There is no national standard for the testing of four-wheel drive recovery straps,” said Tough Dog’s David Cook. “So we have self-imposed independent testing through a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) lab. We test two straps at random from every batch, and all of our straps have the batch stamped on them.”
ARB and Ironman 4x4 also test all straps at a NATA-approved lab. “This includes testing for break strength and the stretch of the straps. We randomly batch test every strap we make before shipping. This keeps consistency with straps and alerts us to identify any changes in the manufacturing process or supply of raw goods,” ARB’s Shannon Diedrich said.
Adam Craze added: “Ironman 4x4 uses independent NATA labs to test all of our recovery gear on a regular basis. We batch test our straps to ensure they exceed the ratings we offer.” Terrain Tamer also break tests each batch.
Looking beyond the trusted brands and you’re likely to be in for a world of hurt, as the internet is home to plenty of dodgy kit… if you don’t know where to look.
“Using a snatch strap in a recovery can be a dangerous procedure if not done correctly or if the product is not up to scratch,” Adam Craze explained. “Some of the cheap straps may not be nylon and will have zero stretch. If the strap breaks due to no stretch, people may get injured; if the vehicle fails due to a sudden shockload ripping off the connection point (generally metal) because the strap has no stretch, the result could be far worse – possibly serious injury or death. All straps need to come with guidelines and other requirements on the strap and packaging.”
We posed the ‘why avoid unknown sellers?’ question to David Cook from Tough Dog, and his blunt response was: “Because you don’t know what you’re getting and where it has been tested. Put simply, why skimp a few dollars on something that could save your vehicle, and could kill you if it breaks due to shoddy workmanship or quality control.”
TO return you and your fourbie safely home after that Red Centre expedition, there are a few safety tips to keep in mind the next time a strap recovery is required:
- Stop, assess the situation and decide on the best recovery technique.
- Make sure bystanders stand well back and there are no passengers in the vehicles.
- Use a dampener or safety blanket.
- Use rated recovery points.
- Ensure the strap is two to three times the GVM of the lighter vehicle.
- Maintain and inspect the strap and associated equipment prior to use.
- Communication is key (UHF radios, etc.).
ATTACHING a strap to a vehicle is pretty standard fare, but it’s important to ensure the tie-down point is up to the job as an incorrectly secured strap could create a life-threatening situation.
All of the experts stressed the importance of attaching recovery straps to a device (point or hitch) that is suitably rated for use with that strap … and never ever use a towball, bullbar or factory tie-down point (these are rarely rated appropriately).
“Bystanders have been killed by flying projectiles (such as towballs) when recovery straps have been attached incorrectly,” Shannon from ARB said.
Tough Dog’s David Cook added: “Towballs are not rated for the dynamic loads of a recovery situation, only for towing on-road. If the shank snaps off the towball then you have a 50mm solid-steel slug flying through the air. You can (and people have) been killed by these things coming through the window. It is so scary to see how many times I have been off-road and people are still using towballs.”
SNATCH-strap recoveries can (and have many times) turned nasty, so to prevent a strap or a towball projectile flying toward your cranium – and to rescue your sinking 4x4 – it’s important to do the job properly and safely.
“The theory behind the snatch strap is to connect a snatch strap between two vehicles, one of which is stuck. The free vehicle can back-up towards the stuck vehicle, allowing some of the strap to be slack, approximately two to three metres,” explained Ironman 4x4’s Adam Craze. “At all times, the two drivers need to be in constant communication with any bystanders as far away from the recovery area.
“A damper blanket is also recommended to be used during the recovery. The free vehicle can then start to drive forward, maintaining a slow but steady pace. As the slack is taken up, the stuck driver should also start to drive forward, at a steady pace.
“As the free driver moves forward the snatch strap will stretch, building up kinetic energy, hopefully leading to the stuck vehicle becoming free.”
ARB’s Shannon added that punters should take it slow and steady, ensure there are no kinks in the strap (it should be laid out in a nice, straight line), and only rated recovery points and rated shackles should be used.
It’s important to remember that a snatch-strap recovery requires a straight-line vehicle-to-vehicle pull technique, and the recovery should never be used in conjunction with a winch. “When you talk about winching straps, you can use those in straight-line winch pulls, vehicle-anchor winch pulls and to create a different angle if the recovery is not a nice straight-pull (and they rarely are),” David Cook explained.
ADAM Craze from Ironman 4x4 reckons every 4x4er should do a 4WD course to learn the correct methods of 4x4 recovery “Look up your closest 4WD club and contact them to book into a course on how to effectively and safely use a snatch strap,” he said.
Head to Terrain Tamer and they’ll be able to sort you out with snatch straps, winch-extension straps and tree trunk protectors. Two load ratings are offered: 8000kg (suitable for light to medium 4WDs, with a 5400kg Recovery Load Limit); and 11,000kg (suitable for medium to heavy 4WDs, with a 7400kg Recovery Load Limit). Both come with a one-year warranty. As well as the straps, Terrain Tamer offers rated bow shackles, tri-fold shovels, snatch blocks, and riggers gloves. All Terrain Tamer straps are Australian made. Head to www.terraintamer.com for the full catalogue.
RRP 8000kg: $85 11,000kg: $105
ARB manufactures three nine-metre snatch straps – 8000kg, 11,000kg and 15,000kg – all of which come in a range of high-visibility safety colours. The straps come with a twoyear manufacturer’s warranty. Associated ARB gear includes recovery dampers, bow shackles, soft shackles, tree trunk protectors, winch-extension strap, snatch blocks and leather gloves. Head to www.arb.com.au for the full catalogue.
RRP 8000kg: $89* 11,000kg: $145* 15,000kg: $187* * Australian East Coast Metro customers
Ironman 4x4 offers 8000kg and 11,000kg straps, and all come with a one-year warranty on manufacturer error. As well as the straps, Ironman 4x4 offers all types of products for recovery: winches, gloves, shackles, recovery points, compressors, deflators, boards … the list goes on. Head to www.ironman4x4.com for the full catalogue.
RRP 8000kg: $79 11,000kg: $105
Tough Dog sells 8000kg and 11,000kg straps, as well as complete recovery kits. In addition to the straps, Tough Dog stocks a 10,000kg 20-metre winch-extension strap, a 10,000kg three-metre tree trunk protector, damper blankets, rated bow shackles and pulley blocks. A heavy-duty carrying solution is handy, too. Tough Dog offers a three-year warranty against manufacturing and material defects. Head to www.toughdog.com.au for the full catalogue.
RRP 8000kg: $69 11,000kg: $99