How To Properly Use a Tow Strap

01
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About Tow Straps, Hooks and Cables

tow strap truck
Properly attaching your tow strap is crucial. Matt Wright

A tow strap can be very useful in getting you out of a fix. If you get stuck, a tow strap (or cable) can be the saving grace that takes you 10 feet to solid ground. If your car breaks down, it might be safe to use a tow strap to get the car to a safer place so you can have it towed or make a repair. Used correctly, a tow strap (basically a strong nylon strap with hooks on each end) can be a life saver. Use incorrectly and you can cause damage to your car, or maybe worse.

How to Safely Use a Tow Strap 

At first glance, a tow strap and a tow chain appear to be similar tools that do similar things. By design, they are just that. Both are used to attach to two vehicles, one being used to pull the other. But the practical reality of the tow chain versus the tow strap is huge. If you have access to these two tools, use a tow strap. You may think that the chain is much stronger, but the weight of these two tools isn't relevant to their strength. If they're in good condition, the chain and strap have a fairly equal chance of breaking, which is small. That being said, there's always a chance either could fail. More likely than breaking, both hooked devices have a chance of slipping free of their attachment points. This is where the difference in weight can make a huge, well, difference! 

If you experience any type of failure with the strap or chain, it will likely be while they're under tremendous strain as you try to pull the disabled vehicle. It's at this point that both the materials -- the nylon strap and the steel chain -- and the placement of the hooks are most vulnerable. If something slips or breaks, there's a good chance the free end will come flying toward the still attached end. If it's a nylon strap, you'll have far less weight hurtling toward you, which is ultimately safer. 

02
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Attaching The Hook To The Pulling Vehicle

Strap attached securely.
Attach the strap's hook to a secure mounting point. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

Most vehicles have a solid mounting point in the rear of the car. It is usually attached to the bumper mounting points or close by. If you have a trailer hitch there are steel loops there for mounting a hook.

Attach the hook to one of these secure locations only.

03
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Attaching The Tow Strap To The Car Being Pulled

Strap attached securely to front.
Attach the other end of the strap to your car's tow hook. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

Now you'll need to attach the strap to the front of the car that needs help. Again, there should be a tow hook (a strong steel loop) mounted just underneath the bumper. Sometimes your tow hook is covered by a plastic cover. Check your owner's manual to be sure.

04
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Pulling With The Tow Strap

Pulling with a tow strap.
Pull the strap tight before you start to pull the car. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

Now that you have both ends securely hooked in, you're ready to pull. There are a couple of things to remember:

  • Never pull an unattended vehicle with a tow strap.
  • Never use a tow strap to tow at highway speeds.
  • Smooth is the word of the moment (as in not jerky).

With both vehicles manned, slowly creep the pulling vehicle forward until the tow strap is tight. Don't try to get a running start, that's not how this works. Once the strap is tight, you can begin to pull the other vehicle. Remember to keep all of your movements nice and slow. Anything abrupt will be felt doubly by the car you're pulling.

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What Not To Do

A bad way to attach a tow strap.
Never attach a tow strap to your bumper!. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

Never attach a tow strap to anything that's not a solid steel hook mounted firmly on your car. In the old days, the bumper might have been able to take the pressure, but modern cars and trucks have bumper made out of plastic and thin tin. Attach a tow cable or strap to them and you'll just destroy the bumper or pull it off altogether!