There is a huge difference between getting stuck in a ditch and your vehicle breaking down on the roadside. In both cases, you need to be rescued by another vehicle but the straps they use will determine whether you will make it home. The tow straps vs recovery straps dilemma have led many people to buy the wrong straps which are both dangerous and ineffective. You need to understand that a tow strap doesn’t have the elasticity and kinetic energy needed to perform recovery for a stuck vehicle. Towing with an elastic recovery strap can also spoil the strap or cause accidents. This guide will help you understand the differences in structure and application of each type of strap.
As their name suggests, tow straps are meant to be used for towing vehicles that can be freewheeled. They are the most commonly used type of strap because they can tow any kind of broken-down vehicle as long as you have a recovery vehicle to hook onto. Tow straps are made out of strong but inelastic materials such as Dacron and polyester.
Tow straps often come with hooks because they are not elastic hence fewer chances of things flying around dangerously if they snap. These types of straps don’t have any kinetic energy in their webbing so they are not the best for recovering stuck vehicles. They will be forced to bear the full weight of the vehicle being recovered plus the resistance involved which can cause them to snap. They are much similar in function to a towing chain but way safer.
These are the magical types of straps that can recover a bogged-down vehicle with the help of a recovery vehicle and the elasticity of the strap. They are made out of nylon with layers of elastic webbing packed together to be able to bear the weight of your vehicle and also retract to their original size to give your vehicle the tug needed to get free. The thick elastic webbing acts like a large spring and the usefulness of the straps only lasts as long as it retains its elasticity.
The capacity of each recovery depends on the thickness and width of the strap. For recovery to happen effectively, the strap’s Maximum Breaking Strength (MBS) has to be twice or three times the weight of the vehicle.
When attached to the recovery vehicle, the strap stretches as the vehicle pulls. The power from the vehicle and the strap’s recovery process to its original size causes a tug on the stuck vehicle forcing it to break free. After multiple uses, recovery straps lose their elasticity and can now be used as tow straps although a worn-out recovery strap is more likely to break when used for towing. Recovery straps don’t have hooks because they can be dangerous if the strap breaks and metals fly into the air.
Similarities Between Tow Straps and Recovery Straps
While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably by people that don’t understand, there are actually very few similarities between tow and recovery straps. They both require another vehicle to be used in saving the stuck or broken-down vehicle. Tow straps rely entirely on the power of the towing vehicle though, while recovery/snatch straps rely on their own kinetic energy to give the tug and the recovery vehicle to tow the stuck vehicle to safety.
Differences Between Tow Straps and Recovery Straps
Recovery straps need to act like springs and retract back to their original size when used in recovering stuck vehicles so nylon is the material used. Tow straps on the other hand only need to be strong enough to keep the freewheeling vehicle being rescued in tow. Tow straps are therefore made of polypyrene, Dacron, and polyester.
Hooks are a lifesaver when you need to tow your vehicle. All you have to do is connect them onto a D-ring at the front of your vehicle and leave the rest to the power of the towing vehicle. That is why tow straps come with metal hooks.
When recovering, it is a different story though. Recovery straps only use a strengthened loop which you will use instead of a hook. The elasticity and recovery process can easily cause things to break and metals flying around can be dangerous for vehicles and people involved.
The capacity of a strap may vary from strap to strap depending on the thickness and the quality of webbing used. However, recovery straps are way more powerful than tow straps pound for pound. The nylon webbing has kinetic energy just like a spring so when the recovery vehicle pulls, the material recovers sharply causing a tug that causes a bogged down vehicle to get free. Recovery straps don’t have to be stretched to their limit for the job to be done. Tow straps depend entirely on the ability of the material so even the thickest tow strap won’t be as powerful as a recovery strap.
- Length Of Service
Recovery straps have a limit to the number of times they will snatch and recover fully to their previous size and health. It is wise to take recovery ropes out of service if you notice severe bruising on a particular point of the rope. The life of a tow or recovery strap will depend on the number of times you use it and how well you clean and maintain it. Recovery straps do a tougher job than tow straps though, so you can expect them to leave your tow straps in the toolbox.
Many people will tell you that once a recovery rope or strap loses its elasticity, it becomes a tow rope. That’s not necessarily true though. When the elasticity is gone out of the nylon, the bear thread won’t be strong enough to tow because it is just not meant for that. Thicker recovery straps and ropes will remain elastic for their lives though, but you may have to pay higher for those ones.
Safety Measures When Using Tow Straps and Recovery Straps
Towing and recovering is a dangerous exercise even where the lightest vehicles are involved. Both recovery and tow straps and ropes can break and when they do, things go flying through the air and people can get hurt. Failure to observe the proper safety measures can also damage your vehicle.
- Use the correct size of the strap
Both tow and recovery straps have a maximum breaking strength that is stated by the manufacturer. You have to ensure that the MBS stated is at least twice the size of the vehicle being recovered or towed. You should also avoid using a tow strap for recovering and vice versa even if the size of the vehicle is within the MBS of the strap stated by the manufacturer.
- Check the strap for weak points before using
Using an aged or bruised strap is the main cause of accidents during recovery. The danger signs are always clear on the strap if you check. You have to check the entire length of the rope before and after use to determine whether it will be up for another round of recovering.
- Clean and store your straps well
The key to the length of service of tow and recovery straps also comes down to maintenance. You should avoid running over your straps during and after a recovery to protect the fiber from bruises. You should also wash any pebbles and mud that get stuck on the straps by spraying them with water. You have to ensure that your strap is clean and dry before storing it in a clean and dry place.
- Keep a safe distance when recovering
The force from a snapped recovery rope alone is enough to knock someone out. If metal hooks are involved, an accident may be fatal. You have to ensure that anyone that is not inside a vehicle is at a safe distance at least equal to the entire length of the strap being used.
- Don’t tie knots on your straps
If your strap is broken or severely bruised, the safest measure is to keep it away from any towing or recovery operations. Joining straps or tying knots doesn’t improve the strength of any strap. It only increases the chances of breaking while in use.
Vehicles are bound to break down or get stuck in a ditch or mud pool at one point in their lifetime. Having the right straps with you is necessary because you never know when it might happen. While commercial towing services and manufacturers are left to decide which strap does what in different situations, it is good for the driver to be knowledgeable and prepared too. This article has discussed each type of strap conclusively and we encourage you to buy at least one recovery and one tow strap for your vehicle to be on the safe side.