If there’s one maxim that applies to 4-wheeling regardless of where you ride and under what conditions it is this: There is no substitute for safety. In many instances the margin for error is slim.
One of the more dangerous situations arises when a vehicle is stuck. Even if the vehicle is upright and on stable ground, you still must use the proper equipment and technique. One mistake, and someone could get killed. It’s happened a couple times in the past few years, and the lessons learned from these sad incidents should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who drives off road. Both incidents, coincidently, occurred in Michigan, but they could’ve happened anywhere.
In one case, in 2004, the driver was attempting to pull his vehicle out using two 3-inch recovery straps hooked together with a clevis. During the attempt one recovery strap broke, and the clevis sprung back like a missile toward the vehicle being pulled. Sadly, the driver was standing behind his vehicle at that time—which you should never do for this reason—and was facing the other direction. He never saw the clevis screaming toward his head.
In another incident two years later, a 33-year-old man was killed when a metal clamp from the tow strap he and his friends were using broke off and came crashing through his windshield. He never had a chance to react, and died at the scene.
Both men left behind grieving families and friends. The worst part is, both tragedies could have been avoided had the drivers and their buddies used sound judgment.
Several lessons come out of these terrible tragedies. First, there are distinct differences between a tow strap and a recovery strap. Tow straps are designed merely to pull a vehicle from Point A to Point B over solid ground. They don’t have any stretch in them and have metal hooks on the ends.
A recovery strap is made to stretch and therefore absorb and smooth out some of the tension created during recovery. They typically are rated at 20,000 lbs. or more, which is needed for a safe recovery operation. In addition, the straps have sewn-in loops at the ends, as opposed to metal hooks or clamps.
Never use clevises, hooks, or other metal objects to connect recovery straps to each other. There is a proper way to do that, which I cover in my Getting Started class. Finally, never stand in the path of a recovery strap. While the strap may appear to be in good shape, it could still snap. Even fabric packs a wallop when it’s under stress. And, for good measure, place a large blanket over the middle of the strap. It will act like a parachute and slow down a broken strap.
Recovery operations are a fact of off-road driving. While hazardous by nature, by using proper equipment and technique, you not only clear your vehicle, but you ensure that you are around to drive another day.