How to Use Auto Ratchet Tie Down Straps

Written by joshua smyth
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How to Use Auto Ratchet Tie Down Straps
Big rigs often have built-in ratchet straps. (logging truck 5 image by Jim Parkin from

Driving with an unsecured load can be dangerous and expensive. A load falling from the back or roof of your car or truck could hurt other drivers or pedestrians nearby. Even if nobody is injured, few loads survive falling from a speeding vehicle. You can also get a traffic ticket for an improperly secured load. To avoid these problems, secure exterior loads with ratchet straps. These are fabric straps with hooks that run through a metal ratchet assembly. The straps can then be tightened down without risk of release. Using them is simple but requires some strength.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Ratchet straps
  • Attachment points
  • Load

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  1. 1

    Place the load on your car's luggage rack, in a pickup truck's bed or on a trailer. Ensure that it is centred and doesn't have items that are likely to flap in the wind.

  2. 2

    Find strong attachment points on which to hook the ratchet strap. This can be the luggage rack itself or the vehicle chassis. Never attach the straps to bodywork or corroded metal.

  3. 3

    Pass the hook on the end of the free strap through your chosen attachment point, then pass the strap over the load, making sure it is flat and has no twists.

  4. 4

    Place the metal ratchet buckle as close to the centre of the load as possible. It will have a fixed-length strap with a hook on the end. Attach this hook to a strong point on the opposite side of the vehicle from the hooks of the free strap.

  5. 5

    Pass the free end of the strap that you laid over the load through the strap-size slot in the buckle's drum. The drum is a cylindrical piece that the tightened strap will wrap around.

  6. 6

    Pull the strap tight, but leave enough slack to insert a tennis ball between the buckle and the load.

  7. 7

    Tighten the strap fully by grabbing the handle on the buckle and pulling it outward, as if to flatten the buckle. Each outward pull will rotate the drum and pull the strap tighter, while the ratchet action catches the drum and prevents it from unwinding when the handle is returned to its rest position.

  8. 8

    Release the strap by pulling the centre latch (a small piece attached by a tight spring) toward the handle. Hold the latch and pull the handle until the buckle is flattened. This will release the drum. Pull on the buckle assembly to loosen the strap until there is enough slack to detach the hooks from the vehicle frame.

Tips and warnings

  • Always tighten the strap as much as possible before using the ratchet buckle. If you ratchet too early, the drum will collect too much strapping and the buckle assembly could jam.
  • Check carefully for twists in the strap, as these will also cause the buckle to jam.
  • Grease your ratchet straps regularly to prevent them from sticking.
  • Never exceed the maximum load written on the strap.

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