Towing your trail rig to the dirt is something many of us do so we can drive like total idiots off-road and still get home when we have broken our junk. However, this idiotic driving fun comes with responsibility—namely, strapping your 4×4 down safely to the trailer for the drive to and from the trail. We have all seen countless vehicles on trailers with no shortage of lousy strap-jobs. And sure, the tow-rig driver may be fine with his lack of safety, but what happens when something goes wrong? What if you have to punch the brakes and quick as a flash your wheeler has snapped a cheap tie-down and comes leaping into the bed of your tow rig? We’ve seen it happen. Or what if a maneuver to dodge highway debris sends your prized wheeling machine tumbling off your trailer because you were too lazy to tie it down right? If you’re lucky you’ll get off with a smashed-to-smithereens trail rig. If you’re unlucky your big-tired crawler will end up crushing a minivan carrying a family that happens to be the cousin of a powerful senator who will then push for legislation against big-tired crawlers and close down all our trails! Thanks, you lazy bum. You ruined it for everyone!
The fact is you should be diligent to tie down your ride with quality straps and with redundancy so if one should fail you have a backup strap or two for holding that beautiful rock-scarred atrocity you love to drive off-road like an idiot. You are a representative of our sport because it’s hard to hide how much fun wheeling is when nonwheelers see such a magnificent tube machine on your trailer as you roll down the highway. Those fancy shocks and big tires are just feeding the envy of other drivers. So do you part. Tow safe, strap down well, stop and check those straps regularly, and have fun.
If you have the money to buy a trailer and a tow rig, to own a vehicle that gets towed, and to fill two vehicles with fuel for a trip to the trail, then we bet you have the money to buy good straps. Call up Mac’s Custom Tie-Downs. They can set you up with a value pack for under $150 and a top-of-the-line set of four ratchets and axle straps for around $255. That’s cheap insurance against your ride falling off and killing someone. Each strap can hold 10,000 pounds, but don’t be dumb and use only one; use all four.
Before we go any further, when you put your 4×4 on the trailer, put it in low range, hubs locked (if you have hubs), either in gear or park, and set the parking brake. This is good insurance that it won’t move. But again, don’t be dumb. You still need to strap it down.
We tie all our vehicles down by the axle tube, the lower A-arm, or a lower suspension link, but the best bet is throwing an axle strap around the axle tube. Put the straps over smooth metal. Attaching the straps to the frame or to bumper recovery points is not a good idea because the 4×4’s suspension can compress and rebound as the trailer goes down the road, in effect loosening the straps. This can shorten the life of the straps, break the straps, or cause them to come unhooked if they do not have hook enclosures.
There is a longstanding debate about whether you should cross your tie-down straps or run them straight. We always used to run the front’s straight and the rears crossed, but Mac’s standpoint is to run them all straight. If you run them crossed and one strap fails or comes loose, the vehicle will have a tendency to move sideways. If the straps are all straight and you lose a strap, the other three will still work to hold the vehicle in place.
Some people cross their straps because their 4×4 is too long and trailer too short and their straps are long when combined with axle straps. A better option is to get a set of Mac’s Cinch Pack straps. These combine the axle strap and ratchet strap into one piece that goes around the axle and then cinches tight. Using the ratchet with its built-in hook reduces the overall length from hook to axle tube.
Trailers with side-mounted stake pockets are a pain in the butt to hook tie-down straps to. Plus, they don’t run the straps straight but rather at an angle from the axle tube around the tire to the outside stake pockets. If you are stuck with a stake pocket trailer you need a set of straps with chain extensions so that the chain can attach to the stake pockets. We’d rather see properly installed tie-down points on the trailer deck.
No matter how you attach the straps to your vehicle, the goal is to have the reinforced axle straps run over smooth metal. We have attached axle straps around lower links and pulled them tight against the axle mounts, but the mounts are never round and smooth. They’re usually straight and sharp and can reduce the life of an axle strap immensely.
Looping an axle strap around a lower A-arm on an independent suspension isn’t bad, but again, feel around the arm for sharp metal that could cut or otherwise damage your axle straps. Some cast or fabricated arms have sharp edges on the inside.
When routing the axle straps around your axle tubes, watch for brake lines and speed sensor wires. It’s better to run under these than over, as they can get pinched or broken. It is even possible to route your axle strap through the lower portion of your steering C as a tie-down point.
When tightening up your ratchet strap, give it about two or three wraps on the ratchet drum before you get it tight. This added friction around the drum helps retain the tightening, where a single wrap can work loose.
There are many ways to tie up your loose, unused ends of the ratchet strap. Mac’s offers these trick little Velcro straps, but you can also use a small bungee, or run it under the ratchet handle as long as you can ensure that it goes into the locked position. Don’t let your straps drag. They’ll get frayed, you’ll ruin your investment in straps, and you may get dirty looks from the locals or lawmen.