In this article, we’re examining the important differences between two products that get confused too often – tow straps and recovery straps.
These straps might seem similar, but there are very important differences that make them suited for different tasks.
We’ll break down the differences and give you our top product picks.
What is a Tow Strap, and What is it Used For?
A tow strap is meant for just what the name implies – towing a vehicle. A tow strap is attached between vehicles to tow a freewheeling vehicle from one place to the other. There are actually many models of tow straps on the market, and we’ll help you identify the good ones in this article.
A tow strap is designed for sturdiness and durability and will stretch very little. They are designed for consistent tautness of the line because towing a vehicle requires a line that keeps consistent strength throughout.
Tow straps are generally made of polyester, polypropylene, or Dacron, all materials with very low elasticity, and will maintain ample taut strength.
What is a Recovery Strap, and What is it Used For?
A recovery strap is used for “recovering” a vehicle from a stuck position. For example, a vehicle that is stuck in the mud or in a rut. Unfortunately, many recovery straps advertise themselves as “tow straps” when there is actually an important difference between them.
Recovery straps are generally made of nylon, and unlike two straps, are built to stretch. The stretching action is crucial to recover stuck vehicles. The rope's stretch stores kinetic energy and quickly releases it as the rope snaps and pulls itself back into place, causing a quick, hard tug on the vehicle. This quick burst of energy is what makes the strap so adept for recovery.
This stretchability is also what makes recovery straps not ideal for towing. These straps are only designed to be outstretched for short periods to generate force when contracting. It is not designed to be fully stretched out for extended periods of time (which happens when towing a vehicle).
What Size Recovery Strap Do I Need?
Size is very important in a recovery strap because it determines the strength of the strap. You will require different strength ratings depending on the vehicle you are trying to recover. The most important variable of a recovery strap’s size is its width. The width determines its strength.
As a general rule, one-inch of width represents 10,000 pounds of strength. You might think that higher is better, but you actually will lose a lot of elasticity if you use a strap that is rated much higher than the vehicle you are recovering. If the vehicle isn’t heavy enough to stretch the line properly, then you’re losing a lot of efficiency.
Therefore, you need to get a recovery strap over the weight of the vehicle you are recovering, but not by too much.
Similarities and Differences
In this section, we’re examining the key differences and similarities between tow and recovery straps. By examining how they differ, you can better understand why you need to get the proper strap for the task you are performing. Let’s start it out with similarities:
Similarities Between Tow Strap and Recovery Strap
Although tow straps and recovery straps are meant for different purposes, they have some important similarities worth noting.
The straps are really only similar in their application, in that they are attached between cars to use the force from one vehicle to help another vehicle. But this is mostly where the similarities end!
So please keep in mind that the straps are not similar in their usage. In fact, their similarities can actually be a little bit dangerous because it causes people to confuse their usage and use them for the purpose that they were not intended. Therefore, the more important category is their differences, which we will address next:
Difference Between Tow Strap and Recovery Strap
The differences between tow straps and recovery straps are much more important to understand. These straps differ in important ways, such as:
The straps are made of different materials, mostly making a difference in the amount of elasticity they provide.
Generally, tow straps are made from polyester, polypropylene, or Dacron, while recovery straps are made of nylon. This makes a major difference in the amount of elasticity allowed (and necessary) for each task.
Towing requires very little elasticity because of the constant tug on the line. Recovery requires quite a bit because the elasticity stores kinetic energy, which is released when the strap contracts.
An obvious difference, but no less worth mentioning. A tow line is ideal for towing a freewheeling vehicle for long distances, while a recovery strap is ideal for recovering a vehicle from a stuck position.
Hooks vs. No Hooks
Another important difference that you might notice are hooks. The only type of line which should have hooks is a tow line.
A recovery line with hooks is very dangerous because the hooks will fly about if they come loose, presenting an immediate danger to everyone in the area.
Top Pick Between a Tow Strap and a Recovery Strap
Now that we’ve examined the main differences between a tow strap and recovery strap, you might be wondering which is best for you. The answer should be obvious at this point – it depends on what you need the strap for!
If you need to tow a vehicle, you need a tow strap. If you need to recover a vehicle, you need a recovery strap. There really is no two ways about it.
A tow strap does not have the elasticity to act as a recovery strap. If you try, you risk damage to both vehicles. It does not have the elasticity to withstand the heavy tug required and might actually snap before it recovers the vehicle. A snapped rope can danger everyone in the vicinity, especially if the strap has hooks!
Likewise, a recovery strap cannot be used as a tow strap. A tow strap needs to remain taut throughout the process, and a recovery strap would remain in its outstretched position throughout. Not only is this inefficient, but the strap is not meant to remain outstretched for so long and may break.
Therefore, you need to choose the strap based on the job you are doing. Below, we’ve picked our two favorites for each job:
Overview of Our Favorite Tow Strap and Recovery Strap
In this section, we’re giving you our two top picks! Below, we’re examining our favorite tow strap and our favorite recovery strap. Of course, keep in mind that each strap needs to be rated for the vehicle you are towing. So be sure to check the weight rating to see whether it’s the best strap for you.
Best Tow Strap: JCHL Nylon Tow Strap with Hooks
- 20,000 Lb Break Strength Capacity For Great Power
- Combination Of Nylon And Polyester For Increased Strength With Low Elasticity
- Reinforced Stitching At Both Ends
- Safety Hooks Have Retaining Clips
- Strong Enough For Atvs, Pickups, And Suvs
- Some May Prefer Hookless Design
- Not The Most Durable Strap
What Recent Buyers Report: Buyers were quite happy with this product overall. Buyers tell all sorts of stories of how this tow rope helped them out of a pinch or just gave them the peace of mind needed to know they had it. Buyers were quite happy with the quality and durability of this rope.
Why it Stands Out To Us: This is simply a quality tow rope. It has the required elasticity and strength for the job. There are stronger tow ropes out there, but this one is more than fine for general use. It is perfectly ideal for someone who needs an affordable tow rope to get them out of a pinch when needed. It is made with durable materials and is easy to set-up and use. Hopefully, you won’t need it often, but it’s good to know it’s there!
The Bottom Line: This is a great tow rope to have as an insurance policy. That makes it the ideal tow rope for most people. You might need something more durable if you are towing all the time, but this is a great rope to have in your trunk in case you need it.
Best Recovery Strap: ARB ARB710LB
- 24,000 Lbs. Breaking Strength
- 100% Nylon Gives It Ideal 20% Elasticity. Not Too Much, Not Too Little
- Woven To Exact Specifications And Tested By Nata Laboratory
- Loops For Attachment – No Unsafe Hooks
- Reinforced Eyes
- Quite Pricey
- Not Strong Enough For Very Large Vehicles (Although There Are Strength Options)
What Recent Buyers Report: Buyers were very happy with this product overall. They made specific note of the quality and durability, which leads to great functionality. Simply put, it worked for them when they needed it.
Why it Stands Out To Us: This rope is excellent and was built specifically for recovery purposes. It has ample elasticity to store kinetic energy and give the car the extra jolt that is needed. We were also very impressed with its quality construction. It looks and feels extremely solid, and you can tell it was built to exacting manufacturing standards. It works, and it will recover many vehicles from a jam, which is the best thing you can say about a recovery strap.
The Bottom Line: This is a high-quality strap that was built specifically for recovery purposes. It’s not a tow strap disguised as a recovery strap. It has the strength and elasticity required for this specific job.
With any heavy-duty equipment, there are important safety concerns to be kept in mind. Please do not think of this as an exhaustive list, and be sure to follow all manufacturer’s recommendations for the specific product you choose.
Tow Strap Safety
Strength and Durability: At a minimum, your tow strap needs to have a tow rating greater than the weight of the vehicle you are pulling. This is important so that the strap doesn’t snap, which causes the hazard of a wildly swinging rope and a loose vehicle.
Driver of Vehicle in Tow: The drivers of both vehicles must know what they are doing. Towing with a strap requires a driver in the vehicle in tow. The car is in neutral, and the driver needs to pay constant attention to the brakes to keep the rope taut. They also act as the brakes for both vehicles.
Recovery Strap Safety
Weight Rating and Material: A recovery rope needs to be properly weighted for the vehicle you are trying to recover. This is important, so the rope doesn’t snap from too much exertion. However, be sure not to buy a recovery strap with a weight rating that is too high. The result will be a lack of elasticity, making it difficult to generate the kinetic energy required to jolt the vehicle out of place.
Also, be sure that you buy a recovery strap specifically designed for that purpose. It should ideally be made of nylon so that it has the proper elasticity.
Hooks: Do not buy a recovery strap with hooks! Hooks has the potential to snap off or to flail wildly if the strap snaps. Recovery straps with hooks are not safe for use.
How to Use a Tow Strap
Using a tow strap is not overly complicated if you have the proper strap for the job. Here is how to attach and release different types of tow straps.
Where To Hook A Tow Strap
A tow strap will be hooked to the rear of the vehicle towing and the vehicle's front being towed. Generally, there will be a trailer hitch or a mounting point near the car's rear bumper. On the vehicle being towed, it will generally be attached to a tow hook or a steel loop located toward the front of the vehicle.
That being said, you must follow the exact instructions of the manufacturer from which you bought the rope. We can’t tell you exactly how each strap is used because it is not safe to generalize, and it differs based on the type of strap and the vehicle to which you’re attaching.
How To Use A Tow Strap Without Hooks
The same advice goes for attaching a tow strap without hooks. You need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions because tow straps may have different strap or loop systems. It would not be safe to give general advice in this regard, but the instructions will be quite intuitive.
A tow strap without hooks will often be attached using D-shackles to a vehicle’s attachment points, but you need to check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to know for sure.
How To Release A Tow Strap
Releasing a tow strap is pretty intuitive once you have already attached it. Just make sure the vehicles are both turned off, and you are in an area where it is safe to get underneath a car. Don’t do this on the side of a highway, for example.
How to Attach a Recovery Strap
This section contains a general guide for using a recovery strap. As with the section above, be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions before taking on this task.
Preliminary: Before using the strap, check its condition. Make sure there are no knots, tears, weak spots, or anything that would compromise its integrity.
Setting Up: Form an “S” shape with the strap between vehicles before attaching. This ensures there is enough room to allow a preliminary stretching of the rope so the towing car can get into position slowly.
Attaching: You need to attach the recovery strap to points on both vehicles, specifically designed to support a heavy tow load. It must be attached to the rear of the towing vehicle and the front of the vehicle being towed for maximum effectiveness. You’ll need to consult each vehicle’s owner’s manual to know where to attach it.
You’ll also need to view the instruction manual of the recovery strap as well so that you follow exact attachment instructions. Because recovery straps are usually looped, you’ll likely have to use D-shackles to attach the strap.
Thank you for reading our guide to recovery straps and tow straps. Hopefully, this guide has enlightened you to the important differences between tow straps and recovery straps. We hope you enjoy our top picks, but be sure they are properly weighted and graded for your vehicle.
People Also Ask
Let’s check out some commonly asked questions about recovery straps and tow straps before we wrap up.
Is It Legal To Tow A Car With A Tow Strap?
Of course, the answer is it depends. Generally speaking, yes, but we can’t possibly speak for every municipality in the world. Also, different laws apply to different roads. It is generally not legal to use a tow strap on a major highway, for instance.
How Much Does a Tow Strap Cost?
You can generally get a tow strap for between $20-$100. The more extensive packages might include extra accessories to help with storage and attachment and also may be made with more durable construction.
How Much Does a Recovery Strap Cost?
A quality recovery strap is generally a bit more expensive than a tow strap, but it does depend. You should expect to pay between $50-$100 for a quality strap, with outliers on each end.