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Always Bring a Tow Strap

Jun 04, 2023Jun 04, 2023

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A little advice from Ezra Dyer: Stash a tow strap in your car or truck. Sooner or later, you'll be glad you did.

I've used my tow strap three times in the past year. It's a yellow 20-footer from Safeway Sling, rated for 10,000 pounds, with loops on either end. A tag on one end suggests throwing the strap away when red cords wear through, but that hasn't happened yet. And this strap's seen some action. I've used it to rescue stuck vehicles on a beach with a Mercedes G-Squared, drag a Lexus RX350 up a snowy incline with a 2021 GMC Yukon AT4 , and pull a neighbor's Suburban out of a ditch with my Bronco.

With this tow strap, I've also used a Subaru Crosstrek to rescue a Toyota FJ Cruiser (snowy hill and its four-wheel-drive wouldn't engage) and used an FJ Cruiser to rescue a Subaru Crosstrek (mired in deep sand). You want to feel like a hero, get somebody's car un-stuck. And to do that, you need to have a tow strap.

Perhaps a tow strap seems like the kind of thing you carry only if you're on Ice Road Truckers or the kind of overlanding enthusiast whose FJ80 has 90 percent of its exterior covered with shovels, jacks, and dented fuel cans. That's not the case. I brought the strap when we took a RAV4 TRD off-roading last year, but I didn't end up needing it that day. I did need it a couple months later, though, when the Ditch of Despair swallowed a neighbor's Mazda 3.

Said ditch is at the end of my street, and it's a wily adversary that's claimed many a car. It butts up against a 90-degree intersection and is both deep and paved, with no curb or any other visual aid to indicate that what initially looks like the shoulder is, in fact, two feet lower than the roadway. And the street itself is narrow, so if a car is in the other lane, it's easy to turn the corner and find yourself on the edge of the abyss—or in it, as happened with the Mazda. I dragged it out with a Ford F-350 Tremor, wrapping one end of the strap around the 3's front subframe and securing the other to one of the Tremor's beefy front tow hooks. From there, the hardest part was tempering my enthusiasm so as not to rip the Mazda in half with a stab of F-350 throttle. A prior extraction at the same spot pitted a framed-out Nissan XTerra against a GMC Sierra 1500 Denali, which likewise had no trouble dragging the ditch-dweller back up to the land of the mobile.

Pulling a car out of a ditch is an adrenaline rush. Something was wrong and you fixed it using a powerful machine. There's some primal juvenile pleasure in dragging stuff around with a truck; the fact that you're helping somebody is a bonus. Out on the beach in the G-wagen, some people tried to pay me for the tow. I refused, explaining quite honestly that I should pay them because I was having so much fun.

But a tow strap isn't just for the would-be rescuer. You might also be the one who needs it. When I headed to the mountains last winter in the 2022 Volkswagen GTI, I made a last-minute decision to throw the tow strap in the back. I was glad I did, because I ended up stuck in a parking lot where I'd tried to turn around to avoid a steep road that wasn't quite plowed. The VW's summer tires slid helplessly on the snowy grade of the lot, until the car was nose-down near the bottom, with no hope of climbing back up to the exit. After much fruitless pushing and spinning, we finally broke out the tow strap and hooked it to my accomplice's Porsche Macan. Within 30 seconds, the problem was solved and we wondered why we wasted so much effort when the tow strap was right there waiting. Well, OK, I know one reason: the VW, an early Euro-spec model, was equipped with an incorrect tow eye that refused to thread into the bumper. So I had to climb under the car, in the snow, and wrap the strap around the rear subframe. Being the towee has some disadvantages.

Shortly thereafter and only a few miles away, on the access road to a ski area, I saw a woman trying to back her Lexus RX 350 out of a parking spot along the road and finding her path blocked by a truck parked behind her. Because of the snow and the angle of the shoulder, every inch she reversed resulted in a parallel slide toward the truck, until she was pinned on the verge of a fender bender. So I fetched the Yukon AT4 and my trusty Safeway Sling, wrapped it around the Lexus' receiver hitch, and dragged the rear end away from the truck.

It's now been a couple months since I've used the tow strap. But it's back in the cargo area of the Bronco, coiled and ready to go. The red cords aren't showing yet.

Ezra Dyer is a Car and Driver senior editor and columnist. He's now based in North Carolina but still remembers how to turn right. He owns a 2009 GEM e4 and once drove 206 mph. Those facts are mutually exclusive.

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