The right way to use a ratchet strap

Factory worker tightening a ratchet strap on prefabricated walls.

Whether you’re transporting furniture in the bed of a pickup truck or tying down a cargo carrier to the roof of your car, ratchet straps can help your items stay safe. Also referred to as ratchet tie-downs, ratchet straps prevent cargo from rocking or coming loose during transit, no matter how quickly you may turn or how bumpy the ride gets.

Using ratchet straps for the first time can be a little intimidating, especially if you’re trying to haul something on an interstate drive. We’ve got some best practices for you to follow so the trip is smooth and your cargo is secure.

First, make sure you’ve obtained the best ratchet strap for your particular needs. Straps come in a variety of sizes and have different load limits, so your strap must work with what you’re transporting. You can also select a bright color depending on your visibility needs. This could be useful if you know your item will be extending beyond the width or length of your vehicle and need your strap to be highly visible in low-light conditions.

Most ratchet straps are flat and between 2-4 inches in length. They’re made from an abrasion-resistant polyester webbing that is both flexible and durable but has very little stretch.


How To Use Ratchet Straps

To use your ratchet strap, place it around the cargo, making sure that it lays flat and isn’t twisted. Connect the hooks to your vehicle’s anchor points. (Twisted straps can compromise the integrity of the hold, so be sure to lay your straps flat over your cargo.)

Next, open the take-up spool, also known as the axle. Sometimes you need to open the ratchet by pressing a release level first. Then, thread the strap from underneath the ratchet and push it through the housing’s lower slot, called the mandrel. The threaded strap should lay straight with the length of it overlapping the second strap on the other side of the ratchet. Pull the strap through until it’s taut, leaving only a few inches of slack.


Once you are sure both ends of the strap are secured to anchors, you can crank the ratchet to tighten by moving the lever up and down. Once you’ve reached the proper tension, lock the ratchet by closing the lever and tie down the loose ends to prevent them from thrashing around during transit, or you’ll have to listen to them beating against the vehicle when you’re at highway speed.

The best ratchet strap won’t prevent you from having problems if you don’t use it correctly. Make sure your ratchet straps are secured from four different locations on the cargo to prevent potential load shifts.

When you’re ready to unload your cargo, press the release tab and open the ratchet so it lays flat. This will release the pressure off the strap so you can undo the thread. (If you have trouble locating the release tab, consult your operation instruction manual or search online for the brand you’ve got.)

If you’re a visual learner, check out this video tutorial from the popular YouTuber Essential Craftsman showing how to use them in a couple minutes.

What To Avoid When Using A Ratchet Strap

For optimum longevity, store your ratchet with the ratchet closed and locked. Remember that heat from friction and storing in hot environments, such as metal toolboxes in direct sunlight, will damage your straps. Ideally, store these in a cool, dry place where mold is not likely to form.

Always stay away from wet areas when storing your tie-downs. Even the best ratchet strap won’t be immune to mold or mildew. If it’s raining or snowing while you’re using your strap, be sure to let it completely dry out before storing. Ratchet straps fail when then they are weathered, too worn or stretched out.


If you happen to thread your ratchet strap incorrectly, you might jam it. If so, you may need to use pliers on the bolts on the outside of the ratchet to loosen the webbing. When jams occur, it’s typically because the ratchet strap is being overwrapped or the excess webbing isn’t completely pulled through.

When used properly, ratchet straps can be an incredibly useful tool when transporting cargo in a vehicle and are well worth their value.

About the Author
Emily O'Brien

Emily is a freelance writer who loves connecting the dots among facts and finding obscure little details to weave in throughout her work. Whether she's interviewing Olympic athletes, small business owners, dessert cookbook writers, or world-renowned architects, she's passionate about shining the spotlight on good people doing remarkable work. More.