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4wd: Recovery Equipment

Using Winches and Snatch Straps

Selecting recovery equipment for your vehicle is a bit like selecting a four wheel drive. First, you need to examine where, when and what you are going to be doing - then select the most suitable equipment.

Why Fit a Winch?

As a fast and effective method of extricating yourself from sticky situations, electric power or recovery winches are convenient labour saving devices. Many 4WD owners have ambitions of adding an electric power winch to their arsenal of off-road equipment. Why? Because they look the part mounted to the front of the vehicle? Possibly. A winch should be looked upon as a last resort to recovery and if your 4x4 isn't equipped by nature of design, to handle arduous, uneven terrain in regions of poor traction then you should really be questioning the suitability of adding a winch.

Vehicles manufactured with low-range gearing, good ground clearance and capable tyres are candidates for a winch, while low ground clearance all-wheel drive cars aren't designed for terrain that may call for a winch recovery.

There are four types of winches

Hand operated

Hand operated, or tirfors as the are commonly called. This relies upon a person to apply the power by pushing a lever or winding a handle. These are the cheapest, most easily portable and most versatile, but the available power depends on you to deliver the power. These also allow you to remove them from the vehicle when not required, thereby reducing weight, and are more versatile in that you can attach them any point on the car and pull in any direction.


The electric winch is powered by the battery, and the winch is normally mounted permanently to the front of the vehicle, but a good idea is if you can make it removable so that you can mount it at the rear of the vehicle. Because there are the odd times that you may need to winch your self out backwards or there is not enough room to turn around. Also with an electric winch it is a good idea to have an auxiliary battery to power the winch. To have the winch transferable to the front or back, you may need to have a winch carrier which can be purchased from several suppliers, but requires extended wiring set in the vehicle. The more standard forward recovery permanently mounted winch adds a lot of weight permanently to the front of the car, but requires less set-up before each use.

Power take off

This is a mechanically driven from the drive train (either gearbox or transfer case) and is capable of operating all day long. Winding speeds are determined by two factors: the gear selected at the gearbox and the engine revs. Because it is driven from the gearbox, it gives you one speed one way and four or five speeds the other way. Some models have a hand crank fitted so that the winch can be wound manually if the engine is not operational. Unlike electric, these winches are able to be operated all day without overheating, however they are very expensive and limited to a select number of vehicles on the market.


Hydraulic is regarded as highly desirable, this is somewhat uncommon in sizes small enough for family four-wheel drivers. Hydraulic fluid from a pressure pump driven by the engine and controlled by a two-way valve powers the hydraulic motor on the winch. It is very controllable and durable, but relatively expensive. Generally driven by the power steering pump, these winches are slightly slower in line speed then electric or PTO, but can do not suffer from overheating like electric, and are usually more adaptable to newer vehicles than PTO.

Winching and winch accessories

Winches are used for assisting a vehicle to move from an undesirable position. One end of the winch cable is attached to a form of anchor and the cable is wound in to move the vehicle. If a tree is used as anchor, a tree trunk sling must be used to protect the tree.

Snatch block

This is a pulley block through which the winch cable is run to double the winch's effective power. Multiple snatch blocks provide a tremendous gain in pulling strength: for this reason, use only high-quality snatch blocks. Never winch using a snatch block in combination with a snatch strap they can kill.

Using a snatch-strap

Snatching is the easiest and simplest of vehicle recovery, provided you have another vehicle to assist you. The snatch-strap is the single most important and frequently used piece of recovery equipment. You should never venture off-road without one onboard. The strap acts like a elastic band, once it reaches it's maximum stretch it contracts and snatches the bogged vehicle hopefully free.

Below is the procedure for snatch-strap recovery:

1. Line the towing vehicle up as straight as possible with the bogged vehicle.

2. Uncoil the snatch-strap completely, removing any twists or knots, and securely attach to both vehicles. Use only rated and stamped 'D' or bow shackles. Screw them up finger tight then back off slightly. It is sometimes necessary to join 2 straps to gain adequate distance from the boggy area so that the tow vehicle doesn't also become bogged. To join 2 straps together by threading the loop of one strap through the loop of other strap and back through its own loop to form a slip knot. Place a stick or a rolled up news paper between the knots to allow the straps to be easily undone. Never join 2 snatch - straps together with a shackle. If something brakes the shackle can be a lethal missile.

3. Bring the tow vehicle to within a few metres of the bogged one if possible. Clear all spectators well out of harms way.

4. The tow vehicle should then accelerate away gently, taking up the slack whilst the bogged one assists by trying to drive out. Once the strap reaches maximum stretch the bogged vehicle should spring free. If not, try again using slightly more power and acceleration.

5. Once the bogged vehicle is free, both vehicles should continue driving until you reach firm ground. Try to avoid driving over the straps as it may become entangled under the vehicle. Stop and disconnect the strap. Shake off any sand or mud and roll up the strap neatly.

6. If the strap has become dirty or wet in the process, make shore you hose off when you get home and dry it thoroughly, ready for next time. A quality snatch-strap that is well maintained will give you many trouble free years of service.

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