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How to Release a Ratchet Strap

A vintage racing car held down on a trailer with ratchet straps.

A ratchet strap is an essential piece of equipment if you’re using a vehicle to move heavy cargo. These straps may look straightforward in their design, but using them requires some expertise. It’s crucial to know how to release a ratchet strap and tie one in place if you want to secure your belongings during transportation.

What Is a Ratchet Strap?Ratchet Tie Down set

Ratchet straps are also called lashing straps or tie-downs. These straps are designed to hold heavy items in place while they’re being transported by land, air or sea.

For instance, you can use ratchet straps to keep items securely lashed to the roof of a vehicle or to prevent items from moving around in a truck bed.

Types of Ratchet Straps

Ratchet straps vary in the amount of weight they can handle, so it’s important to make sure you choose one that’s suitable for the load you’re transporting. Each strap is rated by its weight capacity, which is indicated on the strap itself:

  • Some ratchet straps are rated for light loads. For example, there are straps on the market designed to accommodate a weight of just 300 pounds.
  • Other straps are designed for heavy-duty applications. These can typically handle loads of 11,000 pounds or more.
  • There are also ratchet straps rated to work with loads that fall between the two extremes detailed above.

Ratchet straps can vary in their end fittings as well. The end fitting is the part of the strap that connects with an anchor point. Here are examples of different types of end fittings:

  • Flat hooks: These are compatible with flat anchor points such as rub rails, stake pockets or the underside of a trailer.
  • J hooks: Also known as wire hooks, these are designed to fit trailer sides, D-rings and O-rings.
  • Chain hooks: These are compatible with chain end-fittings and are also called grab hooks.

How to Tighten a Ratchet Strap

Follow these steps to tighten and release a ratchet strap:

  1. Lift the ratchet handle and the axle at the same time. Make sure the open slot is pointing up.
  2. Close the ratchet. Do this in a way that will allow you to get to the center axle assembly easily.
  3. Feed the strap into the slot. Lead the strap through the assembly, and push it through the slot at the bottom.
  4. Connect the hooks. Place the ratchet assembly in position to secure the load. Do the same with the hook on the opposite end of the strap, and attach the hooks.
  5. Get rid of the slack by pulling on the strap in the opposite direction of the ratchet hook. Eliminate excess slack between the two hooks and tighten the strap by pumping the ratchet handle. Take care to not wind too much strap around the center axle assembly. If the strap wound around the center axle is thick enough to interfere with the ratchet closing, release the ratchet, unwind the strap, and perform the tension process again.
  6. Close the handle. Flip the strap over and close the handle to lock it into position.
  7. Secure the loose strap end to prevent it from catching on anything during transit.

How to Loosen a Ratchet Strap

Here’s how to undo a ratchet strap once you’ve arrived at your destination and are ready to release the ratchet strap.

  1. Pull the handle to open the ratchet strap assembly completely.
  2. Locate the release lever on each side of the handle.
  3. Squeeze both release levers at the same time which will allow the spindle to turn freely.

How to Loosen a Stuck Ratchet Strap

Sometimes a ratchet strap will become stuck and refuse to release. Here’s a few tips for removing a stuck ratchet strap.

  • If the center axle won’t turn, give the sides a light coating of spray lubricant like WD-40. This will help overcome any corrosion that may have affected the center axle mechanism. 
  • If the center axle is overwound with strap and cannot turn freely with the release levers pulled back you will need to get creative. The answer is to pull the strap very hard while simultaneously holding the release levers. It helps to have an assistant, but you can also use a zip tie or piece of wire to hold the release lever in place. With both release levers retracted grab the strap with both hands and pull hard. The center axle should turn with enough force. 
  • Sometimes the ratchet strap is too tight which makes releasing the ratchet pawls difficult. If squeezing both release levers does not free the ratchet you may need to apply tension to one side of the ratchet while releasing the opposite side. Open the ratchet and start to close it, but not enough to move the pawl to the next tooth. Once the center axle turns slightly the opposite release lever should be free, but the tension will be transferred to the other lever. Ease the handle back and there should now be enough slack to let the ratchet loosen.

Once you’re done using your ratchet straps, store them in a cool, dry place to prevent damage. For safe transportation of your items, always be sure to select the right ratchet strap for the job and use it as directed.

Check out all the tie-downs available on NAPAOnline, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to release a ratchet strap, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Warren Clarke View All

I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.

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