It’s just a little dirt or grease and a bit of sunlight, how much harm can it do?

When it comes to pulling strength, the elements can take a toll on the ability of tow straps to do their two-part job — to not break and to minimize the risk of human injury when pulling machines out of snow or mud.

So what’s the difference in maximum pulling strength between a new strap and one that has some dirt or oil on it?

“Probably a minimum of 50 percent,” says Colin Melrose of Northern Strands, in the video below, standing beside the Saskatoon-based industrial rope and rigging company’s mobile unit for testing  differences in pull strength.

He stresses proper maintenance and storage are critical for maximizing strength and safety with pulling or lifting equipment.

“Any kind of oil will break down the fibres inside, as well as any kind of small particles like pebbles, rocks, sand. They get worked into the fibres, and as there’s pressure put on, they stretch, and they start cutting the fibres inside, which will greatly reduce your ability to pull and the working load on these straps.”

Related: 17 tips for getting equipment unstuck

Other common pulling equipment mistakes include knotting the strap or rope, which Melrose says can reduce working load by 70 percent.

The eye or loop should also be sized according to the hitch or piece of equipment that’s being pulled on, he explains. “You have half of the eye to get something around. Anything greater than that, you’ll greatly reduce its working load.”

Finally, given a choice between polyester straps or ropes, cables or wire ropes, and chains, which tool is best for pulling out machinery or vehicles?

First, never use chain for pulling, says Melrose, simply because it explodes and recoils without warning. Chain is for tying down or lifting, not pulling, he says.

The choice between polyester tow straps/ropes and steel cables is more of a preference, as wire rope is more robust and last longer, but is also heavy and hard to roll up and store.

“I would recommend either a double braid polyester style rope or the synthetic tow straps. Just through experience and discussions with farmers, it’s easy, convenient and easy to wrap up and put in the back of the truck or the tractor,” says Melrose. “But every farmer, everyone out there, has their preferences and wire rope is still a really good application.”

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