How to Tie Down a Vehicle on a Trailer: Best Practices
How to secure your vehicle on a trailer the right way
My question is, what is the proper way to tie down a vehicle when trailering? I have been told to make sure you compress the suspension as this will help save the bearings and keep the vehicle from bouncing. I have also heard to use axle straps and not compress the suspension. Do I cross the tie-downs from side to side forming an X or pull from the closest corner of the vehicle? I have seen vehicles tied down multiple ways and want to know which way is the right way to secure a vehicle for trailering.
Excellent questions! There are a few different schools of thought for properly securing a vehicle to a trailer. What follows is based on our own extensive experience hauling vehicles, talking with several car haulers, and consulting with Colin McLemore of Mac's Custom Tie-Downs (macstiedowns.com), a company that specializes in developing and selling the proper equipment to keep vehicles secure.
Securing the axles vs. securing the body: There are some differences of opinion on which method is superior, but generally speaking, most professionals prefer securing the axles and/or tires to securing the frame. While it's not wrong to secure the frame, compressing the suspension while hauling is arguably harder on the suspension than letting it float and move just like when the vehicle is moving under its own power. The compressed suspension is also constantly tugging on the straps, creating additional and unneeded stress on them. Attaching straps to the axles is often easier and requires less equipment to make a secure connection, and attaching to the axles is every bit as strong as attaching to the frame. The components that keep the axles attached to the vehicle are the same ones that keep them square under your vehicle. If they're strong enough to do that, they're strong enough to keep your vehicle secure on a trailer. The amount of stress added to the suspension bushings and parts is minimal, and if you're strapping down a vehicle so tight that you're causing suspension damage, then most likely you're getting the straps too tight. Axle straps are one method of securing the axles, while tire baskets (straps that go over the tires and attach to the trailer) are another equally viable method. What is most definitely not acceptable is doing half and half. Securing one end of the vehicle at the frame and the other at the axles is a recipe for loose straps and trouble.
Crossed vs. straight straps: Another contested topic, some people advocate crossing the straps in an X pattern, while others are proponents of having as straight a pull as possible. McLemore is a firm advocate of a straight pull, and he brings up some valid points. A strap achieves its maximum rating when pulled in as straight a line as possible, and any side-loads introduced reduce the theoretical capacity of the strap. If one strap fails with an X pattern, the remaining strap will have a tendency to pull the vehicle over to one side of the trailer, where it too can become loose due to the shorter distance. He also points out that most X patterns are the result of having improper tie-down locations or straps that are the wrong length. He points out that most of the time you see crossed straps because the anchor is too close to the vehicle or the straps are too long to work for a straight pull. Having the proper anchor placement and straps for the application is best. He also points out that crossed straps can abrade each other, shortening strap life. Still, even he acknowledges that crossing straps isn't wrong, it's just less right than a straight pull. It's also not a good idea to mix and match, i.e., cross one pair of straps and not the other.
Number of straps: There's little confusion on the number of straps needed to properly secure a vehicle. The law in most states require a strap at all four corners of the vehicle, and all of the experts agree. Substituting straps for anything other than chains and chain binders is also a big no-no. Using a Jeep's winch to secure the front is a terrible idea and really hard on the winch. Come-alongs are not acceptable, nor are using inferior straps for the load. A set of motorcycle tie-downs is not adequate for a vehicle. We've also never understood people who build an $80,000 Jeep and then use the cheapest import straps they can find to tie it down. Investing in a good set of tie-downs is just like a winch or a fuel injection system: Going with a name brand is safer and will last much longer than going cheap.