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Home 4X4 Let’s start rating 4X4 recovery gear properly!
Let’s start rating 4X4 recovery gear properly!

Let’s start rating 4X4 recovery gear properly!

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There’s no standard for rating 4X4 recovery gear, so you often don’t know exactly what you’re buying or using, and that’s not good for safety.

Any 4X4 recovery involves forces, and very often forces so great they are lethal. So, we all need to perform recoveries with due care, skill and knowledge, otherwise there will be yet another coroner’s report. And we need to use the right gear, which means not just selecting the right type of product, but the product with the right rating.

Unfortunately, the 4X4 industry does a poor job of rating and explaining its recovery gear. There’s a variety of different terms for the same ratings, no standardisation on anything, not even a method for determining the ratings. This leaves buyers confused, or ignorant…how can it be safe to go into a recovery not really knowing what your gear is capable of? And in the field, when you’re trying to rig it all up, it’s confusing to figure out which gear has which rating (if at all) so it’s hard to know what the weakest link in the rig is. Even if the gear is tested, then how do you know to what standard it has been tested?

So I think that needs to change, and this is what I’m proposing to makers of 4X4 gear; a standardised way of labelling, and preferably testing 4X4 gear. A basic rating system isn’t difficult; any recovery gear maker should already have the information to hand and if they don’t, then I’d suggest their products need to be withdrawn from sale. So it should just be a case of organising a bit better so it’s clearer, and therefore safer for all. Not too hard an ask?

If you agree, please sign this change.org petition.

Of course, all the manufacturers are competitors, but can we please put that aside for a moment and just unite on this cause for the sake of safety? The towing industry has now standardised on terms such as GVM and GCM…can’t we do the same for recovery gear?

And vehicles are getting heavier. There are 4000kg GVM-upgraded LC200s towing 3000kg caravans. People are starting to use vehicles like 7.5t Ivecos. As weights go up (but they don’t need to), so too do forces. So we need to be ahead of the game on safety.

Now the idea of labelling recovery gear seems straightforwards, but there are many complexities in practice. Ultimately, there should be an international standard…but to get there is a lot of time and work. I’m thinking a graduated process over time instead. But we have to start somewhere, so below is my first draft of a standard. I welcome discussion, and hope to see a variant of it agreed and adopted by all 4X4 recovery gear manufacturers.

4X4 Recovery Gear Rating Standards

What and why

A standard rating and labelling system for 4X4 recovery gear such that buyers can make correctly informed choices about the load ratings of their gear, and when in the field, quickly assess the strength of any given item of recovery gear. The objective is to improve safety.

Principles

The rating standards should be:

  1. Useful for buying and field use- the information should aid the buyer and user of the gear, helping them choose appropriate gear to buy and then safely rig it in the field.
  2. Simple – a novice buyer should be able to readily understand the labelling after learning what WLL, SF and MBS mean.
  3. Consistent – all recovery gear should be rated and labelled the same way, regardless of manufacturer, even down to the exact terms.
  4. Easy to implement – should not place undue cost or effort on the part of the manufacturer.

The Standard

  1. Rating Label: All recovery gear must be tested (refer Point 4) and then labelled as follows:

MBS, WLL and SF – Minimum Breaking Strain, Working Load Limit, and Safety Factor. Example:

WLL 5000kg / MBS 10,000kg / SF 2x

Only the terms WLL, MBS and SF, or Working Load Limit (WLL), Minimum Breaking Strain (MBS) and Safety Factor (SF) must be used to avoid buyer confusion; no variations such as Working Limit, Rated Strength or similar are to be used. The terms must only used in the order: WLL / MBS / SF. Only the character / must be used as a delimiter.

2. Label display:

a) On the product itself, in hard-wearing lettering (e.g. etched) such that it is still clearly visible at the end of the product’s intended service life, and is reasonably discernible if the product is dirty and at night.

b) on all advertising, product specification and material such that whenever a potential customer sees the product, the labelling is clear. This includes websites, leaflets, advertisements. Example, with label shown in red/white bottom left:

3. Additional information: On the maker’s website, all product information must have a link to:

a) the test results including the test lab name, and a brief description of the test method.

b) a brief description of intended use, including restrictions. For example, a recovery point may be tested only for a straight-line pull, not offset. Metal shackles are not intended for side loads. This not a comprehensive description of gear usage, only brief notes to add context to the rating.

c) brief explanation of how recognise unserviceable or de-rated equipment.

4. Testing standards. All tests are to be in a NATA-approved lab or equivalent. The process is;

a) Test 1 – Initial MBS: at least 3 items to breaking strength ideally from different manufacturing batches, or stated if not possible e.g. first production. Then, determine an Initial MBS. This cannot be greater than 90% of the lowest test result, so for example if 5 items are testing failing at 11239 10383 and 11920 then the Initial MBS cannot be greater than 10383 x 0.9 = 9344kg [ could get complex with stats here, but have to keep it simple ].

b) Test 2 – Cyclic: test a further 3 items going to 80% of the Initial to the expected service life of the product (e.g. for snatch straps that might be 10 pulls). Then, add force to break each of the Test 2 items. The lowest figure of these 3 items is the Final MBS, represented as the MBS for the product.

A brief but exact description of each of the items must be given in the test results, including date of test, so it is clear any small variation from the item tested to the one being sold.

5. Safety factor (SF) – this is the factor used to calculate the WLL from the MBS. The safety factor should be 2x, or 50%. For example if the MBS is 5000kg, apply an SF of 2 to get a WLL of 2500kg.

Notes:

  1. No recovery item should ever be shown for sale or advertised without the label at a minimum; WLL / MBS / SF, e.g. WLL 5000kg / MBS 10,000kg / SF 2x
  2. The units of measurement shall be kg or lb only, or both. Yes, kN is the correct term, but that’s not easy for people to comprehend.

Questions to consider

  1. Should we use RLL (Recovery Load Limit) to differentiate from WLL (used in hoisting?)
  2. Should there be a SF of 2 on low-wearing items like metal shackles, and SF of 3 for high-wearing items like soft shackles?
  3. Should we use MTS (Minimum Tensile Strength) instead of MBS as the maximum? MTS is the point where the item can return to normal operation after the force applied, whereas MBS is a breaking point. However, this will in practice be mitigated by use of the SFx2 factor.
  4. How about a QR code on every product to get detailed rating information on a website?

There are a million more questions and things to work out, but that doesn’t mean to say we can’t start the conversation.

Industry Reaction

I’ve discussed this concept with a few people in the industry, and there’s broad support for the idea whilst acknowledging the complexities. In particular I talked to the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAA) and they gave me this statement to publish:

Australia has mandatory product labelling standards for recovery straps (ACCC Product Safety Standards) and the 4WD industry is working together to produce nationally consistent consumer advice across all products.

The snatch strap/recovery strap publication was released in March 2021 : https://www.4wdcouncil.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Guidelines-for-safe-use-of-Vehicle-Recovery-Straps-Snatch-Straps-HR-PRINT-FILE.pdf

The industry supports more education and training around vehicle recovery equipment and our 4WD members are keen to be involved in contributing to consumer awareness initiatives and clearer use instructions.

However, change will only be driven by the buyers of this gear, which means you. So go sign the petition please!

VIDEO

And here’s a video about it all:

Got ideas? Comments? Input? Want to help?

You can comment on the YouTube video, and/or contact me – preferably both so it’s a group discussion. I should be able to read the notes sent by the form below, but do miss the occasional YT comment.

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    Robert Pepper Automotive journalist specialising in 4X4s, sportscars, camping and future tech.

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