How to Tie Down a Car on a Trailer?

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Hauling vehicles on trailers is very common, but doing it safely requires using the proper tie-down techniques. Improperly secured cars can shift, fall off, or even damage the trailer, so learning how to properly tie down a car is crucial. This article provides the right equipment and methods to allow vehicles to be safely transported.

Tools for Tying Down Cars on Trailers

When transporting cars on trailers, it is crucial to properly tie them down to keep them secure during transport. The main tools used for tying down cars on trailers are:

  • Tie-down straps – These straps go over the wheels and attach to anchor points on the trailer to hold the car in place. Common types are over-the-wheel straps, axle straps, and dolly straps.
  • Ratchets and cam buckles – These allow tensioning of the straps and keep them securely tightened. Ratchets provide more control over tension.
  • Hooks – Different types of hooks, like snap hooks, wire hooks, and s-hooks, connect the straps to the trailer anchor points.
  • Anchor points – These provide attachment points for the straps and hooks. Common types are d-rings, e-tracks, and l-tracks which can be mounted around the trailer.

Using the right combination of straps, hardware, and anchor points allows cars to be properly secured to trailers for safe transportation.

Detailed Introduction for Each Tool

Various colorful ratchet straps and tie-downs displayed on a wall.

Tie Down Straps

The key types are:

  • Over-the-Wheel Straps: These go over the top of the wheels to anchor them. They have hooks on both ends to attach to anchor points on the trailer. They only contact the tire tread, so they don’t damage the wheels.
  • Axle Straps: These go around axles to anchor cars. They also have hooks on the ends for attaching to the trailer. They avoid putting pressure on suspensions by going around rigid axle components.
  • Dolly Straps: These are specialty straps used for securing the wheels of tow dollies and car haulers. They often have ratchet or cam buckle tensioners for tightening.

Ratchets and Cam Buckles

These are used to tighten tie down straps once attached and get them to the right tension. Ratchets allow more controlled tightening.


These connect straps to anchor points on the trailer. Types include:

  • Snap hooks – Easy to attach but can unintentionally detach.
  • Wire hooks – Good for shallow anchor points.
  • S-hooks – Basic and affordable option.

Anchor Points

These provide attachment points for hooks on the trailer. Common types are:

  • D-rings – Bolted or welded to the trailer.
  • E-tracks/L-tracks – Rails with anchor points along the entire length.

Using the right combination of these tools allows vehicles to be properly tied down.

Preparation for Tying Down a Car

Before you start, ensure that you have everything ready for a secure tie-down process. A well-prepared setup is critical for the safety of your car and others on the road.

Assessing the Trailer and Car

First, park your trailer on flat, stable ground, and secure it by placing wheel chocks in front of and behind the trailer’s tires to prevent any movement. Check that both your car and trailer are in good condition for safe transport. Your car’s weight should be within the trailer’s capacity, and the trailer itself should sit level once the car is loaded.

Selecting Appropriate Straps and Chains

For the best fit and security, choose straps and chains that are rated for at least the weight of your car. 

Ensure the straps and chains have no signs of wear or damage and that their ratchets and hooks are working properly.

Inspecting the Tie Down Equipment

Before use, inspect your tie-down equipment meticulously:

  • Look for signs of fraying, cuts, or wear in straps.
  • Check for rust, deformation, or cracks in chains.
  • Ensure the ratcheting mechanisms are lubricated and free of dirt.

Any compromised equipment should be replaced to ensure the safety of your vehicle during transport.

Positioning the Car on the Trailer

To ensure safety and stability during transport, it’s crucial to position your car correctly on the trailer. The following steps will guide you through this essential process.

Aligning the Car Properly

Start by driving or pushing your car onto the trailer, making sure to keep it centered to maintain balance. The wheels should be aligned within the designated wheel stops or markers, if your trailer is equipped with them. This alignment prevents uneven weight distribution which can lead to unsafe towing conditions.

Applying the Parking Brake

Once the car is in the correct position, immediately apply the parking brake. This will prevent the car from rolling either forward or backward. Secure the parking brake firmly to minimize any movement during the securing process or transit.

Securing the Car

Before hitting the road, it’s crucial to ensure your car is properly secured on the trailer to prevent any movement during transport. Here’s how to attach and tighten the straps correctly.

Attaching the Straps to the Car

Wrap a strap around your car’s tire. It’s essential to choose the right attachment points on your vehicle. If your car has towing hooks or designated tie-down spots, use those. Otherwise, axle straps can be looped around the axle or frame. Never attach straps to parts of the car that could easily bend or break, like suspension components or steering components.

Securing the Straps to the Trailer

Once the straps are attached to your car, you need to secure them to the trailer. Make sure you’re using trailer anchor points that are designed to handle the weight of your vehicle. For straps going over the tires, ensure they fit snugly and attach to the side of the trailer. Attach the hook end of the straps to the trailer’s anchor points and pull any slack out of the strap.

Tightening and Tensioning the Straps

The final step is to tighten and tension the straps. Ratchet straps are commonly used because they allow you to apply enough tension to keep the vehicle stationary. Ratchet each strap evenly, applying force until the strap is taut and the car is immobile. However, be cautious not to over-tighten, as this could damage the vehicle or the straps.

Remember to frequently check the straps for tension and tightness during your journey, as they may loosen over time due to the vehicle shifting or vibrations from the road.

Safety Checks

Before hitting the road, it’s paramount to ensure that your car is securely fastened to the trailer. Safety checks are not just a precaution but a vital step in preventing accidents during transport.

Double-Checking All Connection Points

First and foremost, inspect all connection points including:

  • Axle straps: Confirm each strap is tightly fastened around the vehicle’s axles.
  • Tire baskets: Make sure the straps going over the tires (if used) are secure and not damaged.
  • Winch straps or chains: Verify they are hooking the car to the trailer firmly without any wear.
  • Ratchet mechanisms: Check that all ratchets are fully locked down and the straps have no frays or cuts.

Verifying Tension During Transport

As you travel, straps can loosen due to the car’s movement and road vibrations. To ensure continuous safety:

  1. Stop periodically to check the tension of all tie-downs.
    • Tighten any that may have loosened and inspect for potential wear.
  2. Listen for noises that could indicate shifting or loosening.

By performing these safety checks, you help ensure a trouble-free journey for both your vehicle and the others on the road with you.

Unloading the Car

A ratchet strap secures the trunk of a car closed on a sunny day.

When you arrive at your destination, the process of unloading your car from the trailer should be done with as much care as the loading process. This helps prevent damage to your vehicle and ensures your safety.

Releasing Tension Carefully

First, inspect the area to make sure it’s safe to unload. Then, approach each tie-down point starting with the ratchet straps or chains that are the least tensioned. Push the release lever on the ratchet to slowly ease the tension and avoid a sudden release of force, which can be dangerous.

  • Step 1: Inspect the tie-down areas.
  • Step 2: Push the ratchet’s release lever.
  • Step 3: Allow the strap to loosen slowly.

Detaching Straps and Chains

Once the tension is released, unhook the straps or chains from your car’s anchor points. Be careful not to let them drop or snap back against the vehicle. Store the straps and chains properly to avoid tangles and potential damage.

  1. Unhook Straps:
    • Carefully detach from anchor points.
    • Ensure straps do not hit the vehicle.
  2. Stowing Away:
    • Neatly coil or fold the straps.
    • Secure chains to prevent unraveling.

Tying down cars on trailers may seem complicated initially, but this guide has broken down the key steps using straps, hardware, and anchor points. While specific methods may vary based on vehicle type and trailer design, the core principles remain similar – compressing suspensions, avoiding contact with fragile components and evenly distributing force. Applying tension properly is also key to keeping cars stable without putting too much load.

With the right gear and a systematic approach, towing vehicles securely on trailers can become a simple routine.