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How tight is Too tight, or Cheater Bars, How Much are you Gaining?

Tow Professional article: How tight is Too tight, or Cheater Bars, How Much are you Gaining? Back before I started working at B/A Products I worked for a small landscaping company. We had a couple of small F350 dump trucks, a Bobcat and trailer. Both trucks had hitches, but we only had one hitch ball. One truck was usually used to pull the trailer. If you needed to pull the trailer with the other truck, the hitch ball had to get moved from one truck to another. One day I had to swap the ball, and the 24” pipe wrench would not break the nut loose. I found a piece of pipe about 5 feet long that fit over the handle of the wrench and presto, the nut came loose.

A good question would be why did the company only have one hitch ball, but the focus of this article is the pipe I used to gain leverage and break the nut loose, otherwise known as a Cheater Bar. By adding to the length of the handle of the wrench, I gained leverage which provided the necessary additional force to break the nut loose. In simple terms, the Cheater Bar is a lever, and a lever is used to gain a mechanical advantage.

The question then becomes how much additional force can cheater bars generate, and is it dangerous? I set out to determine the answer, and I think the results will surprise you.

Time for a disclaimer: The testing we describe was done in a controlled environment, with brand new products. Extreme care was used to avoid personal injury and property damage. The data presented is for informational purposes only. All load binder manufacturers, as well as B/A Products, state that Cheater Bars are NOT to be used. As always, NEVER exceed the Work Load Limit (WLL) of your tie downs.

With the disclaimer out of the way, let’s lay out the premise of the testing. The goal was to determine how much force could a ratchet load binder, lever load binder and web ratchet apply to a piece of chain or web without a cheater bar. These will be the control tests. The next set of tests will show how much additional force could be applied when a cheater bar was used. Two lengths of cheater bars were used, 24” and 36”. For the load binders a 3/8 G8 ratchet binder with a Work Load Limit of 8800 LBS, a 5/16”-3/8” G7 lever binder with a WLL of 6600 LBS and a length of 3/8 G7 chain with a WLL of 6600 LBS were used. As 6600 LBS is the lowest WLL of the products we are using, that is our target load. The web strap and ratchet has a 3670 LBS WLL, so that is the target load for this product. A second person monitoredthe readout of the test bed to avoid going over the tie down Work Load Limits.

Just to get an idea what kind of forces and loads we are dealing with I set up a quick test. A loop was formed in two pieces of chain by hooking back to itself with a grab hook; those loops were then attached to the test bed. The opposite ends of those chains were attached to the load binders grab hooks, forming a vertical hitch. Most of the slack was removed from this assembly by retracting the ram of the test bed. The operator sat of the test bed and operated the lever load binder by pulling the handle towards him, and stopped when he felt his outside foot get light. In other words, no body English was used, strictly an arm pull. Loads of 3769 LBS and 3713 LBS were achieved.

Let’s step away from the testing for a moment and talk about the operator. I volunteered for this assignment as one of the goals was to do the testing and not have anyone get hurt. I have used chain and web tie downs extensively. I have also used cheater bars on wrenches and various non tie down applications, am aware of the dangers involved and have the scars to prove it. In order to reduce therisk of injury it was decided that the operator would remain seated. It was also decided that a simplepull motion would be used. I weigh in at 220 lbs, and am in fairly decent shape, so take that into consideration when reviewing the results. A smaller (or larger) operator, as well as the position (seated, standing), and amount of “body English” applied may change these results drastically. Now back to the testing.

Next in the test bed was the control for the lever load binder. Our WLL is still 6600 LBS, and our chain is still 3/8 G7. Lever binders differ from ratchet binders in that the slack take up of the lever binder is not adjustable. The slack in the chain must be adjusted by changing which chain link the lever binder is attached to or by changing the chains attachment point to the load changed. This added some challenges to our testing, but we had the advantage of being able to move the attachment point by retracting the ram of the tester.

With that in mind, the chain was looped over the hooks of the tester and attached back to itself at each end, once again a vertical hitch. The lever load binder was installed on the chain in the open position and the ram retracted a little at a time until most of the slack was removed from the chain, then an attempt was made to close the binder by hand. This process was repeated until there was enough slack removed that the lever could not be closed by hand. The ram was then backed out so the binder could be closed. The loads recorded were 1983 LBS and 2048 LBS. As these loads are less than the WLL of thechain, so far, so good.

Now that we have our control loads, lets see what using a cheater bar does:

I started with the lever binder. Since the slack in the chain is not adjustable, this becomes the most likely candidate for a cheater bar. The extra umph the cheater bar gives may be enough to get the lever binder to close. The same process was used to remove slack as in the baseline test, so that the lever binder could not be closed by hand. A cheater bar was then used to close the binder. My cheater bar was a length of 1 ¾” OD heavy wall tubing, cut 36” long.

A piece of tape was wrapped around the tube at the 24” mark, and my hands were kept below that mark during the 24” cheater bar testing. Due to the way the lever binder mechanism functions, I had tostand to finish closing the binder.

Several attempts were made holding the bar at the 24” mark, and loads of 4680 LBS and 5041 LBS were recorded. The bar was then held at the 36” mark, and loads of 5690 LBS and 6176 LBS were recorded. Given the position of the load binder and the way the chain was set up, I found myself using a lot “body english” and felt very off balance. For safety’s sake, the decision was made to discontinue testing with the lever load binder.

I moved on to the web ratchet and strap. Since the ratchet does not lend itself to having a cheater bar attached like a load binder does, I had to get a little creative. I settled on a couple of items that might commonly be found on a tow truck, a long screw driver and a 15” J hook. The screw driver measured 14 inches long.

These results were very interesting. First I was surprised how little advantage the cheater bars gave,second was the difficulty of using them. Both the J hook and screw driver slipped several times duringthe testing. I’m glad I was sitting down. Loads with the J hook were 2389 LBS and 1867 LBS, and the screw driver 1452 LBS and 1742 LBS. For a 300 LBS gain in force, I ended up with a bent screw driver! Once again due to the danger involved, I gave up on any further testing of the web strap and ratchet.

Finally I tested the ratchet binder with the cheater bar. Using the same method as before, the operator was seated, pulling the cheater bar towards myself, and stopped pulling when I felt there was body English involved. With the 24” bar, I was able to put loads of 6204 LBS and 6487 LBS on the assembly. With the 36” bar, I hit loads of 8069 LBS and 7769 LBS., both of which exceed the 6600 LBS WLL. Houston, we have a problem! By using a device specifically advised against by all load binder manufacturers, the chain was overloaded.

Let’s take a quick review of the results:

On the web ratchet gained between 300 to 900 LBS of force on the tie down, but at the cost of a bent screw driver, more importantly, the risk of personal injury due to the slipping of the makeshift cheater bar. There is also the likelihood of damaging the ratchet due to forces being applied where they are not designed to be, and damage to the strap itself if a sharp object (like a screwdriver) contacts it when it slips. I hope you agree that a cheater bar of any kind has no business being used on a web and ratchettie down.

On the lever load binder we saw some pretty good gains in force applied. However, the danger to the operator would outweigh these gains. The two main dangers are a fall caused by the operator being off balance and the release of force or “kickback” of the handle and cheater bar if the operator does not maintain control. Once again I hope you agree the risk does not outweigh the benefit.

Lastly on the ratchet binder we found that using a cheater bar and arm strength alone can exceed the Work Load Limit of the chain. In this case we are using a 6600 LBS WLL chain. If you drop to 5/16” G7 chain with a WLL of 4700 LBS, that WLL can be exceeded with the shorter 24” cheater bar.

The dangers we have found are:

  1. It is very possible to overcome the Work Load Limit of the chain when using a cheater bar.
  2. There is a very strong possibility of injury from a slip, fall, and “kick back” or sudden release of energy.
  3. There is a very strong possibility of damage to the web, web ratchet, chain and binder.

Now that we know what the hazards are, how do we address them? And how tight should your cargo tie downs be? I will try to answer those questions in the next issue.