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Ratchet straps are an incredible tool. One set of them in your trunk and you can safely secure a huge piece of furniture to your roof rack, or tie a motorcycle down in your truck bed. Many DIYers don’t leave home without their ratchet straps. But if the load shifts and they tighten up on the road, it can feel impossible to pull the release button to open them. Luckily, there are two hacks you can use.

First of all: If you’re always jamming your fingers as you try to squeeze your ratchet strap’s release triggers, you may be using them wrong. Both sides of the ratchet have a trigger, and you’ll have to pull both to unwind them and eventually dettach them. But just yanking on these triggers isn’t a great idea, because ratchets were designed with an easier release. Grab the handles and begin to work the ratchet mechanism. Yup, like you’re tightening them more. But before going a full click, pull the release triggers.

It’s that simple: after a half click, the ratchet mechanism takes all the pressure off the release triggers. You can pull both releases with ease and unwind the strap. It won’t spring shut on you, because once you pull the triggers, there’s no tension left on the winding mechanism.

Closeup of a hand pulling the release trigger on a ratchet strap's mechanism.
Pulling a ratchet strap’s release trigger | gabort71 via iStockPhoto

If you can’t easily pull these triggers on an older ratchet, there may be a bit of rust in the way. Just grab the penetrating oil or rust remover oil form your toolbox and spray the tracks these triggers ride on. This should break up any rust and get them sliding easily again.

On rare occasions, a load shifts enough that you can’t pull the ratchet mechanism a half click to take pressure off those release triggers. This may feel like you’re up a creek without a paddle. But the engineers who built your ratchet straps included one more trick. The body of the ratchet mechanism is made of metal and almost always has a seemingly random hole just behind the release trigger. But no, this hole isn’t random. If you take a small screwdriver and stick it into the hole, you have a lever to pull even the tightest release trigger.

Next, read about the heroic dad who used ratchet straps to save a mother and toddler from a sinking car, or see more tips for properly using a ratchet strap in the video below: