TORONTO, Ont. – There is a plethora of companies each promising the latest and greatest in trucking equipment, but when you’re searching for tarps or tie-downs, the process shouldn’t have your stomach in knots. Truck News spoke with experts in the load securement field to find out what drivers should look for when purchasing equipment and how to keep it properly maintained.
With regard to tarps, Paul Vandenberg, owner of Trison Tarps, says the Ontario market has seen an influx of vinyl materials from all over the world. Not only that, he also says there are quite a few “ready-made” tarps made in the Far East that are entering the Canadian market.
“This means cheaper tarps for the short term, but in general, these tarps are made with a cheap quality material and are not manufactured to last,” he says. “These tarps usually end up being repaired more often and don’t last nearly as long, thus costing more in repairs and replacement costs in the long term.”
The unfortunate part, according to Vandenberg, is that it’s very hard for the customer to tell if a tarp is made from a quality material or not.
“It’s not until the tarp is out on the road for some time that it becomes noticeable to them. As a company we strive to give our customers tarps manufactured here in Brantford, using materials that have specifications that are among the best available. We’re also working along with our suppliers to improve on the resilience, weight and cost of the tarps we make, without sacrificing the quality or durability of our tarps.”
Larry Harrison, general manager of Kinedyne Canada, says when strap-shopping, as with tarp-shopping, it’s often difficult to tell the good from the bad. However, Harrison notes that any inconsistencies between products should usually send up a red flag.
“In other words,” he says, “if there’s five of them on the shelf and two of them look different from the other three, that should be a cause of alarm.”
Because load securement is a self-regulated industry, Harrison says buying a brand you don’t recognize can be a real gamble. He says a safer bet is going with a name you know and trust.
“If you don’t, you really don’t know what you’re getting into. Will it last a day, an hour or a week? How did they test it and did they truly understand how to test the product? Do they have liability insurance?
All of those issues are important. This is why with any of the parts in our industry you want to go with a recognized company. Not to promote my own product, but this is a piece of equipment which keeps lives secure, so you want to make sure it’s the right one.”
Lloyd Verduyn, founder of Verduyn Tarps in Hamilton, Ont., says you can look at the ratings featured on the packaging to gauge the quality of the product, but admits that they’re not always accurate.
“With straps, what you’ve really got to look for is the working load limit and the braking strength, but because nobody regulates it, even that doesn’t tell you that much,” he says.
For example, Verduyn once encountered a competitor’s strap with a supposed 18,000-lb. breaking strength with a working load limit of 6,000 lbs – which Verduyn said is impossible. After sending both his strap and the competitor’s away for testing, he found that despite the lower rating of the Verduyn strap, it actually broke at a considerably higher weight than the one that was supposed to break at 18,000 lbs.
Because of this, Verduyn says the only true judge of a strap’s quality is time. But when it comes to spotting the first signs of wear and tear, he says it could be five minutes or five years before it starts to show.
“It’s really up to the driver and how the driver puts (the strap) on the trailer,” he says.
From the perspective of any roadside inspector, Harrison says there isn’t a lot of tolerance when it comes to wear and tear.
“It can’t have any burns or tears or loose threads. It can’t be resewn or repaired or tied in knots,” he says. “Really, from a tie-down perspective, with any wear and tear, replacement would be recommended.”
There is a common misconception that strap repair is cost-effective and helpful, but according to Verduyn, it actually makes things much worse.
“Trying to sew a damaged strap isn’t going to give you any more strength; it’s basically putting more holes in your strap,” he says. “I read once somewhere that on a four-inch strap, if you have a quarter-inch missing, you lose something like 40 per cent of your strength, because your strap is not pulling straight across anymore. Once you’ve got a nick in your strap, you’re pretty much out of luck.”
Vandenberg agrees with both Verduyn and Harrison, noting that Trison doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to strap quality.
“We sell straps and other tie-down products from suppliers based in North America and which have a proven track record,” he says. “We don’t sew new straps onto used hooks or chain ends. There is not enough of a savings for the customer anymore to make it worthwhile to risk having a rusty chain end break or a damaged hook to be used again.”
Not much can be done when it comes to strap maintenance, but there were a few tips the experts had to offer.
For Verduyn, the best way to lengthen the life of straps is to use corner protectors with any sharp corners. Verduyn says he’s known people who have reduced straps to garbage in just one trip by not using proper protection.
“With certain loads, such as lumber, if you use corner protectors you’re going to get a lot longer life out of the strap. Otherwise every move that the load makes will wear on that strap. If you use a corner protector, it just wears on the corner protector.”
Kinedyne’s Harrison says that in terms of maintenance, there really isn’t a lot of information out there. However, over the years he’s picked up some tips from drivers who swear by certain maintenance methods.
“I have talked to a lot of drivers, mostly O/Os, who will literally wash down their straps with a pressure hose to get a lot of the dirt out of them, and they swear that gives (the straps) a lot more life. I’ve talked to some drivers that have had straps on their trucks for two years when typically straps only last between four and 10 months.”
Another method, which Harrison says tends to be exercised by Canadian drivers over American ones, is rolling unused straps back up on the winch rather than putting them back over the flatbed re-securing them. “Storing them on the winch does give it extended life: it protects it from the sun, it doesn’t get any wear and tear, it’s not under tension, and you’re not straining the fibers,” he says.
So, according to Harrison, the Canadian way of storing an unused web product is much better, though ideally, taking unused straps right off the winch and putting them in a lockbox will help prolong strap life even further.
Another part of maintenance is keeping the tarp clean. Verduyn says drivers need to be wary of using too strong a cleanser on the tarp.
“It seems to dry the tarp out and it will end up depleting all the plasticizers in the tarp. You’re better off not cleaning your tarp at all than using harsh chemicals on it.”
Verduyn says he once knew a driver who used Ajax on his tarp and he bleached a blue tarp into a white one. Instead of bleach and other corrosive agents, using a bit of soapy water to spiff up the tarp is a preferred alternative. Acid baths, though fine for most trucks and trailers, are also not recommended for tarps.
Whichever load securing equipment you choose, each expert noted that safety should still rank number one in importance. By taking proper precautions and following current load securement legislation, drivers should enjoy many miles with both their loads – and their bodies – intact.
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