A tow ball is that round ball on a trailer hitch that lets the trailer hang on the back of your vehicle. It works great when it’s pulling along the weight of a trailer at a steady rate. Where you can run into trouble is using that tow ball with a snatch strap to tow out a stuck vehicle.
A snatch strap is different from a tow rope because it has elasticity. It stretches out and then goes back to its original shape. Off-roaders often use a snatch strap to tow each other free of particularly deep mud that just won’t let a vehicle break free.
While a tow rope lets you pull a vehicle free with a smoother motion, a snatch strap lets you more aggressively break a vehicle free. Both of these methods work depending on the situation, but done incorrectly they can seriously injure people and damage your vehicle.
The tow ball is a tempting way to secure the snatch strap to your vehicle and it seems like this should work just fine. In fact, it very well may work perfectly fine, but when it doesn’t work it goes seriously wrong.
That tow ball is not designed to yank anything free. Using it as the anchor for a snatch strap puts stress on the tow ball that can cause it to shear off. Since the snatch strap is elastic, this ends up sending the tow ball ricocheting into whatever and whoever is in the way.
The best case scenario sends the tow ball harmlessly into the grass. The worst case scenario sends it into the towing vehicle where it can injure passengers or into bystanders.
This video from Ronny Dahl in Australia shows what happens when the tow ball shears off. They have him nearly barricaded in the front of his vehicle with sandbags and sheet metal to keep him safe should the ball fly in his direction during the demonstration.
Outside, an assortment of mannequins play innocent bystander, which is exactly how things often look when you’re trying to free a stuck vehicle. It’s sort of funny when it’s mannequins, but if those were real people then there would have been terrible injuries.
He also demonstrates the right way to do things, so it’s worth watching the video through to the end.