Carrying things inside a car, minivan, or SUV is normally the best way to go. But what if space limitations force you to carry cargo on the exterior? Whether you tie something to the roof, throw it in the back of a pickup bed, or use a utility trailer, you are still required by law to secure whatever it is you are carrying. And no, a tarp is rarely appropriate for the task.

There are some limited instances in which a tarp will work fine to secure cargo. But in most cases, the law dictates using something like a tie-down strap or rope. Personally, I prefer Rollercam cam straps. But my choice of tie-downs is another topic for another post.

Tarps for Commercial Applications

Commercial trucking operations are required to abide by very strict rules pertaining to cargo securement. As far as I know, there is only one instance in which a tarp is appropriate for securing commercial cargo. That instance involves carrying loose aggregates in a dump truck or utility trailer.

Loose aggregates are fully contained inside a dump truck. Their only means of escape is through the top. Therefore, covering the top of the dump with a tarp keeps the aggregate from flying out. A similar situation exists with solid-sided utility trailers. But if a utility trailer does not have solid sides, the tarp must be wrapped all the way around – and over the top – to meet legal standards.

Tarps for Consumer Applications

Moving on to consumers and what they might carry on their vehicles, the rule of thumb for tarps follows the commercial model. Here are a few scenarios in which a tarp would be appropriate:

  1. Landscaping Supplies – Transporting landscaping supplies in a pickup truck or utility trailer is similar to the dump truck scenario. A tarp secured over the top would be sufficient in most cases.

  1. Loose Household Goods – Loose household goods can be prevented from leaving a pickup bed and falling into the road by a tarp. Note that the tarp needs to cover the bed entirely. And of course, there is a caveat: we are talking about lightweight items. Heavy items that could shift and break through a tarp need to be secured via other means.

With the exception of these types of limited scenarios, tarps are inappropriate as cargo securement devices for consumer applications. To be as safe as possible, your best bet is to skip the tarps and use some other sort of tie-down.

Cam Straps Are an Excellent Choice

I mentioned Rollercam cam straps earlier in this post. They are an excellent choice for a couple of reasons. First, they are strong enough for most consumer applications. Second, they are very easy to use and deploy. And third, their patented rolling cam design increases efficiency.

There certainly are other brands of cam straps you could look at. The point to understand here is that cam straps are a good choice for consumers. For heavier loads, ratchet straps work extremely well.

Some consumers still prefer rope. That’s fine, a strong nylon rope works well enough if you know how to deploy it properly. Hemp ropes are pretty strong, too. The one tie-down option I would absolutely avoid is the bungee cord.

Hold Things Securely

The big thing to remember here is that whatever tie-down you go with has two functions: preventing cargo from flying off and preventing it from shifting during turns and braking. Use tie-down straps to hold things securely so that neither happens. If you can get that, you can understand why tarps are almost always inappropriate for securing cargo.

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