If you’re looking for top tips on how to 4-wheel drive on sand then you’ve come to the right place. Offroad driving on sand is one of the most exciting and fun things to do. You always need to apply the rules of sand driving irrespective of what vehicle you have, the size of your tires, or the type of sand driving you are driving on. Beach sand driving conditions change rapidly so you need to exercise caution and apply the below rules of beach sand and dune driving to be successful.
When engaging in 4-wheel driving on sand, remember these three essential rules:
- Reduce tire pressure: Start by lowering tire pressure to a minimum of 16 psi to increase tire surface area, preventing sinking in the sand.
- Engage low-range gears: Utilize low-range gears to improve traction and control, allowing the vehicle to navigate the sandy terrain more effectively.
- Maintain momentum: Continuously maintain forward momentum to prevent getting stuck, as the vehicle’s momentum assists in moving through the sand.
The next part of this article will discuss how to prepare your vehicle for sand driving as well as the laws of sand driving.
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4-Wheel Drive on Sand – The Ultimate Sand Driving Guide
So before you venture off onto the beach or into the dunes with your 4-wheel drive, there are a few things you need to do first. Preparation begins at home, long before you even hit the dunes for your sand-driving adventure.
Remove Excess Weight
In sand and dune driving, the vehicle’s weight is critical. To optimize performance:
- Trim excess weight by removing unnecessary gear before setting out. This lightens the vehicle, aiding quicker acceleration, maintaining momentum, and preventing getting stuck in the sand.
- Carry only essential items and recovery gear, prioritizing necessities for the trip.
- If not camping overnight, unload heavy gear like rooftop tents to optimize vehicle weight and enhance driving performance on sandy terrains.
Test your Equipment:
Next, test tire deflator and portable compressor pre-departure. Check all your gear to avoid discovering faults too late. Carry a quality shovel and Maxtrax if available.
Thirdly, if you need a permit to 4-wheel drive on sand and for the dunes, make sure you have this arranged before arriving there. Not all beaches are accessible without a valid day permit. Do the right thing! Enquire at the local municipal offices or online about purchasing a day permit well before the time.
WATCH – SAND DRIVING TIPS 101 (VIDEO)
4-wheel drive on sand – Vehicle Prep
So, you are organized and ready to hit the dunes, however, there are a few checks you would like to make before leaving for the beach. Let’s have a look at them in more detail here.
When you regularly 4-wheel drive on sand, dunes, and the beach it can be very taxing on your 4-wheel drive’s suspension so it does well to inspect the suspension before you head out, as well as afterward. Take the time to crawl underneath the vehicle and have a look around for anything glaringly obvious. Inspect all suspension bushes for cracks or excessive wear.
Check for play on your driveshafts by yanking them back and forth a few times. Grab a firm hold of the front and rear shafts separately and give them a few turns in both directions to test for any play or strange clunky sounds.
Carry Extra Fuel
Sand driving uses a ton of fuel since the vehicle will constantly be operating at high revs. In most cases, you will be driving in the low range which means your MPG reading will increase exponentially. Dune and beach driving requires a lot of fuel since it’s a high-resistance environment and your engine will be operating at peak for most of the time.
Ensure you have enough fuel in your tank, even carrying a single Jerry can save you or a fellow 4-wheel driver.
Inspect Your Tires
Always inspect your tires for sidewall damage and cracks before you head out, as well as afterward before you leave the beach dunes for your home. This is very important since you could suffer a blow-out from a damaged tire once the tire is fully pumped up, after a day of driving on the beach. The beach is filled with small obstacles like jagged rocks, broken branches, and sharp seashells that could all potentially damage the sidewall of a tire if caught at exactly the right spot.
Remember, your tire pressure will be drastically reduced so the sidewalls are exposed and at risk of damage by foreign objects lying below the surface of the sand. Take the time to do a quick inspection, it will take less than 60 seconds and could save your life. Don’t forget to inspect the wheel wall facing inside as well.
A bigger footprint offers improved traction and combined with a decent AT (All-Terrain) tire could make sand driving a breeze. However, if you go too aggressive, you could have an adverse effect, since the large gaps between rubber lugs on the tires will dig into the sand instead of gliding over the top. This will generate a lot of resistance and make it harder for your vehicle to build and maintain momentum.
The job of an air filter is to trap or block any foreign objects from entering your engine combustion chamber. By driving on the sand at the beach, there will be thousands of tiny sand granules being flung in all directions for extended periods. Sand granules can get in everywhere.
This means your air filter will need to be clean and clear of any debris before driving on the dunes and also needs to be cleaned thoroughly afterward. A clogged air filter will harm your 4-wheel drive performance and fuel consumption.
4-Wheel Drive on Sand – Essential Equipment
Aaaah, the good old spade, or is it a shovel?
Either way, make sure you have one handy. Preferably one with a longish handle that can easily reach underneath the belly of a 4-wheel drive with minimum effort. This will be your first point of call when you get bogged in thick sand. Getting stuck in the sand could be a result of any of the below factors:
|Incorrect tire pressure – too high||Tire pressure set above optimal level, impacting traction on sand|
|Lack of momentum||Insufficient speed affects the vehicle’s ability to traverse sand|
|Excess weight – carrying too much unnecessary gear||Overloading the vehicle with unnecessary items hinders performance|
|Towing a trailer or boat||Pulling additional load, challenging sand-driving capabilities|
|Thickness and looseness of sand||Sand conditions vary with the time of day and weather conditions|
Whatever the reason, you will need to dig. Clear a long enough track for the wheels to easily run in once you attempt to free yourself. Make sure the sand under the chassis is also free, so you can have your work cut out for you, depending on how badly you are bogged. For that reason, you will need to call upon your spade.
Portable Air Compressor
Every four-wheel driver must prioritize having this device among their top three tools. It will provide returns exceeding a hundredfold and justifies its cost. Invest in a reliable compressor, aiming for a minimum volume of 72L or preferably a twin-cylinder 160L compressor for optimal performance. The latter drastically reduces tire inflation time. While cheaper alternatives exist, it’s advisable to opt for reputable brands for reliability and effectiveness.
You will need a reliable and more importantly accurate tire deflator when it’s time to deflate rubber. Don’t settle for a silly cheap one that takes minutes to deflate. The deflators that screw directly onto the valve and turn the valve stem out is the quickest way to deflate your tires.
Sand Recovery Tracks
These recovery devices are a must-have when sand-driving. Especially if you are alone, you will need to have all your bases covered and be well prepared. Maxxtraxx works like a short little track that offers grip and traction when you are stuck in sand, snow, or mud.
They can even double up to form a little bridge to overcome short un-passable gaps in an off-road situation. They can be quite handy and even double as a spade to shovel sand away from your tires.
4-Wheel Drive on Sand – Driving laws
On dunes, an unwritten rule governs traffic flow, evident through tracks and observed directions. In countries where vehicles drive on the left, veer left when meeting on the same track. For right-side driving nations, swerve right to avoid collisions on dunes.
Stopping In Sand
In thick sand, refrain from harshly stomping or aggressively using brakes when stopping. This prevents sand build-up, aiding an easy departure without momentum. Apply gentle braking, allowing sand resistance to slow the vehicle smoothly. After stopping, reverse slightly to create a compacted surface for an easier pull-off.
Read The Sand
This is an important skill to learn quickly when driving in sand on beaches or dunes where there’s regular traffic. Dirt bike and ATV drivers enjoy dune driving too, but their tracks can make it tough for 4-wheel drivers. They churn up sand, creating deep, loose patches to avoid. Try driving on firmer, compact sand near the water rather than soft, loose sand higher on the shores. Look out for areas where vehicles get stuck and try to steer clear.
When driving on dunes, learn to read their shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s tricky, and even experienced drivers can misjudge and not see the top of a dune properly. This can cause accidents when driving too fast over the other side. Remember, dunes can change quickly due to wind, becoming larger or higher, so what was easy before might get challenging later on.
4-Wheel Drive on Sand – How To Climb A Large Dune
The guide explains climbing decent-sized dunes with proper technique:
- Speed and momentum are crucial for clearing the dune safely.
- Check the base for a good approach ramp to avoid nosediving and losing momentum.
- Maintain throttle until close to the top, then ease off to let momentum carry over gently.
- It requires practice to judge when to ease off the gas; timing is key.
- Lack of visibility over the dune’s other side? Turn off before the top and ride alongside.
- Not easing off before the dune apex can cause damage or injury.
- If stuck, back down in reverse gear and retry with more speed.
- When reversing down, keep the vehicle straight.
- Always carry recovery gear, especially in remote areas.
- Having a driving buddy is advisable for safety.
How Does Sand Driving Affect Your 4-Wheel Drive?
Regular dune driving can become very taxing on your 4-wheel drive, so it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
When driving on dunes your air filters can become clogged with sand and dust very quickly. Take the time to inspect and clean out the air filter once you have had your fun at the beach or in the dunes. A clogged air filter will prevent your turbo from breathing easily and this will have a negative effect on performance as well as fuel consumption.
If you approach a dune too fast or at an incorrect angle or your departure is too aggressive, the first items to take the hit are usually your front and rear bumpers. We call them Tupperware. These are the low-hanging plastic bits that can easily get ripped off or dragged off in deep sand dunes. Be aware of your 4-wheel drives’ ground clearance limitations and break-over angle dimensions to prevent serious body panel and bumper damage.
Driving at high revs for extended periods is not good for any turbo diesel 4-wheel drive. This is usually what happens in thick sand and high dunes. You become so fixated on not getting stuck or about overcoming a certain dune that in the process you fail to realize how much throttle you’ve applied or for how long the vehicle has been over-revved.
Turbo & EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperatures)
This is not a problem for petrol (gas) engines since they prefer high revs to perform. This is more applicable to turbo-diesel engines where your usable rev range is usually limited to 2000-2500 rpm. This is not always ideal for dune driving since you want a longer, higher-revving vehicle with decent high-end power. Diesel engines usually make all their torque low down in the rev range and the max power is in most cases before 4000RPM.
Driving a diesel at high revs under load quickly increases the EGT. The Increased EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperatures) over prolonged periods is something to monitor since EGT can kill a diesel engine very quickly. Install an EGT gauge if you intend on regularly taking your turbo diesel to the dunes so you can keep a close eye on things.
Always remember, after a heavy session in deep sand and dunes, you want to allow your turbo-charged diesel engine to idle for a minute or two to allow the burning hot turbo to cool down before you turn off the engine. This is good practice to prolong the lifespan of your turbo.
Driving in 4WD at constant high revs combined with the high-resistance surface and low-range gearing is going to drastically increase your 4WD fuel consumption. Your average liters per 100 km or MPG readings can easily triple when driving on sand. Ensure you have sufficient fuel on board.
4-Wheel Drive on Sand – 4H or 4-Lo
Driving in thick sand with deflated tire pressures is a complete no-no for 4-High. This is 4-Lo territory since the sand creates so much resistance that you don’t want to place your engine, gearbox, or clutch under so much pressure. If you have low range, use it in the sand.
Gearing is different for most 4-wheel drives so it’s hard for me to specify which gear to use on sand, however, the rule of thumb is usually between 2nd and third gear low-range. I feel that 2nd 4-lo is the perfect gear to pull off in and maintain steady momentum with 3rd. On long flat firm, the beach stretches where sand is compact you could get away with 4th and 5th gear low-range.
4-Wheel Drive on Sand – Can AWD Drive on the Beach
An AWD vehicle was not built to drive on beaches. Their main purpose is to offer more traction on slippery surfaces such as tarmac roads and concrete surfaces in the city. They are ideal for snow and ice-covered roads as well as mild dirt tracks.
With that being said, I would say an AWD should be able to get away with driving on shallow sand where maximum ground clearance is not required.
The only problem I foresee with an AWD on the beach is the traction control systems constantly being activated. If this can be completely disabled then the vehicle should perform well. However, most AWD’s traction control and other electronic governing systems cannot be completely shut off by the driver. This means each time the AWD system senses a loss of traction, it will attempt to correct it by braking the other wheels with good traction intermittently. This would seriously hamper forward progress in the sand.
Sand Driving Video
Watch this short video where Graham explains some fundamentals about beach sand driving.
Sand driving is a lot of fun and can be enjoyed by anyone with a 4-wheel drive and a little experience. If you stick to the golden rules of tire pressure, momentum, and common sense you’ll do just fine. That said, you need to be prepared for the worse so ensure you have all the required gear to get you or a fellow 4-wheeler out of trouble. Test your equipment before beach driving or dune driving and make sure you take a mate along cause 2 is always better than 1 and 4 is even better!