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Tips for sand driving

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    In any case, its always better to do beach driving just before low tide. You'll have the most beach to work with and if you get stuck, you'll have time to recover the vehicle

Enjoying the beach needs 4WD skills, says Stuart Innes.

Australia is blessed with good long stretches of beach to drive on but driving on beach sand can be a trap for the unwary. Do the right thing, however, and you'll be rewarded with views and locations, even fishing spots, that regualr car drivers will never know.

A key to driving on beach sand is maintaining momentum and having tyres roll over the top of the sand, not dig into it. If the sand is soft, keep ther power on to avoid difgfing in or stalling, but not so much power thast lurid wheelspin will digs its own way down.

Avoid violent or sudden major moves on the steering wheel; a 4WD can topple over thanks to kitys huigh centre-of-gravitty and tyres that can cut into the sdand, allowing the vehicle to trip. The straighter the steering the better.

Big wide arcs for turns are safe. It's an idea to use existing wheel tracks; the sand will be padded down more and give firmer grip. Watch that the sand between those wheel tracks is not too high for the ground clearance of your vehicle. If so, will pay to forge some new tracks; but you'll need more power.

David Wilson, who runs Adenture 4WD training school, says the most valuable tool a beach driver can carry is a good tyre gauge.

"Best type is a quality dial-type of metal construction. Drop a plastic pencil gauge in the sand and forget about accuracy,'' he says. If the sand is very soft and your wheels are struggling to keep up speed and not dig in too much, will need to lower tyre pressures.  This will lengthen the footprint of the tyre, increasing the area to carry the weight without sinking in.

Adventure 4WD recommends incrementally reducing pressure, start at placarded pressures and go down in 5psi steps until things run smoothly, but 15 psi is about as low as you'd want to reliably go. Tyres will need to be reinflated as soon as the sand driving is done; an onboard compressor is thus welcomed.

If coming off the beach and driving to a servo to reinflate the tyres, drive very slowly  and not far or tyres will be overheated and have as blow-out. At 15 psi you wouldnt want to be going any faster than 25km/h. Reduce weight being carried, and - to help avoid rollovers - especially on the roof rack.

"If you can't carry it inside the vehicle it shouldn't be there. Any weight upstairs will make a 4WD want to have a lay down and rest,'' says Wilson. If stopping long on a beach, I always back up to  the high-tide line. This allows the vehicle to move of easier because it is facing downhill, using gavity, and it can use the tracks you made when reversing.

Doing a U-turn on a beach needs to be planned. You need a certain amount of speed and power coming through the wheels to maintain momentum; yet not too fast so the vehicle rolls over. Also, 4WDs tend to have large turning circles, so wait until a wide stretch of beach.

Avoid making part of the turning arc through wet sand; it can trap a vehicle. It might mean reversing a distance in your own wheel tracks to return to a better spot to turn. Turn downhill to have the benefit of gravity.

In any case, its always better to do beach driving just before low tide. You'll have the most beach to work with and if you get stuck, you'll have time to recover the vehicle. If you want a definition of panic, watch a 4WD owner bogged in sand on the beach as the tide is coming in, closer and closer to his wheels.

Be aware of tide times for the beach you wish to drive on, and note that some days even a low tide for that day can have water way up the beach, so select a low water day when even the high tides wont impinge much.

If doing much distance in sand, keep an eye on engine temperatures; the engine can be working hard at low 'roadspeeds'. Watch for the transmission overheat light if you've got an automatic.

It might look like fun on TV, but avoid splashing through seawater. First, you cant see anything under the water and second, the salt will ruin your vehicle. After beach driving, hose the underside of the vehicle, including in the wheel arches and inside the wheels with fresh water put the 4WD on a lawn so as not to waste that water.

Obey no go zones, such as in sandhill conservation areas where wheels can disturb vegetation needed to hold the sand. On the beach follow normal road rules, such as keeping to the left of oncoming traffic. And keep greater separation between vehicles.

Be aware that some drivers might not want to stop nor even slow because they seek to maintain momentum. Often in sand driving, some wheelspin is needed for progress, so switch out the ESP if the vehicle has such stability and traction control.

Some good 4WD vehicles have a sand setting on the terrain selection. On access tracks down on to, and up off, beaches keep a distance from the vehicle in front; if you're too close and it gets stuck, chances are you'll have to stop and become stuck, too. Before taking the access track, make sure nothing is coming the other way along it.

Perhaps switch on your headlights as you enter the access track. For part-time 4WDs, engage 4WD at the start of the access track; often the access track, at its beach end, is the hardest part to negotiate in beach driving because it is the most chewed up by wheels of many vehicles before you.

Always carry a recovery kit, commonly a snatch-strap, gloves and heavy-rated bow-shackles and know how to use it, including attaching a make-do parachute on th e strap mid-way should it break when under stretch.

A bogged vehicle often can be extricated by clearing sand from under the car and in front of the wheels (turn off the engine put on the hand brake before doing this). Avoid wheel spinning deeper into the bog.

If one wheel is spinning, try engaging the differential lock.  Or if the vehicle is an older model and does not have a diff lock, an old trick if a rear wheel is spinning while the other is not, is to gently pull on then handbrake.

Often the solution is to dig under the chassis where the crown of the track has met the underside of the vehicle. Some soft roaders can be used in beach driving but remember they tend not to have low-range gearing, their ground clearance may not be enough and their undersides can be damaged because they dont have the stouter protection of serious 4WD vehicles.

As in any off-bitumen venture, if unsure, get out and walk the terrain first; or, such as at access track at beaches, see what other vehicles are there and how they are coping.

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 7 comments

  • Stuart (author), learn to use spell check!!!

    Anton of Brisbane Posted on 14 January 2014 11:32am
  • I have just bought a ranger and am new to adventure driving so I am unsure if I should rise the uper or lower 4wd selection. Any pointers.

    pete of newcastle Posted on 09 March 2013 10:14pm
  • Driving is not an easy task as it seems to be. You should pass your driving test for getting your driving licence. Only a skilled and well trained person knows how to drive properly in any condition and for that the person should get training from driving school.

    jennysmith Posted on 02 January 2013 8:51pm
  • planning over next week to take my new 2012 Jeep grand cherokke to stockton beach. Cant wait!!

    Pete of Gosford Posted on 09 July 2012 2:21pm
  • I agree with both comments from John & Roger.We owned a V6 Tribute until recently and this time last year we drove to Noosa from Sydney, Rainbow beach and then spent several days on Frazer Island. I was completely surprised and impressed at how well the Tribute handled the beach,sand and inland work. On the barge ride across I had a chat with someone who laughed and made fun of us driving our Tribute of the island. This person had a 'real' 4*4. We travelled most of the island, never getting in any trouble or even bogged. Use common sense, drive sensibly, do everything that you need to and should do, and most of the suv's avaiable will take you anywhere. As everyone that has been knows Frazer Island is an amazing and beautiful place on Earth. I just hope that a few do not ruin it for eveyone.

    Con Verdis of ROZELLE NSW SYDNEY Posted on 07 January 2010 10:18pm
  • We've taken our diesel Hyundai Santa Fe up the Noosa north shore beach and across the inland track to Rainbow Beach, and also down to Stockton Beach in the sand dunes and have never had any problems with it. We didn't want to buy a big 4WD for all the normal reasons (too big, higher fuel consumption, just didn't need the superior off-road capability) but we also didn't want to be like most other SUV/soft-roader owners where their tyres never leave the bitumen, so I can say from experience that the modern SUVs really can be taken onto the sand without any problems. Straddie next, then Fraser...

    John P. of Gold Coast, Qld Posted on 05 January 2010 4:08pm
  • Not all monocoque construction vehicles are unsuitable for rugged punishment with the later models of the very capable Pajero being a perfect example.

    Roger Wenzel Posted on 05 January 2010 3:16pm
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