Tips for Driving on Sand
Sand driving requires a certain set of skills that, once attained, will open some of the most enjoyable and scenic drives in the country.
Step one, lower tyre pressure; step two, load up a shovel and some traction boards; step three, have fun. You may hear some four-wheel drivers bemoan the perils of a sandy track, but while it’s true that sand driving can be tedious at times, nothing beats blasting down a beach to an idyllic seaside campsite.
(Image: Step one, lower tyre pressure; step two, load up a shovel and some traction boards; step three, have fun.)
Your ultimate defence against getting bogged in sand is low tyre pressure. By dropping down to around 20psi, the load of your vehicle is spread over a far greater surface area, which greatly reduces your chances of sinking in. You may need to re-inflate and deflate tyres on varied tracks, so a compressor and deflator are two of the sand driver’s favourite things – a shovel and traction boards are the others.
If you’re new to sand driving then you will get bogged – c’est la vie. And when you do, your shovel and traction boards are the go-to tools to get you rolling again.
It’s also important to realise that unlike other off-road surfaces, torque is not the mightiest weapon when driving on sand. Rather, constant forward motion is what you’re after, so that you can float along the surface and avoid sinking in. There are few scenarios in which you’ll require low range on sand and in any case, it’s wise to avoid stopping your vehicle; if the sand takes hold it can be tricky to get going again.
If your vehicle has a suitable pre-set then select it (ie. sand mode), otherwise you’ll do well to disengage stability control and traction control. A little bit of wheel spin can be useful on sand, but pay close attention to excessive wheel spin, which will quickly dig your tyres in – aggressive mud-driving tread patterns will dig tyres in even faster.
FUEL AND ENGINES
Low tyre pressures, high revs and increased rolling resistance all result in dramatic increases in fuel consumption and heightened stress on your engine. Assume the worst when it comes to fuel economy, always start with a full tank and don’t try to traverse long stretches of unknown sand with little to no fuel in reserve.
Sandy conditions also require engines and automatic transmissions to work harder than they otherwise would. As a result, your engine will run hotter than it would in other circumstances, this is normal, but keep an eye on the temperature and take a break if it’s climbing into the red. Before heading onto sand, it’s worth ensuring all fluids have been topped up.
(Image: Tides are another factor that you need to pay attention too.)
Driving on smooth, hard, compacted beach sand is an absolute pleasure. But no matter how cruisy it may seem you’ll need to keep a lookout for protruding rocks and creek runouts. Areas that show evidence of water flow will often consist of soft boggy sand, even if they don’t appear to be flowing at that exact moment. These areas can be unpleasant to hit at speed, so back it off a little when you see those tell-tale signs.
Tides are another factor that can turn a sandy sojourn into an ocean-side horror. It’s annoying for the tide to come up and cut off your intended path, but it’s a whole other matter if you get bogged and the ocean quickly creeps up to your door handles. Driving close to the water’s edge is favourable since the surface is harder, but if the tide’s coming in it’s a dangerous place to get bogged – if there’s one thing your vehicle doesn’t enjoy, it’s saltwater. Check out local conditions and familiarise yourself with the speed and behaviours of the tide to be on the safe side. Having all your recovery gear handy and a good idea of what to do with it will also aid in a speedy escape.
Beaches where driving is permitted also have speed limits. These are generally displayed at the entrance or along the beach and must be obeyed – generally, they’re in the vicinity of 60 to 80 kilometres per hour. We have seen police monitoring beach driving more than enough times to assure you that they’re out there.
Always give your vehicle a good hose-down after beach driving to get rid of any residual sand, which can be abrasive, and to remove saltwater. Give extra attention to the undercarriage.
(Image: The Hema Map Patrol driving on the dunes in the desert. Credit: Matt Williams.)
The trick to driving up and over a sand dune is to approach with enough speed that you’ll make it to the top, but not so much as to launch off the apex. The correct speed will depend on the depth and softness of the sand, the weight of the vehicle, height and gradient of the dune and several other factors. Drive in a straight line up and down, as driving sideways on a dune can easily result in slippage. Avoid changing gear on the way up and try not to rev too high.
When driving in deserts or other undulating sandy landscapes, vehicles must be fitted with sand flags that protrude high above the roofline. These allow oncoming vehicles to see one another well in advance of the moment where they simultaneously crest a dune when the ability to avoid collision will be close to zero. Radio calls are also advised for particularly big sand slopes.
(Image: It’s important to stay on track and never drive over vegetated sandy terrain.)
Any grass and scrubby vegetation found growing on sand – especially on dunes – will be fragile and easily destroyed by vehicles. These plants can be vital for preventing erosion, so it’s important to stay on track and never drive over vegetated sandy terrain.
(Image: When possible, follow in existing tyre tracks where the sand will be firmer. )
When travelling with other vehicles, keep a good distance between each one so that in the event the leader hits a soft patch and gets stuck, the followers can avoid it and aid in recovery. When possible, follow in existing tyre tracks where the sand will be firmer. Otherwise, note that regular road rules apply on beaches and dunes where driving is permitted. This includes signalling, overtaking on the right-hand side and so forth.
(Image: The aim when sand driving is to float across the surface without digging in.)
The aim when sand driving is to float across the surface without digging in; this means low tyre pressures and constant momentum.
Use low gears, gentle acceleration and avoid hard cornering.
You won’t need to brake so much, since the rolling resistance of soft sand will slow you easily.
If there are tyre tracks from vehicles before you, drive in those, as the sand will be compacted and easier to manage.
Don’t forget to bring your sunnies.