How To: Sand Driving – Don’t Get Sand on Your Snag

Now that summer’s here, we figure we’d better do the mandatory sand driving feature… so here it is. With summer well and truly here, many of us like to head to the beach – not …

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Mar 14 2017
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Now that summer’s here, we figure we’d better do the mandatory sand driving feature… so here it is.

With summer well and truly here, many of us like to head to the beach – not just to escape the heat but also to enjoy some of the best coastal sand driving anywhere in the world. And the best thing is, for a lot of us, it’s right on our doorstep. The beach is also one of the first places most of us take our 4X4.

So, what should we do to stop getting a sunburnt noggin; or (more importantly) look after the shining lump of metal we’ve just purchased? Well, rather than the normal ‘how to do this, that and everything in between’, we’re going to share our Beach Driving Survival Guide so you can get the most out of your time on the sand and be able to keep going back for more.


Before heading off to the beach it’s a good idea to give your 4X4 a once over. Check the normal stuff like fluids and the condition of your tyres; but also, if you drive an auto, check the condition of your transmission fluid. If it’s nice and pink and smells kind of fruity it should be fine; but if it’s a reddish brown and smells like your grandad’s farts, then you should probably think about changing it before heading out.


It’s worth noting when running on sand, vehicles (especially autos) tend to run slightly hotter than normal – so topping up the fluids beforehand is a good idea.


You will more than likely get stuck at some point, so make sure that you have some recovery gear with you. What should you take? Well that depends… but as an absolute minimum we’d recommend a long-handled shovel, snatch strap, tyre deflator and compressor. UHFs are also handy; and set them to ‘scan’ as this lets you listen out for other traffic nearby. Depending on where you are, a sand flag could be mandatory – if you are on dunes it’s advisable to have one anyway.


“What do you mean what about me?” It’s summer, right; and beaches are pretty exposed – so a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen should be the minimum. Don’t forget comfortable clothes because you will have to dig when the fourby gets bogged; and maybe some insect repellent to keep away the sand flies.


I almost forgot about these! Many beaches require a permit for access; and the fines for not having one are quite high, so no excuses. Also, pay attention to where you can and can’t drive.


Polarised sunnies are great at keeping out the glare. They can cost a bit more but your eyes will thank you for them.


As with all off-roading we need to adjust our tyre pressures before heading onto the sand, but how much is too much? There is no hard and fast rule, and it will depend on how soft the sand is, what size wheels and tyres you’re running, along with how much weight you are carrying.


16-inch wheels – 16 psi

17-inch wheels – 16-17 psi

18-inch wheels – 18 psi

19-inch wheels – 20 psi

20-inch wheels – 22 psi

Remember when running at reduced pressures to avoid sharp turns as this could cause a tyre to roll off the rim; and don’t forget to re-inflate your tyres once you leave the beach, to avoid overheating and damaging them.


Toyo Tires technical manager Steve Burke recommended the following points for sand driving:

  1. Optimum sand driving pressures are about maximizing the tyre’s footprint. You want maximum flotation while avoiding damaging your tyres with excessive sidewall flex. Vehicle loads will determine the pressure required. The correct pressure will be higher on a heavily laden vehicle compared to a lightly loaded one.
  2. Soft sand? Momentum is your friend. Avoid stopping. Always keep some drive and hold the revs where the engine is producing enough torque to stop the engine bogging. Petrol engines will generally need more revs than diesels.
  3. If your pressures are low, you need to avoid sharp turns to avoid de-beading tyres. This is more pronounced in soft sand, but low pressures on hard sand require the same care
  4. If you are beach driving and move on to hard sand, minimize speed or increase inflation pressure to avoid tyre damage.
  5. For the purposes of de-bogging your vehicle, you can temporarily drop pressures lower to gain the extra traction to get your vehicle moving. This is a temporary measure. Once you’re out, get those pressures back up to normal limits.


Most people say the firmer sand is down towards the waterline and they’re generally right. It is… but that’s where the sea is too, and we all know what salt water can do to your pride and joy. So here is the dilemma faced by many newbies: Do I drive on the hard stuff near the water or do I head further up and risk getting bogged and then having to get intimate with the shovel? Decisions, decisions.

Well, the happy medium for cruising is usually between the two – slightly higher up the beach just before the sand gets boggy, but away from the waves lapping at your tyres. The only problem here is, this is the area that most other people drive on (it can get a bit busy depending on the beach and time of year) so if driving on a sandy highway is OK by you, go for it.


As when on the highway, keep left when passing other beach users. If you need to go around an obstacle, use your indicators to let others know which way you are going.


OK, so you don’t want to drive down on the waterline with everyone else… so where do you go? Well, heading up the beach will get you away from the crowds and driving over the dunes is great fun. Just keep away from the vegetation and you won’t get into any trouble.

The one drawback with driving up on the dunes is that the sand is often soft, and this can mean you may have to drop your tyre pressures further to avoid digging in. If you do get caught out, it can mean a fair bit of digging. Recovery boards will help speed up your recovery here.

If you do get stuck, don’t keep spinning your wheels as this will only dig your 4X4 in deeper. Try selecting reverse and back out gently; if it works, great… you’re on your way again. If not, stop… it’s time to get the shovel out. Clear sand out from under the chassis and from behind the wheels. If you have recovery boards, use them here and gently reverse out of the hole.

As you drive over dunes, ease off the throttle as you reach the crests. As cool as it looks to see a fully-loaded 4X4 flying through the air on YouTube, it really doesn’t do you (or it) much good as the vehicle nose-dives into the ground on landing. This ain’t Hollywood – vehicles will break. So ease off and gently drop down over the other side, keeping square-on to the dune itself.


If using recovery boards try not to spin your wheels – as this will heat the plastic and melt it, removing the lugs, and leaving you with a pretty-looking piece of smooth plastic.


All this beach driving is hard work, so we might as well chill for a bit and make a day out of it. Why not grab the camp stove and cook up a few snags for lunch. Or if you’ve been really lucky you may have caught a fish or two. So, for convenience, get out the stove and cook up some grub. Have some drinks (remember you are still on a public road – and the cops do patrol a lot of beaches, so don’t drink and drive).

Sit back, enjoy the sea views and relax. If the kids are about, make sure you and them keep an eye open for other vehicles; often with the wind and surf you can’t hear them ’til they’re right on top of you… so be vigilant. The last thing anyone wants is a great day out on the beach ruined by someone getting hurt. Oh, and if it’s blowing, keep the snags sheltered. There’s nothing worse than a gritty sausage.


When stopping, try to keep the front of your 4X4 pointing slightly downhill and avoid sharp braking. These simple precautions will make pulling away again a whole lot easier.


Modern vehicles are much better protected against rust than they used to be. That’s a fact. But sand is still pretty damned abrasive (think sandpaper) so if you’ve been scraping the bottom of your car you may well find some of the rust protection has worn off – which will allow corrosion to set in surprisingly quickly.

Prolonged exposure to salty water and sea air will play havoc with metal surfaces and electrics. If you want to keep your 4X4 working well and in one piece, give it a good clean as soon as you can after leaving the beach.

The jet wash at the local servo is a good option here and it will remove most of the salt before it’s had a chance to do any damage. Oddly, this is even more important if it’s raining. Rainwater can contain lots of minerals which react with the salt, and unless there’s a typhoon blowing it won’t have the power to remove the dirt completely, thus trapping salty water in the little crevices allowing rust to grow from the inside out. Just be careful when cleaning the engine bay, as water and electronics don’t mix too well.

Another favourite tip for cleaning under the fourby is to use the old garden sprinkler. Park over it and give the vehicle’s underside a good soaking. The best bit is you’re watering the lawn at the same time… two jobs at once – that’s winning in my book.

Once your fourby is dry, have a quick look underneath and give any exposed areas a good soaking in lanolin or similar. This will protect the underside. If you’re now hooked on beach driving it might well be worth looking at some of the electronic rust prevention devices on the market.

So, there you have it: Some simple steps to help you and your 4X4 survive a trip to the beach. What are you waiting for? Pack up the family and start exploring.


You may notice that some of your factory plastic guards might be hanging a bit low – make sure there’s no sand caught up in them, and re-attach them securely. Alternatively, this could be a good excuse to upgrade your underbody protection.

This article was originally posted by Unsealed 4X4.

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