Australia has some of the best beaches and expansive central plains with beautiful sand. Naturally, these places become ideal havens for off-road drivers. The challenge of driving on sand is irresistible for these adventure lovers, but you may wonder what you need to know before you embark on a sand driving adventure?
Driving on sand requires more preparation than driving on roads, like having the correct tyre pressure. You also need to change how you drive by maintaining your speed, not turning sharply while your tyres are deflated, and never driving sideways up a sand dune so the shifting sand doesn’t bog or flip your vehicle.
Sand driving may sound scary, but it’s a lot of fun and very accessible once you know the basics. Get ready for a great adventure! Know more about the amazing sport of sand driving.
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How is Driving on the Sand Different Than Driving on Roads?
Driving on sand is different from driving on roads because sand is loose, meaning the terrain is always shifting. The way you drive, the speed and the tyre pressure are all completely different to driving on roads. Sand is also inconsistent, meaning driving on a sand dune isn’t necessarily the same as on the beach.
Sand is made of loose particles and is way less dense than roads. Because of such composition, it’s difficult for a vehicle’s tyres to achieve good traction on a sandy surface. The loose surface can also give way, causing the vehicle’s tyres to sink and get stuck, depending on the vehicle’s weight.
On the other hand, roads have hard and firm surfaces that easily support vehicles. In addition, roads are often coated with asphalt or tar, which makes it easy for vehicles to grip the surface.
Sand, as terrain, is always shifting. Thus, even though sandy surfaces are generally loose, they may have different densities. For example, the sand near the shore, where it’s always saturated with water, will be firmer and easier to drive on. In contrast, the sand on a dune is drier and softer, which makes it challenging to drive on.
The 12 Best Tips for Driving on Sand
The unique surface and characteristics of sandy terrain are what make sand driving exciting! Here are some sand driving tips to make your adventure safe and fun.
1. Maintain Constant Momentum
Generally, in off-road conditions, torque is more important than horsepower. But on the sand, it’s the reverse. Maintaining the right tyre speed gives you the right momentum to keep moving on the sand without getting stuck.
When driving up a dune, keep the vehicle at a speed that provides sufficient momentum to crest over the top. Too slow, and you won’t make it to the top. Too fast, and your vehicle will launch into the air. This becomes extremely dangerous because you can’t always see what’s ahead of you.
2. Find the Correct Tyre Pressure For Your Vehicle
Tyre pressure is one of the most important factors when driving on sand. There are several variables to consider, such as the weight of the vehicle, type of vehicle, tyre sizes, and the terrain itself.
As a rule of thumb, the tyre pressure for sand driving is around 20 pounds per square inch (psi) when driving a full-sized 4X4 vehicle. Going lower than 16 psi is not advisable, as you risk rolling the tyre bead off the rim.
If you get stuck, you can pump more air into the tyres to get out. Once you’re out of the sand, deflate to a safer pressure.
3. Consider Visibility Issues Caused by the Glaring Sun on the Sand
Like snow, brightly coloured sand can reflect sunlight right into your eyes, making it difficult to see. Always wear anti-glare, polarised sunglasses to see what’s ahead of you. Tinting your vehicle’s windows will also help reduce glare.
4. Follow Tracks and Paths Others Have Travelled Before You
On many dunes and sand fields, you can see tyre tracks where others have driven. Follow these tracks, especially if you’re new to sand driving. These routes will most likely feature firm sand terrain that prevents you from getting stuck.
Some areas also have sand flags to mark the routes. Follow these flags to avoid getting into the trouble and inconvenience of being sand-stuck.
5. Don’t Neglect Recovery Equipment
No matter how prepared you are, there’s always a chance of getting stuck; that’s just the nature of sand, so it’s always best to come prepared. Bring recovery equipment such as shovels, recovery boards, jump cables, portable air compressors, and spare tyres.
6. Never Drive Sideways Up or Down a Dune
Driving sideways up or down a dune is dangerous. The steep incline can tip your vehicle, resulting in a rollover that can severely damage it. Worse, it could lead to severe injuries, especially if you’re driving an open-top vehicle or one without a roll cage.
Always drive straight up or down a dune. Don’t turn around. If you have to go back, reverse back down in a straight line.
7. Know How to Identify a Safe Place to Stop
If you want to take a break, fix something, or wait for rescue, stop at designated spots. Don’t stop on the track or in places with limited visibility, such as the blind side of a dune crest. If you need to stop on the track, turn on your hazard blinkers or put sand flags around your vehicle.
There are several reasons to stop in designated locations. Stopping in the middle of the track can cause accidents, especially near crests where other drivers may not have a chance to stop in time. You also run the risk of stopping in an area with uneven ground where you can sink, roll or slide; which can be dangerous if you are already awaiting help because of a breakdown or injury.
8. Don’t Make Sharp Turns While Your Tyres Are Deflated
When your tyre pressure drops, there’s a chance that the tyre may roll off the rim. Thus, if you’re driving with deflated tyres, drive carefully. Don’t do sharp turns or sudden acceleration. Avoid braking suddenly.
9. Drive at an Appropriate Speed
Continuous forward motion is important in sand driving. Even when making turns, you should try to maintain a constant speed and avoid small, sharp, and sudden turns. When climbing a steep, sandy slope, just apply enough power to the engine so it will have the right momentum to get you to the top.
Take it easy on the accelerator; your accelerator control should be as smooth as possible. Fast acceleration should be avoided at all costs because this will only cause your wheels to dig deeper into the sand.
10. Avoid Driving on Vegetation
The desert may be a harsh place, but it has a delicate ecosystem. Don’t drive on natural or planted vegetation. This can have a negative environmental impact and can lead to erosion. Of course, driving on vegetation can do more than affect the natural ecosystem; driving on vegetation can cause the disturbance and destruction of the ground underneath you, potentially causing an accident.
11. Maintain a Safe Distance From the Water
Beach sand is different from desert sand. It tends to be coarser and denser, especially if it gets wet. If you’re used to sand driving in the desert, you must adjust how you drive. Remember that beach sand behaves differently from desert sand. Muscle memory gained from driving in the desert can cause you to drive unsafely on the beach.
12. Watch Out for Steep Drop-Offs and Cliffs
Although you may appear to be driving on a huge, wide plane of sand, there are still deep vertical areas, such as the drop-off at the lip of a dune. Be careful when driving on terrain known to have cliffs and crevasses. Get a map or hire a local guide to help you. It’s a good idea to research the place first.
Should I Use High Range or Low Range When Driving on Sand?
It’s recommended that you use a low-range gear while driving on sand since it provides better torque. If you use high gear, the engine won’t have enough power to drive through the sand or climb on dunes. But using too low a gear means you’ll be digging your tyres into the sand.
Maintaining the right momentum is essential when sand driving; it all rests on shifting to the right gear.
What Recovery Gear Do I Need for Driving on Sand?
Here are some of the essential recovery equipment that you should have in your trunk.
- Tyre Gauge – A tyre gauge is a simple device that will allow you to check the air pressure of your tyres. This gauge will help you get to exact tyre pressures, allowing you to drive along loose, sandy surfaces easier.
- Tyre Compressors – Tyre compressors are one of the single most important pieces of equipment you need to have when driving on the sand. A 12-volt tyre compressor will allow you to easily increase the air pressure of your tyres on the go, for optimal driving tyre pressure.
- 4×4 Shovel – Although it may seem basic, a shovel is an essential piece of 4×4 recovery gear, especially when driving on the sand.
- Snatch Straps – A snatch strap is an additional piece of recovery equipment that’s used when offroading. Snatch straps are commonly found alongside winches and recovery boards to ensure you’re able to get out of any emergency situation.
- Bow Shackles – Bow shackles are a staple in 4×4 recovery kits. Rated bow shackles are incredibly strong tools that allow you to create secure connections that won’t break when trying to winch or tow a stranded vehicle.
- Recovery Boards – Although cheap and rather common, recovery boards remain one of the first pieces of recovery equipment any 4×4 enthusiast purchases. They are easy to use, easy to install and work perfectly in a wide range of emergency situations.
- Spare Tyres – You shouldn’t go anywhere without spare tyres, and that holds true for offroading as well. When exploring Australia’s incredible sights, it’s essential to carry at least 1-2 spare tyres in case of emergencies.
- Winches – If you have the budget, it’s highly recommended that you install a recovery winch on your vehicle. As long as there’s a sturdy anchor, you can get your vehicle unstuck easily if you have this equipment.
How to Do a Winch Recovery on the Beach
If your vehicle has a winch and you get stuck on the beach sand, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting yourself out of a tight spot. Follow these steps to perform a winch recovery on the beach:
- Disengage the winch lock lever and pull the winch hook and cable out. You can also engage the winch and turn on the mechanism to loosen the cable. Pull enough cable to cover the distance between your vehicle and the anchor.
- Make sure you have a sturdy anchor such as another vehicle with an engaged parking brake or a tree with deep roots.
- Attach the winch hook to the anchor’s shackle. If shackles are unavailable, wrap the cable around the anchor and lock the hook on the cable.
- Make sure no one is near the cable in case it snaps.
- Engage the winch mechanism to pull your vehicle out. You can also aid the winch by gently stepping on the accelerator.
How to Use Recovery Boards on Sand
If your vehicle doesn’t have a winch, you can use recovery boards. Follow these steps to correctly use your recovery boards on sand:
- Dig out the sand away from the tyres in the direction you want to move to get unstuck.
- At the base of the tyre, dig a hole big and deep enough so you can insert the tip of the traction board.
- Jam the traction board firmly into the sand right under the tyre tread. Ideally, there should be one board per tyre.
- Deflate your tyre to increase traction.
- Slowly accelerate onto the traction board then follow it up with a fast, slight burst of acceleration.
Sand Driving FAQs
Can AWDs Drive on Sand?
AWDs, or All-Wheel Drive vehicles, distribute torque evenly between the rear and front axles. While an AWD is generally not as powerful as a 4-wheel drive vehicle (4WD), you can still drive an AWD on the sand due to its good traction. Check out our full article Can my AWD go offroad?
What Tyre Pressure is Best for Driving on Sand?
The ideal sand driving tyre pressure is around 16 to 20 psi. This allows you to get a good grip on loose sand by increasing the surface area of your tyres.
Can I Legally Drive on the Beach in Australia?
In general, beach driving is prohibited in most cities and urban areas. In rural areas, however, rules are less strict. For safety, most local governments in Australia set strict rules when it comes to activities on the beach, which includes driving.
It’s always best to check with the authorities before bringing your vehicle to the beach.
How Do I Avoid Getting Bogged on the Beach?
The best way to prevent bogging down is to drive near the shoreline where the sand is dark, flat, and wet. The sand in this area is firmer than lighter, drier sand.
How Do You Increase Traction When Driving on Sand?
The best way to increase your traction is to deflate your tyres. This increases your tyre’s footprint to distribute your vehicle’s weight evenly between the four tyres and increases the surface area in contact with the sand. Also, make sure your treads are not worn out; treads are important in gripping the surface.
Does Driving on Sand Use More Fuel?
Fuel consumption generally increases when driving on the sand due to deflated tyres and the extra power needed to drive over loose sand. However, when driving on firm sand at high speeds, the resistance decreases, lowering your fuel consumption.
Do I Need All Terrain Tyres for Sand?
All-terrain tyres work nicely as long as you deflate them to improve traction and flotation. Aggressively treaded tyres further enhance sand driving performance.