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Top Tips for Tackling the Sand

Top Tips for Tackling the Sand

June 3, 2016

Playing in the sand in your 4WD or SUV is great fun. But before you hit the dunes, it’s best to know what you’re doing so both you and your 4WD come out unscathed. We’ve put together our top tips for you to have a great time playing in the sand.

First up there are 2 popular types of sand driving:

Sand Dune Driving and Beach Driving

Both have their own set of hazards and things which you will need to know.

What to bring
Before you get to the sand we recommend that you bring the following equipment as a minimum:

Tyre Pump
In order to increase your tyre footprint on the sand you will need to reduce tyre pressures.  But of course once you’ve finished on the dunes you will need to make sure you have a pump good enough to pump them back up when you’re ready to get back onto the bitumen.

Tyre Gauge
A good quality, accurate tyre gauge is a must. It’s also worth ensuring that your tyre valves have caps as the sand gets into everything. When you pump your tyres back up you don’t want grains of sand getting caught in the valve and slowly letting your tyres down while you’re making your way home.

Sand Flag
Sand dune driving requires a Sand Flag (long mast with a flag at top) to show others you are coming over a dune to avoid head on crashes while cresting dunes. In a pinch you could use a fishing rod pole or tent pole attached to your bullbar and fix a rag or handkerchief to the top to act as a flag. It’s always worth thinking outside the square on the dunes!

Snatch Strap, Bow shackles & Damper
Of course we hope you won’t need it but as a precaution you will need to bring a snatch strap, bow shackles & damper (eg towel) in case you get stuck.  The damper is used to throw over the snatch strap in case of breakage to dampen the whiplash effect of the snatch strap potentially damaging your car or injure the driver.

Long Handle Shovel, Sunglasses & Refreshments
A shovel is a must, preferably a long handled shovel in case you need to dig yourself out. Also don’t forget some water & sun glasses. It's thirsty work out on the sand and it’s generally highly reflective and warm, especially if you need to dig your way out.

It’s important to check whether a permit is required for driving on your planned sand driving route. You can find this out by heading to parks website for more information.

So you’re packed and ready. But there are a few things which are recommended to make sure your day on the dunes is fun.

Where you can it’s best to travel with at least another vehicle in case you do get stuck. A quick tow to firmer sand is a lot easier than digging your way out. You will also learn a lot from yours & others mistakes so travelling with another vehicle will make it that much more fun.

It’s also best not to use mud tyres or aggressive tread patterns. Smoother road tyres will work the best if you have a choice, but otherwise use what you have.

Some beaches are classified as roads & police can issue speeding fines to drivers. Usually speed limit signs are displayed or noted on entry to these areas or on the permit but it’s worth being aware of when driving.

Driving on Sand
The idea is to try and drive ‘on top of the sand’ as much as possible. This is why lowering tyre pressures to 16 -14 PSI is a very good start as this will spread the weight of your vehicle over a larger tyre patch. Sometimes, the difference between getting over a sand dune or not, can be by dropping tyre pressures another 2 PSI to say 14 PSI. But you do need to be mindful that with lower tyre pressures comes the risk of popping the tyre off the rim and losing all of the air. You will need to drive smoothly without making sharp changes in direction. This will aid in not digging the wheels into the sand as much and lessen the likelihood of bogging down.

Driving on Sand Dunes
It’s important to drive straight up or straight down sand dunes. Do not traverse across because this will greatly increase the risk of vehicle roll over.

It is always a good idea to know what is on the other side of the crest of a dune. If in doubt, check it out. Sometimes drop offs can go into bushes or waterways or even other vehicles. You can drive most of the way up the dune, stop, let your passenger out to have a look over the top or they can stay there to wave you on after you reverse back down and have another go.

Most problems exist when you try to crest sharper dunes & belly out at the top. This is where your friend in the other vehicle comes in handy as they will need to tow you back a metre or you will have to dig yourself out with your shovel.

When stopping or starting on sand it is best to do this on a slight downhill run or flat, so that it is easier to start again. Use a smooth, slow, non-aggressive start to minimise the tyres digging in.

Rarely do you need to use the brakes due to the slowing natures of soft sand. When you first head out try braking on downhill slopes to get a feel for how much quicker a vehicle slows when stopping on sand, otherwise you could get bogged by just stopping the first time.

As you can stop far quicker on sand than you can accelerate compared to normal roads it’s important to be watchful for others and drive as straight as practical and maintain good speed at times when the sand is soft or going uphill. You will feel when you are driving on top of the sand or ploughing through it, depending on your speed. If ploughing, keep your foot down and don’t change gears if driving a manual. Remember that momentum is your friend, but don’t overdo it.

Usually 2nd gear or 1st in low range (manual) for soft sand/dunes or low range ‘D’ for auto transmission is the best. But this can vary depending on conditions. Try different gears to see which feels the best depending on your vehicle as specs like weight and engine will vary this. Remember to always keep the engine in the ‘power band’ or revving more than normal in case of sudden soft sandy spots that will require more power.

While you don’t have to race around everywhere like a race car driver, it’s important to maintain your speed. Sand driving does chew up your speed or momentum very quickly particularly on the uphills. You will need to maintain good momentum particularly if the sand is soft.

Your sunglasses will assist you while sand driving to help define the undulations and dips ahead. Particularly on cloudy days it can be VERY hard to see dips and sink holes ahead, which if hit at speed can badly damage your 4WD. Sometimes sand dunes ahead look like a gentle slope but at the last second can be a wall of sand with a very sharp change in angle that will badly damage a vehicle.

And of course always wear your seat belt. No matter how slow you think you are going. A sudden stop can easily put you or your inattentive passenger at serious risk.

Top Tips for Tackling the Sand

Driving on the Beach
When driving on the beach it’s important to be just as vigilant as when you’re driving on the sand dunes. Watch out for people on the beach who could be sunbathing. They can be hidden in dips so travel at a speed that allows stopping in the distance that you can see directly ahead.

The same applies for wash aways, caused by creeks flowing out to sea. Drop offs can be sharp and deep so it’s always important to check creek crossing by foot for a firm base. It’s important to be careful of quicksand. If you’re driving on a falling tide beware of pools of water that can also hide quicksand. Where you can, drive to the high, dryer side.

Where you can, avoid driving in sea water. Sea water contains salt which generally accelerates corrosion. But sometimes sea water can’t be avoided so it’s important to wash your 4WD including the underside thoroughly ASAP to reduce the risk of future corrosion. You can read more about caring for your vehicle in your Owner’s Manual and here.

Top Tips for Tackling the Sand

It’s important to know that while it’s great to have fun with your 4WD or SUV we must always be mindful of driving safely. The above are tips only for driving on sand and you will need to adjust your drive plan to the varied conditions that exist. It’s also important to adjust these tips according to your level of experience. If in doubt, drive cautiously to gain experience. 4WDing can be dangerous; you as the driver are responsible for your actions. Have fun, but be safe!

In the Mitsubishi range there several vehicles which you can take onto the sand. Throughout this article we’ve used the 4WD  ASX, Pajero Sport and Triton but the 4WD  Outlander and Pajero will also let you have a lot of fun down on the sand.

Thanks to Let's Go Somewhere for the snaps of their Mitsubishi ASX on the dunes at Port Stephens. You can read about their trip here. 

Disclaimer: Content is correct at date of publishing. Vehicle related content in this article refers to 16MY Mitsubishi Outlander, 15.5MY Mitsubishi ASX16MY Mitsubishi Pajero, 16MY Mitsubishi Triton, and 16MY MItsubishi Pajero Sport. 

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