9 Things to Know Before Driving Your 4WD on the Beach
Taking your 4WD out in the sand is a lot of fun… if you know what you’re doing. Too many people set off in their 4x4 for a leisurely drive on the beach only to have the day spoiled because of inexperience or lack of equipment. We've all been there, I vividly remember nearly losing a parent's Land Cruiser to the rising tide.
Follow our nine tips for driving on sand and with a little practice, you’ll be a pro!
1. Drive to the Condition of the Sand
Before taking your 4x4 onto the beach you need to know if the sand is soft or hard to make sure you set the right tyre pressure and drive in the right gear.
Low range is best when driving on soft sand. It gives you more power to drive out without getting bogged. Every 4x4 is different but most diesel engine 4WDs need around 2000 RPMs for maximum torque. This equates to Low Range 3rd gear in many 4x4s.
If the sand is compact, you can use high-range which lets you maintain momentum without spinning your wheels.
Sand driving doesn’t come naturally to most. You need to educate yourself to drive on sand properly. Do a 4WD driving course, read your vehicle’s manual, talk to friends, or watch some YouTube videos. Beach sand is unforgiving to complete novices.
2. Keep up Your 4WD’s Momentum in Sand
If you can see an area of loose or uneven sand ahead, it’s an instinct to slow down and take a better look. Instead, you should keep your 4x4’s momentum going because the slower you drive the easier it is for the 4x4 to sink into the sand and dig into a rut. By maintaining momentum you’ll also maximise fuel efficiency.
3. Look Out for Hazards on the Beach
Beaches aren’t always vast stretches of sparkling white sand. Driving on sand comes with a multitude of dangers you need to look out for. Glare off the sand and water can hide hazards that you can’t see until it’s too late. When sand driving, be alert and keep your eyes on the sand in front of you. Keep your 4x4’s windscreen clean and wear good sunnies to improve visibility.
Safety comes first. If you’re driving over sand dunes, there’s a chance that you won’t be seen by a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction until it’s too late. Attach a sand flag to your 4x4 while driving on dunes and keep a lookout for other vehicles at all times.
Driving over an unseen log on the beach can damage the undercarriage of your 4x4. Drive around anything that may cause damage, particularly if you’re driving a modified 4WD. You’re most likely a long way from a repair shop.
Gutters & Wildlife
If you drive into a deep sand hole or gutter you could be in deep trouble. It’s best to be cautious when sand driving and go around anything that looks like it could be a hole. Be careful of any wildlife or water crossings. Take spotlights if you are driving on the beach at night.
The hard sand close to the water line might entice you but be careful of rogue waves. A wave can come in without warning causing a vehicle to roll or be bogged. We’ve all seen the photos of 4x4s up to their roof in the water so take care it doesn’t happen to you! King tides also occur twice a year due to the gravitational pull between the sun and moon.
4. What to Do if You Get Bogged Beach Driving
Soft sand is inevitable when 4WDing on the beach and, if you do enough sand driving, your 4x4 will get definitely get bogged at some point. If you think you’re bogged, stop driving! Get out and have a look. Let some air out of your tyres then try reversing out using the tracks you drove in on. Otherwise, drive forward and backwards over the same track to compact the sand before trying to drive out.
If none of those tips work, it’s time to grab the shovel! Decide if you will drive out forward or backwards and dig out the sand in that direction. Make sure there is plenty of clearance near the axles, differentials and undercarriage. If you don’t have any recovery tracks, you could try improvising with whatever you can find on the beach – dry seaweed or sticks – to give you some traction.
It’s time to use the snatch strap or winch if you don’t have any luck otherwise grab the shovel and try again.
Remember, the heavier your 4x4, the greater the chance of getting bogged. If possible, leave heavy gear back at camp. If you get bogged, unload all the passengers before trying to drive out.
5. 4x4 Recovery Gear is Essential When Driving on Sand
Don’t leave home without it. Beach sand is notorious for bogging unsuspecting 4x4 drivers. Even if the sand looks firm, you can’t be sure that conditions won’t change further down the beach.
Invest in the following recovery gear to help you deal with any situation:
- Sand shovel (long-handled is best for clearing well under the vehicle)
- UHF radio to call for help
- Snatch strap and/or winch
- Rated shackles, a sturdy anchor on the front of the vehicle to attach the snatch strap
- Tyre deflators
- Air compressor
It’s ideal to pack all the recovery gear with you in your 4wd, but your best bet is to travel with another vehicle so they can help with the shovel and pull you out if you get too stuck.
6. Check Your 4x4’s Insurance Covers Beach Driving
Not all car insurance policies cover off-roading and beach driving. Some insurance companies won’t cover cars while they are on a beach or private property because the risk of damage or write-off is much higher than when the car is on the road. It could be worth looking into 4x4 insurance that covers you for off road driving.
Before you set out for a day of beach driving, check your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) or contact your insurer to see if you’re covered for taking your 4WD off-road at all.
7. Check Beach Driving is Legal in your Location
Beach driving is only allowed on selected beaches in Australia.
Just because there is 4x4 access to a beach, doesn’t mean beach driving is allowed. There are hefty fines for driving on a beach illegally. You will need to do your research to find a beach that allows 4WDs. Some beaches require a vehicle access permit. The local council website or visitors centre can give you information about beach driving.
Stick to the Sand Route
Other beaches that allow 4x4 driving have marked access routes and signage. Follow the signs and rules of every beach to stay safe. Stick to the tracks on the dunes to protect the ecosystem.
8. Watch the Tide While on Beach Sand
If you get your 4x4 bogged on a beach, it may take you some time to dig it out. But if you’re near the water’s edge on an incoming tide, you may not have a lot of time! The ocean claims plenty of vehicles that have been bogged and not released before the waves crash onto the car. Once your 4x4 is submerged in seawater, it’s a write-off.
If the tide is due to come in within a couple of hours, think safety first and drive well away from the water’s edge. Check the tides before setting out. The safest time to travel is on an outgoing tide. The sand is firm and you have plenty of time before you need to worry about the incoming tide.
9. Road Rules May Apply While Driving on the Beach
Just because it’s not a gazetted road, some beaches have the same rules. Know the speed limit, make sure you and the passengers are wearing a seatbelt and don’t drink and drive. Police may enforce the road rules and issue fines on a beach.
Even if no road rules apply, consider other drivers using the beach. Pass vehicles on the left and don’t tailgate. When you want to park, pull off the main track. Help other travellers if they become bogged, you never know when you will need someone to repay the favour.
FAQ About Beach Driving in a 4x4
Here are some of the most common questions drivers want to know about sand driving.
Should You Deflate Tyres in the Sand?
Yes, deflating your 4x4’s tyres before driving on sand ensures your vehicle doesn’t sink into the sand as much.
What Is the Best Tyre Pressure for Beach Driving?
The best tyre pressure for driving on sand is usually between 16 - 20 psi so the vehicle doesn’t sink into the sand. But always check the specifications for the make of the vehicle. Some makes may have a higher or lower psi than others. It depends on your tyres and your specific vehicle so make sure you have a good compressor and experiment to find the right combination for your vehicle and the conditions.
Don’t Deflate Too Much
When you bog your vehicle in the sand, many people deflate their tyres a few psi before attempting to drive out. While it’s a good strategy, don’t be tempted to keep reducing the tyre pressure lower than 16 psi. If you go any further, you risk a tyre coming off the rim then you are in even more trouble.
Re-inflating Your Tyres
When you have finished driving on the beach, you need to re-inflate your tyres before hitting the bitumen so take an air compressor with you. If you aren’t sure what PSI your front and rear tyres should be, check the plate on the inside of the driver’s door or the car’s manual. Make sure your compressor has a tyre pressure gauge on it.
Is an AWD Ok for Beach Driving?
Yes, some AWD vehicles are up to the job of sand driving. Check the sand isn’t too soft and you have enough clearance. Just remember without a low-range option, you might find beach driving in an AWD difficult.
Does Driving on the Beach Ruin Your Vehicle?
Driving on sand at the beach isn’t good for your 4x4. Even if your tyres (tires) don’t touch the salty waves, the sand can still do plenty of damage. It’s abrasive to the metal undercarriage so make sure you wash off all traces of sand when you come off the beach to prevent rust and corrosion. 4x4s that spend a lot of time on the beach have a shorter life span!
Can You Drive on Wet Beach Sand?
Wet sand is often firmer than soft, dry sand so it makes for an easier drive. Just remember, driving on sand near the water’s edge is riskier due to incoming tides.
Practice Makes Perfect Beach Driving
Practice how to 4wd on sand where it’s easy first, it’s safer to ease into things. If you have a friend who is experienced with sand driving, ask them to show you the ropes (and hopefully you can leave the ropes in the 4WD!).
If you’re finding your way around the coast, invest in a Hema HX-2 Navigator or we can print you a topographic map for any spot in Australia. Just let us know which area you’re headed by calling, coming in-store or contact us online.