Dear Drive… Where we answer reader, viewer, and listener questions. Something on your mind? Call us on the radio show or email us at email@example.com.
Tim spoke to us on the radio and asked:
We’re heading for a road trip these school holidays and I wanted to drive along the sand in Queensland, but I’ve never done it before and don’t want to stuff it up!
We get it Tim! There’s nothing worse than the judgement of family (who arguably, wouldn’t have done it any better themselves) if you make a mistake.
You’re right to check too, as sand driving requires preparation and concentration to manage safely.
While the photo above was an intentional bog to demonstrate how to get the car out, in the first episode of Drive TV, Trent took the Land Rover Defender onto the sand at Crescent Head and managed to keep it dry and secure.
So you can do the same, our Off-Road Editor Sam Purcell, has some key tips.
Do you need any special equipment to drive on sand?
Yes, if you’re travelling on sand you do need some basic recovery equipment.
Firstly, carry a good quality air compressor and gauge. You’ll need a good idea of how much pressure is in your tyres, you’ll need to air up after you’ve had your fun.
Here is our list of basic equipment you should consider essential on your next sandy adventure:
This would include a snatch strap, shackles and gloves. Consider throwing in an extension strap as well, as it might come in handy.
You’ll need to lower your pressures at the start of your fun, and you’ll need to pump them back up at the end of the day. So, this equipment is necessary. You can opt for a fancy tyre deflator, if you’re planning on regularly doing this.
Basic tie down points don’t cut the mustard here. Proper recovery points are rated against the duress of off-road recoveries, and are what you need to significantly reduce the risk of injury.
If you get bogged on the beach, you might have to get down and do some digging to free the sand’s grip on your car.
These can act like a shovel, but also like ramps to help pull your vehicle upwards and away from a bog. You do need to dig quite a bit for these to be effective, so be prepared to put in some elbow grease.
What pressure do I lower my tyres to for driving on sand?
There isn’t a single correct answer to this question, because vehicle weights and tyres sizes vary so much. Even tyre construction – which dictates how stiff and strong the carcass of the tyre – and design of the bead play a big role in this regard.
A good place to start would be around fifty percent of your normal road-going pressure (which is on your placard, don’t forget), something around 16PSI. However, lower profile tyres with a bigger wheel diameter limits the ability to go overly low. In this case, I would go to around 18 or 20 psi and see how the vehicle feels.
On the other hand, strong all-terrain or mud terrain tyres mounted onto a wheel with a strong bead design will happily plug along at around ten PSI ithout any issue.
Why can’t you go too low?
If you lower your tyre pressures down too far, you’re increasing the risk of separating tyre from wheel while you’re four-wheel driving. This risk increases when you’re doing sharp steering inputs at speed, with driving forces looking to separate the bead and shear the tyre away from the wheel.
You can manage this risk with driving techniques, as well as not lowering your pressures too far. It’s all in the practise, and getting to know your vehicle with seat time.
How do I reinflate my tyres after driving on sand?
That air compressor that you remembered to stick in the boot? Now it’s time for that to shine. You always have the option of going to your nearest service station and using their air pump, but that might quite a long drive on public roads at low pressures. And that’s a bit dangerous.
So, get yourself a 12V air compressor. They’re not expensive, around $250 will get you a decent one. Keep your engine running, connect the compressor up to you battery, and get pumping.
What do I do if I get stuck?
Firstly, don’t worry. Getting stuck is half of the fun. Jump out, take a few breaths and have a look. If the beach is busy enough, there will normally be a good samaritan come along to help you out.
However, you don’t want to depend on that. Go prepared with some basic recovery gear with you, and be prepared to lower tyres pressures and dig aplenty to get yourself out of a bog.
Recovery boards can be very useful in these situations, but understand that you do need to dig a lot around the wheels and chassis for them to work effectively.
Snatch recoveries – using a stretchy-style kinetic strap – often offers the fastest and most painless method of recovery, but you’ll need a willing participant (and proper rated recovery points) to pull this off. Don’t be afraid to do some digging in this case as well, to reduce the loads on the recovery equipment.
And getting stuck might be telling you that your tyre pressures are too high. So, consider lowering them a little more.
In the Land Rover Defender, did Trent use a special drive mode?
Yes. The Defender has a SAND mode as part of its Terrain Select system. If your car doesn’t have this, you can leave it in Drive and select either high or low-range 4WD with the traction control off. This allows the wheels to keep turning and you to contol what the car is doing.
Momentum is your friend, so pick your path, be gentle but considered on the throttle and once you are moving, keep doing so at a constant pace.
Hard/wet sand or soft dry sand – which is best?
This is a tricky one to answer, because conditions change all of the time and no two beaches are the same. Some beaches, or even sections of sand – can have notorious soft spots that can catch out unwitting players.
Wet sand below the high tide mark can feel firm and smoother than a baby’s behind, but they can also hide softer puddles and wallows that can bring you unstuck. So, always keep an eye on what’s ahead. Especially if you start carrying more speed.
I’ve seen videos where cars get swept away, how do I avoid that?
Salt water doesn’t mix so well with your pride and joy, so it’s best to keep those two things separate at all times. And that salt water lapping at the shore might seem peaceful and relaxing, but you don’t want it lapping anywhere near your wheels.
Get to know the tidal movements of the beach you’re on. Read the tide chart before you hit the sand, and learn how high the tide will get and what time that will happen.
Going below the high tide mark increases the risk of misadventure, naturally. And this risk only increases when you come across steeper angles and potential soft spots along the wet sand.
A note on momentum when driving on sand…
Momentum really is your best friend on the beach, and can mean the difference between getting through and getting stuck.
This isn’t carte blanch to drive like a lunatic, however. Once you get to know your vehicle a little, you’ll get a feeling for where the sweet spot of momentum is.
Don’t let your engine bog down in low revs, keep the tachometer floating around the middle of the range with a lower gear so your wheel speed (and momentum) stays healthy.
If you’re driving an automatic, lock your vehicle into a selected gear. And if you’re driving anything modern, select the sand driving mode to help out with traction control. Some vehicles without this technology might need traction control turned off completely, if the electronics are robbing you of throttle response.
…and finally. Wash your car!
Once you’re off the beach and back on the road, give your car a good hosing down to get any of that corrosive salt of the panels and the underbody. Leaving any salt and residue on your vehicle will only accelerate the process of rust, and aint nobody got time for that.
Have a question about your next set of wheels or just need some car advice? No query is too big, small or obscure! Call in to the radio show (Trent on 2GB Sydney 1:30pm Monday and 9:00pm Wednesday, 5AA South Australia 1:30pm Tuesday, and James on 3AW Melbourne 9:00pm each Thursday), or contact us by email here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
James has been part of the digital publishing landscape in Australia since 2002 and has worked within the automotive industry since 2007. He joined CarAdvice in 2013, left in 2017 to work with BMW and then returned at the end of 2019 to spearhead the content direction of Drive.