Cognitive dissonance. It’s a thing and a relevant one when it comes to four-wheel driving and getting bogged. Our bodies fall out of sync with our brain. We stomp on the loud pedal for all it’s worth thinking the ponies will get us out, yet know we should stop before we’re down to the hubs. Ego tells us we’ll get out eventually, but logic says to stop, get the recovery tracks and move on. This is especially pertinent when sand driving because staying off the brakes and the gas once you realise that you’re stuck will give you the best chance of a quick recovery. Accelerating only works if you’re already on top of the sand, so if this is your go-to strategy, you’ll soon find yourself resting on the bash plate and needing a mate to snatch you out. The sooner you come to terms with the fact that everyone gets bogged at some point or another, regardless of the conditions or their vehicle specs, the closer you’ll be to getting bogged less often. Understanding sand-driving technique, why your vehicle gets bogged and having a comprehensive recovery kit will get you the rest of the way.
You don’t need the latest and greatest mods on your vehicle – most stock standard four-wheel drives are more than capable of tackling the sand – and when done correctly, sand driving is relatively easy on your driveline so the chance of breakages is greatly reduced. However, it is not without its pitfalls, so you should never attempt to drive on any beach without a good knowledge of the area you’re visiting. Be aware that all road rules still apply such as wearing a seat belt, not drinking and driving, and speed limits; beach speeds are usually 80km/h unless otherwise signposted.
Local knowledge of where and when to go will assist you in making good decisions on the day, so do your research with relation to permits, weather and tidal patterns. The movement of the tide very often influences the way the sand will handle weight – we can all recall how you sink a bit each time another wave comes in while standing on the beach – so imagine this when the weight the sand must handle is your pride and joy. Where possible, it is always best to head out on a falling tide, rather than a rising one; that way if you do get stuck you’ll have a reasonable amount of time to get yourself out before the tide returns.
When you’re on the sand, tyre pressures are arguably the largest factor in ensuring you make it through. Lowering the pressure on your vehicle will help spread the tyre out, increasing the amount of surface area in contact with the sand. Most four-wheel drives will have a highway tyre pressure between 32 and 38psi, so start by dropping to 25psi (don’t guess, use a gauge) and see how you go. Several variables will determine what pressure to run at, like vehicle weight, cargo weight, tyre size and vehicle power as well as the terrain. Down near the water the surface will be firmer and easier to drive on, whereas up in the dunes, the drier sand will be much softer and will require you to drop even more pressure to gain traction. 16psi is about the minimum for most vehicles without bead lockers, otherwise you run the risk of rolling the tyre off the rim, however lower pressures can be used for emergency recover – like if you’re below the high tide mark and the waves are coming in fast – as this may just save your skin.
Be aware that lowering tyre pressure will alter the way your vehicle turns, brakes and the speed at which you can drive. You will need to allow for a lag in steering and make smooth, wide turns as opposed to tight, sharp ones or you’re bound to pop a tyre off the rim. Similarly, braking response is reduced, so be alert and look ahead for your next move. The lower you go, the slower you’ll need to go in order to safely maintain control of your rig and it’s worth noting that if you’re towing, you’ll need to reduce the pressure in those tyres to match the tug, otherwise it’ll be like dragging a boat anchor up the beach. Once you’re back on the blacktop be sure to re-inflate to road pressure; travelling at speed with low psi is a guaranteed blowout.
While correct tyre pressures are great, they’re not a cure-all for sand driving. Sand naturally saps the power of your vehicle and without power you will lose momentum and eventually get stuck. In nearly all off-road situations torque trumps horsepower, but not so on sand as wheel speed gives you the best chance of maintaining forward motion and to do this you must hold the revs consistently high. Gear selection is essential and you should only change up or down when it’s necessary and swiftly at that. An automatic is going to do this for you, but for manual 4x4s, higher revs in a lower gear – regardless of whether high or low-range is engaged – is your best bet to maintain speed.
Driving on soft sand can be compared to a speed boat on water; when travelling slowly, the boat sinks in the water and the engine has to work harder to maintain forward momentum. Similarly, driving slowly on soft sand will allow the tyres to sink more quickly and the load on your engine is greater. As you increase your speed, your tyres will ‘float’ on top of the sand – like the boat ‘planes’ along the top of the water – and the effort required to maintain forward motion is greatly reduced. So, when approaching an area of loose, soft sand be sure to maintain or marginally increase your speed; whether high or low range – make the choice based on your vehicle capabilities – momentum is the key to maximising fuel economy and reducing the likelihood of getting bogged. Also, grip the steering wheel with your thumbs pointing out as a rut can flick the wheel sharply and cause a dislocation or break; investing in good polarised sunglasses will highlight the graduations in the sand more effectively and give you more time to react.
With the two big guys sorted, you’re well on your way to a good day on the beach. Safety is also a huge aspect when driving on sand – which most people do recreationally – so a little bit of courtesy goes a long way to ensuring everyone has a great day out. Be considerate by giving way to others, avoid tail-gaiting, park away from the main driving strip and be willing to help those who need it.
Be wary of families, small children, animals and their gear as potential obstacles and fit a sand flag to your vehicle so you can be easily seen, particularly when traversing the dunes. Meet these head on and approach the ascent nice and straight as a crooked line could see you shifting sideways and rolling back down the hill. If you need to take another crack at it, reverse back down slowly and preferably in the tracks you have already made. Once you reach the peak, though, you’ll need to slow down or stop. Often there will be a significant few seconds where you can’t see the terrain ahead or approaching vehicles from the other side; another important reason for the use of a sand flag as you are instantly recognisable. Park downhill to make life easier when you want to take off again.
Don’t be afraid to be a sheep. To help reduce the amount of resistance caused by the sand in front of your tyres – and keep you from getting bogged – try and drive in any existing wheel ruts going in your direction. It will reduce the load on your engine, plus, if your camper trailer sits in the same wheel ruts as your four-wheel drive, you can literally halve your vehicle’s workload.
Sooner or later you’re going to get bogged. It’s inevitable and simply the price of entry we pay repeatedly into the world of sand driving. Try and reverse slowly along the same tracks to back out of the hole. Then, you can either accelerate with a little more oomph while vigorously moving the steering wheel from side to side so that your front wheels find a new ground or slowly drive back and forth over the same track to hopefully compact the sand enough that you can keep moving forward. You can also reduce your tyre pressure further to increase their footprint and gain you some traction.
If these tips don’t get you moving, you’re going to need to get out and start digging. Choose which way you want to drive out and dig the sand in that direction to form a ramp. You may need to clear the sand away from the axles, diffs and the undercarriage to depending on how bogged you are. Static methods of recovery and those that don’t involve other vehicles are much safer and should be your first option. Tractions aids in this instance are an essential item for your recovery kit and will get you out of most situations quickly and easily. But don’t even think about venturing onto the beach without a long-handled shovel, snatch straps, shackles, jacking plate, compressor, tyre deflator (with an accurate pressure gauge) or a sand flag as these simple items won’t take up much room, but they just might save your bacon and keep your beloved fourbie clear of the tides.
Did you find this information useful? If you found even one tiny nugget in this material to be useful, please do forward it to three of your friends. I am sure they will thank you for it. You can send it to them via email, Twitter, Facebook or post it on your own website.