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Tips and Tricks for Driving in Sand

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

There are 3 key elements to sand driving:

Tyre Pressure, Gear selection, Momentum

When driving on soft sand you will need to reduce your tyre pressures in order to accomplish the floatation required. The tread will elongate, and you will notice a bulging in the side walls of the tyres. The larger surface area now created stops the tyres from penetrating through the sand thus keeping you on top of it instead of digging in. This makes your tyres much more vulnerable to sidewall damage so be warned.

It’s easy to roll a tyre off of the rim as well as rolling the car on its roof once your tyre pressures have been reduced, you will be operating outside the manufactures specifications so take care.

The most important point to remember is:


Quick Tip:

A simple test you can use to find out if you have got your tyre pressures about right. On the flat, take off in low range 1st gear, when you’re ready to change up to 2nd gear just put your foot on the clutch and let the car roll forward. The car should roll about the full length of itself and come to a smooth stop.

Gear selection will depend entirely on the condition of the sand and what vehicle you have. On soft sand permanent 4WD vehicles will need to lock in the centre differential. A note for vehicles fitted with traction control, this feature needs to be turned off for successful soft sand driving.


Select High Range 4 Wheel Drive “D” for compacted to medium soft sand. Select Low Range 4 Wheel Drive “D” for softer conditions.


If driving on well compacted sand, High Range 4WD will normally work well under these conditions. Make gear selections the same as driving on the bitumen but remember to keep the changes smooth and watch out for soft spots. If you come across a soft spot you will need to quickly drop down a gear, and keep the revs up, to get through. Once in a soft spot it is best to avoid changing gear as this normally results in loss of forward momentum and a sudden stop. If this does occur, best to reverse back over your tracks, select the correct gear and tyre pressure and have another go. When reversing back keep the rev’s low in an attempt to avoid wheel spin.

Soft sand and dunes will require a different approach. Low Range 4WD will be needed in most vehicles and remember never drive across the face of a dune, always drive straight up or straight down to minimize the risk of rollover.

One of the dangers in sand driving is that you need to keep up the momentum in order to keep up the floatation. Reading the terrain a long way in front of you helps you anticipate any changes you may need to make. Gear changes should be smooth and fast. This is one of the reasons that automatics are so good in the sand.

It’s important to know exactly which direction your wheels are pointing, and this will often only come with practice. Make sure your wheels are straight going along the sand following the tracks. If your wheels are not this causes your vehicle to “plough” and will make the whole trip on the sand more difficult and increase the risk of rolling the tyre off of the rim.

Try to stop without using the brakes. This helps you stop without “digging in” as you roll to a stop.

Quick Tip:

Whenever you come to a stop slowly reverse back over your track for about a car’s length. This will help compact the sand and help when it’s time to move forward again. This technique should also be used if you are bogged and will help form a “runway” by compacting the sand forward and behind. You may need to go back and forth a few times.

If you plan to tackle some sand dunes remember STRAIGHT UP STRAIGHT DOWN. Never ever get sideways across a sand slope. Remember do not drive on vegetated sand dunes.

Fit a sand flag to the front of your vehicle. The flag needs to be at least

2 meters above the bonnet and will let oncoming vehicles see you coming. Head on crashes on sand dunes are not uncommon.

Take Recovery Equipment!

Take a good quality tyre compressor and pressure gauge. Make sure you have a shovel and sand tracks are always useful.

Quick Tip:

Once the wheels are spinning and you’re not moving, back off off the accelerator. All you will achieve by keeping your foot on the gas is to

dig yourself in deeper which is going to make it harder to get out.

Take special care when driving on the beach for steep drop off's. These are caused by the sea washing in and if you drive anywhere near them you run the real risk of them breaking away and you tipping over. Also keep a close eye out for seaweed holes. This is a natural phenomenon where seaweed is swirled around by the sea and digs a big boggy hole covered by a light covering of sand. It looks firm going but will swallow you up and is hard to get out of if you’re not careful. Tell tail signs are wispy bits of seaweed just sticking up out of the sand. If you’re not sure take a walk across it first.

If you do end up getting stuck, remember you can use your spare wheel, or a log, as a ground anchor, by burying them deep in the sand. You can also use your Hi Lift jack as a winch to get yourself out. An air jack is also good in the sand to lift the vehicle and pack under the bogged wheels. Never get under the vehicle if using either of these. Take a snatch strap and some rated shackles as you may come across another vehicle who can pull you out or visa versa. But most importantly don't forget to take a shovel and NEVER USE A TOW BALL FOR SNATCH STRAP RECOVERY.

4x4 Training is an essential part of learning to drive your 4x4 vehicle correctly and safely. Please join us on one of our 4x4 training days so you can learn all about the techniques required to do so.

Picture credits: Sue Williams

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