Most 4×4 fans will tell you that driving through sand is one of the greatest challenges when off-roading. A driver can easily be fooled and there is always a high possibility of getting stuck, no matter your expertise level. Since there are quite a number of the best 4×4 trails in South Africa that have some degree of sand driving, and we regularly discuss 4×4 driving tips, we have decided to spend some time focussing on some useful 4×4 sand driving tips that could go a long way in making your drive memorable in a fun way and not in the stubbornly-kicking-up-the-dust kind of way.
Defeating the Best 4×4 Trails in South Africa
Driving over dunes on the beach or in the desert requires the driver to be fully prepared, with a very good understanding of the vehicle and its modifications, as well as having the right equipment to assist you in the inevitable challenges you will face when driving over loose sand.
To list some of the things you should keep in mind, we have compiled a Do’s and Don’ts list that you can memorise for your next sandy trip.
- Do know the height of your vehicle and how low everything goes once you’ve deflated your tires. Deflating your tires gives your vehicle a larger footprint and distributes the weight of your vehicle, helping you to find better traction on the sand. But it also drops the height of the vehicle and can cause you to incur some damage on the underside if you aren’t aware of quite how low you are.
- Do drive at higher revs. Higher revs offer you greater momentum, which is vital for moving forward on sand. Horsepower is the key word here. Driving at higher revs also allow you smoother changeovers in gears and will keep your momentum going forward without spinning your tires.
- Do bring the right equipment. Make sure you have packed a shovel, doormats or traction aids. These will help you to get out when you get stuck. Depending on where you are driving, you can use branches and other debris to give your tires the traction they need to get unstuck. Or gently rocking the vehicle left and right can help you to get the loose sand to fill in under the tires, slowly raising it up again. But if you have tools, then you’ll be on your way in a flash, instead of standing out in the hot sun trying to find solutions.
- Do use a sand flag. Especially when driving over dunes. A sand flag is easy to make and could really help other drivers to know where you are even if they cannot see your vehicle. These flags have prevented many accidents, as drivers sometimes cruise over a dune without being able to see if there is oncoming traffic.
- Do try to keep it straight. Drive straight up the dune and straight down again. And if you get stuck halfway up a dune due to not having enough momentum, then keep your tires straight and simply reverse back down in gear. The moment you try to turn your vehicle around, you risk the sand dominating the direction of your tires and you could end up rolling your way down.
- Don’t stomp on the brakes. In fact, try not to use your brakes at all. Braking causes sand to compile in front of your tire, effectively making your pull away that much trickier. It is often the cause of many drivers getting stuck in the sand.
- Don’t drive over vegetation. Besides damaging the environment, driving over vegetation will cause erosion of the natural terrain. This isn’t always possible, but be mindful if you can.
- Don’t fight the direction of the vehicle. Gripping the steering wheel too tightly will prevent the vehicle to centre itself so that the tires can end up pointing in the right direction. Often the tires will turn in the opposite direction of where you want to go and forcing the vehicle to change direction could have you suddenly moving in your chosen direction without being fully prepared.
- Don’t do 4×4 sand driving by yourself. It is useful to have someone with you to help when you get stuck and to tow you when you have dug yourself in. Try to drive with someone who has some experience driving on sand to give you the best advice when needed.
- Don’t forget to thoroughly wash your vehicle when you’ve returned home. Sand is corrosive and will end up damaging your vehicle if you don’t ensure that your vehicle is carefully cleaned after your 4×4 trip.
Check out some of our favourite 4×4 driving articles and let us know in the comments below if you have other tips we should keep in mind.