Beached as! Get your 4WD ready for the sand
We're looking at an early summer: Here's how to prepare your 4WD to hit the beach.
Whether it's hoofing it through the desert or on one of our simply jaw-dropping beaches, knowing how to tackle sand is an essential part of living life in LowRange.
You don't need every accessory under the sun; you just need a little bit of know-how, the right recovery techniques and to carry some proper gear to keep you clear of trouble. If you're planning on spending a lot of time in the dunes then a few sensible mods can go a long way. It's all about setting yourself and your vehicle up to handle anything, which is exactly what we're going to show you in this article.
So grab a cold one, put your feet up and start planning next weekend's beach getaway, because once you've read this there's nothing standing in the way of you getting out there on the soft stuff.
Tyres and pressures
Attempting to drive on soft sand at road pressures will almost always end up with the vehicle bogged, so it's a good idea to air down before you hit the dunes.
Dropping a few psi out of your tyres does a couple of important things. It enlarges the contact patch between your rubber and the sand, encouraging the tyres to float over rather than dig down into it.
The next thing running less air pressure does is lessen the grip between the tyre bead and the lip of your wheels. While this is not a cause for concern, too-low pressures or overly aggressive cornering can pop the tyre off the rim. So keep the speeds down and the changes in direction smooth.
The pressures you should run almost always come down to vehicle loads and driver experience. Different 4WDs will react differently to pressures and the softer the sand, the lower the pressure you'll need to run.
Start around 22psi, and if the tyres are wanting to dig, drop them accordingly from there. It's not normally advisable to go below 16ps, but you can drop them down to single digits to get you out of a bind, just make sure you pump them back up after. With smaller vehicles like Suzukis or SWB Jeeps, you could go lower still.
Sand recovery equipment
When you're travelling on sand, you will eventually get bogged. It's not a matter of 'if' but 'when'. The most important thing is to get off the loud pedal as soon as possible. If you keep into it you're only going to dig yourself deeper. Drop a little more air out of the tyres, throw her into reverse and see if you can back out of it. If not, it's time to effect a recovery.
If you're on the sand a lot, then a set of recovery ramps will get you out of trouble quicker and easier than just about anything else. These are commonly made from a heavy duty studded plastic and are wedged under the bogged tyres. All you need is some gentle acceleration and nine times out of ten you'll be back on your way in a couple of minutes.
If you're travelling in a convoy then a snatch recovery is often the preferred method. Winch recoveries are often more difficult, as the bogged vehicle generally just pulls the recovering vehicle, rather than the other way around.
If you are on your own and there's nobody around to lend a hand, you'd be amazed how useful a long-handled shovel is for digging your way out. By clearing the sand away from under your vehicle and in front of your wheels, you can drive out of almost anything. Always try going in reverse first, as the tracks you've already made are generally much more compacted than the way forward.
Sand and the art of vehicle maintenance
Ok, driving on sand is more fun than shopping for 4WD accessories with somebody else's credit card, but it does come at a price. Beach trucks are more prone to rust than just about any other vehicle. Exposing metal and seals to grit and salt spray can cause them to corrode and fail in no time if preventative measures aren't taken.
And sand ain't easy on your 4WD's mechanicals either. Because the tyres are deflated and constantly working to push momentum sapping sand out of the way, your engine, gearbox transfer case and diffs are all working harder than they would be normally. The most common result is that things start to overheat.
However, with a bit of common sense, some good pre- and post-trip servicing and a couple of aftermarket mods, you can turn your truck into a desert eater that'll last for decades.
The first thing to be aware of is that sand gets everywhere. While you may be able to vacuum it out of your carpets and hose it off the tops of your sidesteps, it's also under the vehicle, coating every nook and cranny including the tops of transmissions, inside chassis rails, and all through the radiator fins.
Over the years one of the best ways we've found to clean the underbody is to buy a lawn sprinkler on a track. Simply set it up under your fourby, turn the hose on and come back in 20 minutes. It gives a gentle rinse which is preferable to a pressure washer which can blow grit past seals. Stick the hose down each chassis rail too and give them a thorough low-pressure flushing, the same goes for the radiator, alternator and engine bay.
Once you're happy it's clean, liberally apply a rust inhibitor like lanolin or fish oil. These can prevent corrosive substances from getting near metal and keep your truck newer for longer, but be aware that they will need reapplication after every trip or once every few weeks.
Even if you're only driving on sand a couple times a year, a quality aftermarket transmission cooler will be worth every cent. There's not a single auto out there that won't benefit from as big a cooler as you can fit in the available space.
Engines too feel the heat, especially in the desert. An exhaust gas temperature (EGT) gauge is one of the first aftermarket add-ons we like to fit, particularly if it's a turbo-diesel powerplant. They're one of the most accurate ways to tell what your engine is doing temperature wise. The factory gauge may only have a couple degrees difference between half-way and in the red, whereas an EGT will fluctuate markedly as the terrain and driving style differ. By fitting one, you can pull over and let your engine cool before heat has a chance to become a problem.