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Off Roading Tips And Tricks For Driving In Sand

One of the best things about living in Southern Utah is being able to enjoy the great trails in this part of the country. We have miles of rugged terrain to suit all off-roaders from rock crawling to dune shredding in the expansive Sand Hollow State Park.

Speaking of driving in sand, most people are hesitant to try it out with good reason. It can be an exhilarating experience but if things decide to go wrong, they can go horribly wrong. Your vehicle can get bogged down in the sand, you could end up stuck in quicksand or your vehicle can roll sideways while trying to drive up or down a steep dune.

If you’re thinking of shredding some dunes, you don’t need the latest mods or a heavily customized 4x4 to do so. Most stock 4WDs are capable of tackling sand with minimal issues as long as you know what you are doing.

We at Dixie 4 Wheel Drive have been on plenty of trail rides so we know what mistakes most people make on sand. We decided to compile some sand driving tips to help you tackle the soft stuff with confidence.

  1. Watch your tire pressure.

Arguably the major factor in determining whether you make it or not when driving in sand is your air pressure. 4x4s are heavy vehicles so they tend to sink and get bogged down in soft sand. Airing down your tires helps to prevent this by evenly dispersing the weight of the vehicle. Deflating your tires also increases the surface area of the treads, making for better traction.

There is no set tire pressure when airing down but you can start by deflating to 20psi and going down from there depending on the conditions. Use a tire pressure to gauge the tire pressure and be careful not to go too low as you risk rolling the tires off the rims.

  1. Maintain wheel speed and momentum.

When ascending a sand dune, the trick is to have just enough momentum to crest the top of the dune. Too much momentum and you risk going airborne while too little means you won’t make it over the top and you might start sliding backwards. To maintain correct speed and momentum on a manual vehicle, shift to low gear and keep an eye on your revs while stirring the clutch a little to keep going. On an automatic, simply shift to the right gear and just press down on the accelerator.

  1. Always drive straight up or straight down a sand dune.

Another rule when driving on sand dunes is to always only go straight up or straight down. If you’re halfway to the top and wish to go back down, don’t turn around but instead drive straight backwards. This is because 4x4s pack a lot of weight and the wheels on the low side lack enough support so if you decide to turn, the effect of the springs on this side compressing coupled with the unstable sand might cause the vehicle to roll over.

  1. Fit a sand flag on your vehicle.

When cresting a dune or driving over others, there’s always a blind spot so drivers can’t always see what’s ahead. Make your vehicle visible and avoid collisions by fitting a brightly colored sand flag to your bull bar.

  1. Carry a shovel.

When you do enough off-roading on sand, you’ll eventually get stuck sometime. To get yourself out of this fix, you need to first stop spinning your tires as this only digs you in deeper. Try reversing instead and if that doesn’t work, use a shovel to pack sand in front of the tires, giving you a small ramp to help you climb out.

  1. Remember to pack traction aids.

Traction aids such as recovery boards are worth having in all terrains but are especially valuable when driving in sand. If you get bogged down, you simply use them to dig sand out from in front of the tires, wedge them snugly under the wheels then use gentle acceleration to climb out.

  1. Know how to steer on sand.

It’s notoriously difficult to steer on sand as it affects how your vehicle turns. To get your vehicle to move in the direction you wish, apply a little throttle as you turn and make your movements smooth. Sharp, jerky turns and sudden movements can make your tires slip off the rims due to low pressure and resetting them will be a major hassle.

  1. Wear sunglasses.

Protect your eyes from glare and improve your vision when driving on sand dunes by wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses, especially polarized ones can highlight gradations or changes in the sand, helping you to easily pick out depressions or holes so you don’t unexpectedly plunge into them.

  1. Re-inflate your tires on tarmac.

While airing down your tires is beneficial out on the sand, the effects can be quite devastating on tarmac. Driving at high speeds on deflated tires can cause blowouts or rollovers. To avoid this ensure you have an air compressor handy to help you inflate your tires as soon as you get to firm ground.

  1. Give your vehicle a good cleaning afterwards.

After your dune shredding adventure, remember to give your 4x4 a thorough cleaning to get rid of all the sand. Sand tends to get into all kinds of places and can cause extensive damage if left there. So to avoid sand damage, hose down your vehicle, paying particular attention to the undercarriage.

Having the right skills will go a long way towards helping you navigate your way on sand. At Dixie 4 Wheel Drive, we organize a variety of off-road education classes and trail ride events to help off-roaders get comfortable behind the wheel. We welcome you to join us and interact with other avid off-roaders.

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