THOUSANDS of campers and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts will take to Australia's stunning sandy beaches this summer.
There are two elements essential to driving on soft sand - tyre pressure and momentum.
Brad McCarthy, the inventor of Maxtrax and author of Dirty Weekends in South East Queensland: The Essential 4WD Guide, says high-range four-wheel-drive is usually the best choice.
"If your vehicle has free-wheeling hubs, engage them before leaving the barge, ferry or firm ground," McCarthy says. "There is no need to unlock them every time 4WD is disengaged - only when your trip is over and you are back on the bitumen.
"This is also the time you may choose to lower your tyre pressures: 172kpa (25psi) should be adequate for most sand driving."
"Remember to keep your speed down when travelling on deflated tyres as serious accidents have occurred."
Before taking your trip, be sure to check tide times for safe travel.
"Contact the relevant authorities for permit details and local information. Ensure you have, as an absolute minimum, a snatch-strap, a couple of shackles, a shovel and a tyre-pressure gauge and your vehicle is mechanically sound," says McCarthy.
Tips when driving:
- If the beach is wide (low tide) and there is a large area of firm, packed sand, drive on the part just above the wet area where the waves wash in.
- You can do this in 2WD as if on the road, but remember to keep a check on your speed. Stick to a maximum of 80kmh because washouts and small streams crossing the beach can appear quickly.
- Before attempting to cross patches of soft sand or creeks, engage 4WD (H4 in second or third gear). Keep engine revs up to provide maximum torque until you are back on firm sand.
- Road rules apply on all beaches (including the wearing of seatbelts and the .05 blood-alcohol limit). Keep to the left as if you are on a marked road.
- Do not carry passengers outside the cabin. People have been seriously injured when the vehicle they were outside rolled or collided with another vehicle.
- Slow down when approaching people or parked vehicles, as the sound of the surf can obscure engine noise and children will often suddenly dash towards the water or parents.
- Avoid any sudden changes of direction or acceleration and, if possible, coast to a stop rather than braking heavily.
- If parking on the beach, where possible, stop on firm sand but not where other vehicles are travelling. Otherwise, drive towards the dunes and swing the vehicle around to face the waves before stopping. This will make taking off again a lot easier.
- When leaving the beach, approach tracks through the dunes square on if possible, and keep your momentum up. Keep your thumbs outside the steering wheel and follow any existing wheel tracks. The vehicle will more or less steer itself if the tracks are deep enough.
- Most inland sand tracks are single lane, two-way and have many blind corners, so keep your speed down to about 20-30kmh.
- While it is not always possible, try your hardest to avoid driving in saltwater, as your vehicle's life will be shortened.