Off-roading can be incredibly intimidating, particularly if you’re completely new to it. On pavement, barring inclement weather, asphalt is pretty consistent, meaning you don’t need to modify or adjust your car just to tackle your daily commute. When you take things off-road, the ground underneath your tires can change in an instant, surfaces can shift, grip comes and goes and the better prepared you and your vehicle are, the better time you’ll have. To learn absolute essential knowledge for driving on sand, we spoke to the Marketing Director and part owner of Main Line Overland Tom Henwood. The start of spring has us thinking about the beach, so we picked his brain about tips driving on sand and any essential pieces of gear to pack.
Tire pressure is paramount. When you air-down (deflate) your tires … they’re getting longer, almost like tank tracks. When this happens, your contact patch becomes larger, and you distribute the vehicle’s load better over the loose surface. But if you have a larger vehicle, you don’t want to air down too much — the tire will rip off the rim.
You want some sidewall bulge, indicating the longer tread, but a safe bet is to keep it above 20 psi. If you’re still struggling for traction, 12-15 psi should do it but any lower and you risk unseating the tire. It’s also important to make sure you inflate your tires as soon as you get back on to a harder surface — not doing so is a quick way to destroy your tires.
Carry momentum and have a plan of attack. When driving on sand, you don’t want to start and stop a lot. Look down the trail or path to see where you’re going an make sure you can carry momentum through soft, deep sand so you don’t get bogged down, bury your tires and beach your truck.
Smoother inputs. In the desert, on softer, lighter sand like dunes, you want to steer with the throttle, almost like a rudder, using minimal steering input. Getting the wheels at too sharp of an angle can cause them to dig in, slow you down or worse case scenario rip the tire off the rim. Or, if you’re going fast enough unsettle the truck, [you’ll] roll.
Slow steering. Slow, steady steering goes hand in hand with smoother inputs. If you’re aired down, have lower tire pressures and start ripping at the steering wheel, again, you’ll pop the tire right off the rim.
Straight up, Straight down. When it comes to dunes, especially steep ones, attacking it straight on and with momentum will give you the best shot. But, you won’t always be able to make it up and over on the first go. If you stall out halfway, don’t try to swing the front around. Reverse straight back. If you try to get your nose pointed back down the dune, as soon as you get sideways, you’ll unload the suspension, dig in and most likely flip.
Use only if necessary
Of course it always helps to have the right tools for the job before you head out. that is, unless you plan on digging your truck out by hand and want to try and re-inflate your tires with your mouth. This is the desert off-roading gear Henwood suggests.