The ultimate guide to beach driving

If you have a 4WD and haven’t yet done any beach driving, then you should really give it a go. It’s not difficult to learn, and provides a lot of fun for the whole family.

It also opens up your options for fishing, snorkelling, camping and taking holidays. There are a number of things that you need to know before venturing onto a beach however, which I will try to cover below.

Parked on the beach
Being able to take your 4WD onto the beach opens so many options up

I have had to pull a number of people out of situations on the beach, mainly because of a lack of experience and knowledge. If you are not doing things the way they should be then you damage tracks, vehicles and even people.

Roll over’s happen on the beach all too often, usually because of too much speed or inexperienced driving. Accidents happen even to those who have done a lot of beach driving, so you can’t ever get lazy.

Prepare your 4WD for Beach Driving

The only problem with driving a car on the beach is the amount of salt which gets everywhere. This is especially the case if you choose to drive through salt water! This has to be one of the worst things you can do for your 4WD.

Find out more here – Driving your 4WD through salt water, and also here – 12 ways to wear your 4WD out faster.

Lanolin works well (but sand sticks to it). You can buy this (basically just sheep oil) from Bunning’s, and Repco and spray it on the underneath of your car before you drive on the beach.

Give it at least a day to drive, as it is sticky as. When you come back, be sure to hose everything off again, really well. 

Alternatively, you can get a number of underbody protection products that can be DIY or professionally applied.

4WD Vehicles that are not well cared for after being driven on the beach will rust quickly and cost a lot of money to fix.

What do you need?

Even before arriving at a beach, there are a few items that you should have access to, either in your own car or another car that is following.

One of the most important pieces of equipment is a long handled shovel. If you ever get stuck, these are vital in removing sand from the wheels and from under the car.

Of course, you can use a small shovel or even your hands, but it’s much less effective. Everything that you need for Beach Driving can be purchased online, at your local auto store or 4WD store. 

Watch that tide!
Watch that tide!

Maps and some basic knowledge of the tides

Knowing where you are driving is important, as there can be difficult sections that you may not know about. Knowing what the tide is doing is something that many people forget. The number of people who lose their cars each year because the tide comes up is simply incredible.

Before you put yourself that close to the water be sure that the tide is dropping. It’s easy to get to a narrow bit on the beach and be forced to get your car wet, or even worse, getting stuck. The sand near the water can be soft and sludgy, which is a good reason to avoid it.

Tyre Deflators

Tyre Deflators are not something that you need to have, but it makes life a lot easier. Before I purchased one I used to just use a key or stick to let air out of the tyres, but this is slow and tedious.

You can either buy a set of staun tyre deflators which you simply screw onto the valve and watch the pressures drop to whatever you have them set at. They are not cheap, and don’t always last.

The ARB Tyre deflator is about $70 but works brilliantly. They screw onto the valve, and undo the core of the valve, allowing air to rush out much faster.

They also have a gauge incorporated, which makes it easy to let your tyres down quickly to the exact pressure. 

Beach driving gets you to places like this
Beach driving gets you to places like this

12V Compressor

I would suggest that a compressor is a good idea. Of course, you can get away without one, but it depends on where you are going. If you are more than a few kilometres away from a petrol station, especially on main roads then having your own compressor is well worth it.

Running your tyres on the bitumen when they are deflated is not a good idea, especially at high speed and for long distances.

I purchased a bushranger supermax air compressor for about $400 dollars and about 10 years later its still going! You can mount 12v compressors under the bonnet, under your seats or in a Ute, depending on what you want.

Tyre Gauge

Having tyres that are let down to different pressures can make beach driving difficult and dangerous. You can buy a cheap one for under $20, just to be safe.

These are important, so that you can set your tyres at the right pressure every time. Of course, the ARB deflator already has one mounted to it, and many compressors will too.

Using a snatch strap to pull out a car
Using a snatch strap to pull out a car

Snatch Strap

A snatch strap is a must. These are basically rated straps that are able to stretch a bit. A car can pull another car out very easily with one of these, but you need one that is rated according to how heavy the car is that you are pulling out.

A 4.5 tonne strap should only be used for small vehicles. The heavier the car, the stronger the snatch strap needs to be. A heavier car should be using at least 6 or 8 tonne snatch strap. These need to be attached to rated recovery points, and some shovelling should happen first!

Traction boards

Boards, Maxtrax, metal tracks or industrial shade cloth. Out of any of those choices the Maxtrax are by far the best. The idea behind them is to place them in front or behind of the stuck vehicle, and to drive onto them. They lift the car back on top of the sand and allow for it to drive off again.

Rated Recovery Points

You should never go off road in a 4WD without rated recovery points. If you get stuck, recovering your vehicle is likely to end up in serious and costly damage. You can buy a rear hitch receiver, and some hooks for the front. They are the most important accessory to add to your 4WD.

Load tested recovery point
Look for the stamped rating

Long handled shovel

Despite the work involved when using a shovel, it is actually one of the fastest ways to get a bogged 4WD on the beach up and going again. The long handled ones are best as you can reach further under the vehicle.

Other obvious bits and pieces for beach driving include plenty of food and water, first aid kits, fishing gear (and anything else that you need), mobile phones, a UHF Radio and other emergency equipment. Letting someone know where you are going is important, so you can be found if something goes wrong.

What beaches can you drive on?

Generally the more used a beach is by swimmers the less likely you are able to drive on it. If it has obvious access, and no signage to say otherwise then there is a good chance driving is allowed.

Of course, checking with the local authorities is always a good idea! For more information, check out WA’s best beach driving.

Engage 4WD!

Before you hit the beach you need to engage 4WD. This can be done in older cars by turning the front hubs around into the locked position.

Some newer cars can do this from inside the cab by pressing a button, but make sure all four wheels are driving or it will be very difficult to drive through any sand!

Two wheel drive on the beach doesn't work!
Two wheel drive on the beach doesn’t work!

Lower your tyre pressure on the beach

This is probably the number one reason why people struggle with beach driving. The idea behind driving a car on the beach is to try and stay ‘on top’ of the sand, rather than digging down.

The best way to do this is to let air out of your tyres. This increases the surface area that is touching the sand, and hence you sit ‘on top’ of the sand more.

Some beaches are rock hard and may not need tyre deflation, whilst other beaches can get you fined if you DON’T drop your tyres down. For most sand, letting your tyres down to 15 – 20 PSI is a smart move.

If you get into trouble you can let them down even further, but make sure you pump them up again. How much air you let out depends on the weight of your car and how soft the sand is.

Have a read of the best tyre pressure for beach driving, and make sure you consider how Heat changes tyre pressures.

Remember, the lower that you drop your tyres the easier they are to roll off the rim. This can happen if you corner too fast, and the tyre just moves to the side and pops off the rim. Fast cornering on sand is bound to get you in trouble anyway, so avoid it at all costs!

Letting your tyres down will reduce the stress on your car and make it easier to drive. Don’t be lazy and drive without your tyres deflated, as you are likely to damage your car, wreck the tracks and end up bogged.

Is your car suitable for beach driving?

Many modern 4×4 lack clearance and low range. Clearance can be a major issue if the sand is boggy, as the car will want to sit on the chassis at any chance possible, and will often belly out along tracks with deeper ruts.

An all wheel drive car can drive on a beach, but it won’t go as well as a true 4WD car, and may struggle in soft sand. It’s up to what you are comfortable with, but don’t push your vehicle beyond what it is capable of.

Salt water and cars creates rust
Salt water and cars creates rust

Low or High Range for Beach Driving?

Most 4WD’s have the option of high range or low range. Low range is used for maximum traction, and is very helpful when you get stuck.

If your car can comfortably drive along a beach in high range, then use that. If it lacks the power then you can drive in low range, but you can’t go as fast!

Some beaches are sold and easy to drive on
Some beaches are sold and easy to drive on

My car get’s hot on the beach

Beach work is usually what will make a car get hot, if it is ever going to. Sand makes it harder to drive, and your engine will get worked harder than normal. If you find it is getting hot, dropping your pressures more (if safe to do so) can work miracles.

To cool the car down, turn the heater on full and open the windows. Of course, if it is getting too hot, stop and let it cool down before you proceed.

Being stranded on the beach with a dead car is not something that you want to experience! Simply watching the temperature gauge is a good idea.

If you do a lot of beach driving, then fitting an aftermarket temperature gauge is well worth it.

Where do I drive on the beach?

On beaches that get driven on regularly, there will be a few prominent tracks. Usually there is one furthest away from the water line, and one closer to the water. Driving in the middle of the two can be soft, and hard work for your car.

In general, pick the best track and stick to it. This depends on how soft each track is and the angles that the tracks are at. Quite often the tracks further up a beach have slight angles, and you want to watch how fast you are travelling.

Quite often the tracks closer to the water are harder, but be sure to keep well away from the water.

Taking the high track due to a high tide
Taking the high track due to a high tide

It’s likely that at some stage you will come across people stopped on the beach fishing, surfing, diving or camping. You need to slow down and drive around them accordingly. You should never stop on the beach if you are blocking the main track off, as you will find people will not take to it so kindly!

Turning around on the beach

If you ever need to turn around on the beach, make sure you have a good look before you do so. If you only need to go back a little bit and the sand is soft you are most often best reversing.

The reason for this is that driving off the tracks in soft sand will likely end up with your vehicle struggling, and it has a lot more chance of getting stuck.

If you do want to turn around, you are best off going down the slope of the beach. Don’t drive too close to the water, but at the same time don’t turn your wheels too far or you will have a hard time pushing forwards.

A lot of people will attempt to turn up the slope and get stuck. It is hard enough for most cars to drive on a flat, soft beach let alone trying to drive up a slope at the same time.

Likewise, if you are close to the water and you want to get back up ‘the top’ where the track is, build up your momentum first, and then slowly cut across the beach. If you try to drive straight up the slope you can guarantee that you will struggle considerably.

How fast do you need to drive on the beach?

The basic rule for this is to drive for the conditions. The more momentum that you have the easier you will find it to drive, but at the same time the easier it is for something to go wrong. If there are washouts, multiple vehicles, people camping or people bogged, slow down!

Sand can make it difficult to judge depth, and as a result it is easy to go down a dip or over a little lip without seeing it.

Some beaches are very wide and safe to drive quickly along, but for most beaches you should not be exceeding 40km/h. In soft sand, anything in between 20km/h and 40km/h is safe.

Also remember that most beaches are classed as roads, and some are limited to 40km/h. The police do occasionally fine people for going too quickly down a beach!

If you are driving behind a vehicle, allow plenty of space as you have to stop quickly at times. When travelling in a convoy it’s helpful to mention on the radio any upcoming hazards, so people can react accordingly. Above all, just drive safely.

Even if this means spending a few more minutes to get to your destination, it’s worth it. The alternative when something goes wrong can be costly to lives and vehicles.

Tyre pressures are important
The right tyre pressures are far more important than excess speed

What happens if you get stuck?

If you haven’t been stuck on a beach before, chances are you will at some stage. The most important thing to remember is just to take it slowly. The only exception is if you are stuck near the water with an incoming tide; then you need to move a bit quicker.

Of course, still do things safely. The main thing to remember if you start to sink is to reduce all possible wheel spin. All this does is dig you down deeper, and make it even more difficult for recovery!

Pulling a car out of soft sand
Pulling a car out of soft sand

Generally I will stop as soon as the vehicle starts to sink down. In most cases reversing back a few metres will be enough to give you another chance.

Make sure that you don’t spin the wheels though – the most common mistake that is regularly seen by new four wheel drivers is to put their foot down on the accelerator when they start to sink. This just makes you sink even faster, and makes your recovery much harder too.

Recovering a vehicle from the beach

If you get stuck, get out of the car and consider your options. Dig out any excess sand, lower your tyre pressures and try to drive out. Having people pushing can be very helpful. The use of maxtrax, wooden or metal boards or another vehicle to tow you out can also work.

Something which is too common these days is the over use of a snatch strap, or the incorrect use. Before using one, you need to remove a bit of sand.

This helps reduce stress on both cars significantly. Using rated recovery points is so simple, yet many people don’t do it. Towing off the tow ball with a snatch strap is deadly, and should never be done.

Digging a four wheel drive out
Digging a four wheel drive out

If you are really stuck, then you can let your tyres down a lot. Even if this means letting them down to 6PSI and crawling out, it may be required. Just pump the tyres back up and try not to get stuck again!

4WD recovery services usually start at around $150 dollars, and should be used only as a last reserve. As long as you take it slowly and think about it all properly you will have no issues recovering a vehicle that is stuck in sand.

Caring for your 4WD after beach driving

This is something that people tend to forget about. It’s all well and good to have a blast on the beach, but if you don’t care for your car afterwards your hip pocket will pay for it. Salt causes rust to occur very quickly, and a simple wash of the car will stop this considerably.

Make sure that you wash the underneath of the car as well as any little nooks and crannies that may hold sand. Spraying the underneath of your car with lanolin after a wash is a good idea, so that you are ready to go beach driving again next time.

Modifications to help with beach driving

There are a few modifications that you can do to help your car perform on the beach, but many standard cars will go just fine if you air down and drive carefully.

A small lift helps to reduce any bottoming out, wider and taller tyres help to provide a bigger footprint and engine mods never go astray.

The more power you have the easier it is to drive on a beach! Other than that, you can throw on a few additions which are helpful including a rear drawer set up, roof racks, spotlights and rod holders.

Huge tyres make it easy on sand
Huge tyres make it easy on sand

Towing and beach driving

Many people like to tow a trailer, whether it is for camping, a boat or just some extra space for supplies. The same surface area rule applies in regards to airing down the trailer tyres. If you don’t, they will sink and make it hard for the vehicle to pull.

I have seen boats up to 2 tonne towed along a beach; as long as your vehicle is powerful enough, you let the tyres down and you are confident you shouldn’t have any problems.

Of course, some beaches are not suitable for trailers as the sand is simply too soft; so ask around. 

Fixing a car on the beach is a real hassle
Fixing a car on the beach is a real hassle

Some of the best beach driving within a few hours of Perth includes Lancelin, Wedge Island, Sandy Cape, Dunsborough, Ledge Point, Wilbinga, Hill River, Wagoe, Lake Jasper and Kalbarri.

Beach driving is great fun, and you are able to enjoy so many other sports once you get into it. All it really comes down to is a bit of common sense and some knowledge of how to un bog yourself and how to use recovery equipment safely.

If we look after our beaches then they will stay open for years to come; drive safe, take away your rubbish and most of all have a blast!

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  1. Hey Jason,

    Cheers mate. Yep, things don’t change much in the beach driving front!

    Have a ball on the beach!

  2. Jason Weal says:

    Hey Aaron,

    11 years old this article & still current.
    I’m learning heaps from it!

    Just purchased our first 4wD so I’m reading majority of your write-ups.

    Appreciate the time & effort you have put into sharing knowledge, thank you Bro!!!


  3. Hi Nikki,

    Thanks for the comment – glad you learned something

    Take it easy

  4. Incredibly helpful with tons of information. You saved us from getting stuck.