One of the reasons we bought a 4X4 vehicle was to be able to drive on the beaches in all conditions. Driving on beaches can be a great experience. What 4x4 mode is best for sand?
Use a 4x4 on the sand
We previously owned a front wheel drive car and had a few too many close calls getting stuck in soft sand. Plus, we never liked planning a beach day only to be warned at the gate that the sand was deep and they recommended 4-wheel drive vehicles only. Driving on the sand sure beats having to carry all your beach gear from the parking lot to the beachfront. You have everything in the truck and drive on out to find your little space of paradise. Still knowing how to drive on deep sand takes some practice.
How To Drive Your 4 Wheel Drive On Sand
Heed the warnings at the beach entry gate about soft or deep sand and admitting 4WD vehicles only. There should be a sign. Beach conditions do change with weather and tides. For example, this summer beach season of 2022 has been bad for soft sand on the Volusia County drive-on beaches such as Daytona Beach Shores and Ponce Inlet. Different coarser types of sand from North Florida and Georgia have drifted south to Florida beaches and they don’t pack as well as the usual white sand. Add in dry weather and lower tides (from lack of storms) and you have a good combination for the buildup of soft, deep beach sand to get stuck in.
What 4x4 mode is best for sand?
Educate yourself on what is 4WD and the various modes that come with most 4-wheel drive vehicles. Your owner’s manual is the best source of information on your specific vehicle’s 4WD system and how to use it. In general, 4WD refers to a vehicle that has the capability to provide power to all four of its wheels at the same time. Most basic 4WD systems have a low and high range, but you can get trucks with multiple modes specific to different driving conditions and terrains. Most newer vehicles can change modes with a simple flick of a switch.
Is 4H or 4L better for sand?
Should you be using high range (4H) or low range (4L) when driving in the sand? When driving in soft and/or deep sand you should be using 4L (Low) range. This mode is the most favorable when driving on surfaces such as soft and deep sand. Soft sand has less traction than normal roads, so you want your wheels to be moving slower while giving you more torque. Engaging 4L normally disables traction control and stability control as well. Those systems inhibit wheelspin and use either the brakes or throttle to slow spinning tires. On the soft beach sand like in Ponce Inlet or New Smyrna Beach, you need to be able to use the throttle to maintain momentum, and that means some wheelspin is appropriate. If that traction control is still engaged, your vehicle will spin but dig itself into a hole.
Our 4WD Tacoma is typical of how to engage 4L mode. I must bring my vehicle to a stop and put it in neutral to engage low range. I change the dial from either 2WD to 4L or 4H to 4L. Once done, I will see an illuminated icon that says 4L appear on the dash. You want to be sure that the mode has been engaged properly before you attempt to get through the soft beach sand. Moving slowly while also accelerating gently and braking softly gets us on and off the beach every time.
You may also be wondering when it is okay to shift modes. The answer is that you should come to a stop when going in and out of 4L mode. It is fine to change from 4H to 2H while you are moving at normal speed limits. A word of warning: each 4WD mode has an intended use. Low range mode is intended for slow driving across tougher terrains. It is not meant for high speeds and can cause damage your vehicle. Driving on the sand is fun but not every vehicle has the capability to drive safely on it. It's better to spend the day "digging" the waves, sunshine and beach scene than digging your stuck vehicle out of a deep sand trap.
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