Driving a 4x4 on the Beach: A Guide
Driving on the beach can be a fun and convenient way to enjoy a day at the shore. With a 4X4 vehicle, you can navigate the sand with ease and have all your beach gear readily available. No more hauling everything from the parking lot to the beach! However, it's important to remember these safety tips when driving on the sand. By following these tips, you can have a memorable and enjoyable beach day without any accidents or damage to your vehicle.
Use a 4x4 on the sand
Driving on the beach can be a fun and convenient experience, but it can also be tricky if you're not prepared. Soft sand can easily get a car stuck, especially if it's not equipped for the terrain. That's why we decided to invest in a 4X4 vehicle. It allows us to access some of the best beaches in Florida without worrying about getting stuck. We no longer have to worry about being turned away at the gate due to deep sand. However, driving on deep sand takes practice and skill. It's important to know which 4x4 mode to use and how fast to drive. With the right knowledge, you can safely and confidently drive your 4X4 vehicle onto the beach and enjoy a stress-free day by the ocean.
How To Drive On Sand
Heed the warnings at the beach entry gate about soft or deep sand and admitting 4WD vehicles only. Look for a sign at the entrance. Beach conditions do change with weather and tides. For example, the summer beach season of 2022 was 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 drifted south to Florida beaches. They don’t pack as well as the usual white sand. Add in dry weather and lower tides 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 mode 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 safest 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 stop wheel spin 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. That means some wheel spin is appropriate. If that traction control is still engaged, your vehicle will spin but dig itself into a hole.
With the Tacoma, we must bring my vehicle to a stop and put it in neutral to engage low range. We change the dial from either 2WD to 4L or 4H to 4L. Then we 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 safely 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.
Tip: Let air out of your tires
Maintaining a constant speed through the sand the momentum carries you through any soft sections. On the beach, normally the sand closer to the water is harder, but in Florida they usually mark the driving lanes. Stick to vehicle tracks where possible since driving through them will be easier. Having the right tires helps too. TIP: Let air out of your tires if you are having difficulty moving but always remember to return to normal pressures when coming back on-road.
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Susan and Bruno are travel bloggers. We write about Florida beaches on every coast. Our opinions only.