x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

How to... drive on soft sand

Soft sand presents a challenge to the off-roader: it is smooth and delicate but unforgiving.

Soft sand presents a challenge to the off-roader: it is smooth and delicate but unforgiving. Beach sand has its own characteristics, with the added complexity of the water table beneath it, the gentle lean of the land towards the sea and the complications of tides and deep tracks left by other vehicles, so let's deal with that one first. Although nowadays there are not many beaches to drive along, with a few techniques you can make sure you keep your car out of the sea and still get close enough so you can drop the cool box and tents straight out the tailgate.

There are two main approaches: inexperienced drivers and lesser vehicles usually opt for a mad rush, hoping to reach campsite destination before sinking in. Quite often they pay for it the next day when it's time to leave and they no longer have the luxury of a run-up. Additionally, this selfish sort of driving disturbs all other people and can actually be quite dangerous. The more mature way of driving is to realise there are two distinct areas of sand on a beach - the soft dry sand above the reach of water, and the part closer to the sea which is within the reach of tides.

A powerful enough SUV, with proper reduction of gears through a transfer case, does not require speed to traverse deep and dry beach sand. If fully loaded, perhaps lowering the tyre pressure can help, but normally a steady and determined chug through the sand in low range is enough to reach the target area. Turning is made difficult, since the angle of the front wheels will give a snow plough effect, so it is best to aim straight.

If the wheels lose traction and the car stops moving forward, do not gun it, but immediately reverse straight back a few metres, along your own tracks, and then try moving forward again with more push. You may have to repeat this several times, but speed is not required. Closer to the sea itself, the packed sand at low tide is enticing as it makes driving ever so easy, but it also can have a dramatic lean towards the upcoming tide, which will have no mercy and can swallow up a car in a few minutes. Once up to the chassis in wet sand, no digging, pulling, tugging or towing will free it, and an industrial winch pulling from a lorry or crane is the only way out.

Besides, isn't that strip of sand by the sea a place where the children play and families and friends picnic and camp out? motoring@thenational.ae