Driving on the Beach


Woohoo! You’re off to the beach! NZ has some great beaches that car’s are permitted to drive on. From Muriwai in Auckland to 90 Mile Beach in Northland, there’s plenty of options for beach driving. Let’s take a look at some of the decisions and challenges that drivers face when driving on the beach.

What Car should I drive on the beach?

But before you get too excited, you’ll need to have the right car to drive on the sand. As an example the great Hilux, Surf or the luxurious Land Cruiser, Toyota has a few vehicles that tick the box driving on the beach. Some 4WD (four wheel drive) vehicles such as Nissan Xterra provide more power and thereby momentum when driving on the beach. Crossovers such as Ford Escape and Jeep Wrangler provide the option to switch between the drive modes. 4WD is suitable for off-road situations where manufacturers provide low and high-range gearing. Low ranges are suitable to low speed terrains such as driving on the beach. 

What should you do before you start driving on the beach?

Firstly, make sure you check the tides and weather. You don’t want to get stuck below the high tide mark! You should also carry the necessary gear that is required if you get stuck when driving on the beach such as tow ropes, grip mats, shovels. Carry a hand-held deflator and an air compressor which might come in handy. Read through as we explain why!

Why are tyre pressures important?

Generally, your tyres should be deflated to allow for a larger tyre contact with the surface thereby providing more traction. The default pressure setting cannot be determined as it’s based on your vehicle’s tyre size, vehicle’s weight and the density of the terrain. This is in most cases based on trial and error. Reduce the pressure gradually and drive along. Repeat the process until you find sufficient traction. If you need some new tyres before you head out to the beach, check out some of the great deals at My Auto Shop.

How to avoid getting buried in the sand?

As a driver, one of the worst things you can ask for when driving on the beach is getting stuck in the sand. Avoid sharper turns and heavy acceleration inputs. 

You should drive at slightly slower speeds and keep your throttle inputs consistent as it helps to sustain the momentum. Also, heavy braking should be avoided.

Do not park or stop on inclines as this can stall your momentum and makes it difficult to get going again. Another recommendation would be to follow the tyre marks already left behind by other vehicles along the beach.

What is Crawl Control?

Some Toyota’s and Mazda’s have a Crawl Control feature in their off-roaders. This feature engages the differential lock and spins the wheels at a very slow pace which eventually can get you unstuck. Vehicles with Limited Slip Differentials (LSDs) help in getting out of these situations. FWD (Front Wheel Drive) vehicles with open differentials do not work in these situations as the wheels just spin. Understand what your car can and cannot do to make your driving easier and enjoyable.

What is Traction Control and Electronic Stability Control and how does it affect driving on the beach?

Traction Control systems use brakes to limit the wheel spin that happens due to lack of traction (grip between the tire and the road). The system detects wheels that are spinning faster and diverts the power to other wheels that have traction so as to control the movement of the vehicle. 

On the other hand, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system brakes individual wheels to keep the vehicle in an intended path. ESC systems prevents oversteer by braking the inner front wheel and understeer by braking outer rear wheel. This helps in steering the car away from uncontrollable situations. 

Traction control and ESP does not work when driving on surfaces with low or no grip, such as on the beach and on snow. The reason being, they prevent the wheels from spinning and keeps the vehicle stuck. Some amount of wheel spin is necessary to keep the momentum going when driving on the beach. Turn these off before starting your trip.

Enjoy your beach drive and have fun!