The birds are chirping, the bees are buzzing, and the neighbour is mowing his lawn in uncomfortably short shorts. Summer is here, and that means all over the country four-wheel drivers are loading up the camper trailers, stacking the roof cages with firewood, and preparing to do the two-handed Macarena dodging a hot steering wheel. While we’re not as full-on with seasons as some parts of the globe, we can definitely break ours into two categories: ‘The time when every man and his dog is out in the bush’ and ‘the time when you’ll probably get divorced if you suggest camping’.
If you’ve been paying attention the last few weeks, you’d be up to date with all the servicing your 4X4 needs. And have your cooling system up to spec. But before you load up the beach cricket set and head off to get some sand between your toes there’s a few things you should know.
The secrets to successful beach driving
Sand driving is without a doubt one of the most challenging activities us off-roaders will ever face. The secrets to beach driving can be broken down into three categories: The vehicle, the driver and the terrain. Balance the three right and it’s a recipe for success.
1. The Vehicle
Sand is softer than just about any terrain you’ll come across; it’s also unrelenting with no end in sight, and your speeds will naturally be low anyway. All this combines to needing to drop your tyre pressures considerably lower than you’d otherwise do. Safe practice is mid-teens, although you can go as low as 10psi to get yourself out of a bind. The downside is the lower your pressures, the more chance of rolling a tyre off the rim. If the waves are closing in don’t be shy to drop to single digits, but be prepared to air up again as soon as possible.
2. The Driver
For some it may be second nature, but driving in sand is straddling a knife edge. On one side, too little momentum and too few revs can see you constantly bogging down and getting stuck. Stray too far the other way and you risk turning your engine into a kettle and seriously damaging your vehicle. The actual gear will depend on your vehicle and transmission, but always engage low-range and have yourself sitting higher in the rev range than normal. You’ll need the ability to slow down or speed up by modulating the throttle. Then it’s as simple as making smooth changes to steering and skinny pedal.
3. The Terrain
One of the factors that makes beach driving tricky is how the terrain is constantly shifting. Creeks come and go. Washouts appear where there wasn’t one before. And high water tables can sink you axle-deep before you realise (including below the high tide mark). You’ll need to constantly scan the terrain ahead keeping a watchful eye out for any potential issues that may arise including absent-minded children and other less feral wildlife. Despite popular belief, 4X4s can and do affect the beach – so it’s something to keep in mind too. Driving over vegetation is a big no-no as that’s what holds the dunes together. Avoid straying from established tracks over frontal dunes as well; over time the tracks can wear down exposing the back dunes to damage from large swells. The end result is no dunes to drive in, and that’s no way to live life.
Live 10 years longer
Time for a reality check. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer anywhere in the world. By the time you’re 70 you have a two in three chance of being diagnosed with skin cancer; and (surprise, surprise) 99% of all skin cancer is caused by over-exposure to the sun. If numbers aren’t your strong point the gist is the sun isn’t your friend and if you don’t keep your wits, you could be cutting serious time off your lifespan.
The good news is there are ways to protect yourself. They’ve been parroting it for years, but the Cancer Council’s advice of slip, slop, slap is still as apt as ever. Keep our skin covered; a long-sleeve cotton shirt and broad-brim hat will keep you cooler and safer than a trucker’s cap and Bintang singlet. Actually use SPF30+ sunscreen before you get there and re-apply every two hours to any exposed skin. You’ll need a set of UV-rated sunglasses to protect your eyes from reflection off the sand. And sit under shade if you’re taking it easy.
Dodging rust is fishy business
If you’ve ever seen a 4X4 fall apart over the years you’d know it’s not pretty. No amount of servicing and expensive parts can bring it back from a rusty death, but an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Fish oil is dirt cheap, available everywhere, and can come in aerosol cans. For about $10 a litre the underside of your 4X4 should be healthily covered at the start of each summer adventure, with a refresher mid-way through. You’re not limited to spraying liquid-Nemo all over your rig though, other products such as lanolin sprays and ERPS modules also work wonders for keeping metal cancer at bay. The key is to keep on top of it. You’re not getting off that easy, though.
After each and every trip on the soft stuff you should be slinging a sprinkler under your 4X4, with a gentle hose-out of inside your chassis rails and all throughout your engine bay beforehand. If you can, pop your door trims off, lift your carpet up and access your rear quarter panels. Any small holes letting water or sand in will turn to rust within a few months, so they should be plugged.
Is your shade right for you?
Forget the checklist of 4X4 modifications for a minute and it’s pretty obvious there is an alternative to the roll-out awning; and it might suit your needs better. Gazebos are largely overlooked in 4X4 land and are generally seen in the realm of weekend picnics rather than serious adventure – but the two are more similar than you might think.
The pros and cons for a roll-out awning are reasonably obvious. They’re hard-mounted to your rig so you basically can’t leave home without them, and depending on the model they can be set up significantly faster than a comparable gazebo. The downside is they’re stuck to the one side of your 4X4 – if you need to set up anywhere else you’re out of luck.
They’re also susceptible to damage on tight tracks, and any additional accessories (like walls or fly screens) will eat into cargo space as well.
In the gazebo camp they’re generally larger, and can be set up independent of your 4X4. They will eat into your storage space but if you’re packing walls anyway it’s not that much worse. If you favour a larger area and more versatility (over storage space), a gazebo is well worth a look.
There’s more to first-aid than Band-Aids
A first aid kit is a great thing to have. Unless it’s just a bunch of expired Band-Aids and you’ve got no idea what you’re doing. Before heading off the beaten path this summer get yourself up to scratch with a first aid course. It’ll cost you $100 and a day of your time to arm yourself with the knowledge to save a loved one’s life.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time to deck yourself out with a stocked kit. Ditch the $20 kit from the servo and piece together your own – starting from a decent setup. You’ll need all the usual gear like bandages, Band-Aids and wound dressings. Saline containers and rubber gloves are a must for serious wounds and you’ll need to account for serious injuries too. An emergency blanket is vital for maintaining body temperature if someone experiences serious trauma, and a spare asthma inhaler could literally be a life saver even just a few hours from help. Finally, and most importantly, a first aid hand book should be in every 4X4. Having the knowledge and no tools is better than the tools and no knowledge.
5 tips to make your ice last
- Block ice
Simple rule is the more surface area, the faster something will melt. Bags of ice from the servo have huge amounts of surface area so they will melt significantly faster than block ice. Use cubes if you’re trying to quickly cool something; use block ice if you want it to stay cold.
- Keep it covered
Even with the world’s best insulation your ice will be affected by the outside temperature and heat transfer through the insulation. A wet towel over the ice box will keep the outside cool, allowing the ice to keep the inside cool.
A surprising amount of life gets sapped out of your ice just dropping the temperature of the ice box itself. If you’re heading off for a long weekend, throw a few bags of ice cubes in the ice box the night before to cool the walls down. In the morning you’ll be one step ahead of the game already.
- Bury it
There’s a reason we don’t use sand-to-sand intercoolers on our engines. Sand has terrible heat transfer properties, so if you’re aiming to keep your cooler, er, cooler this summer, bury it in the soft stuff until just the lid sticks out and you’ll have cold beers for longer. Magic.
- Say no to the cheap stuff
There’s a BIG difference between a cheap piece of plastic and an ice box. The former is designed to keep your ice off the ground and does the bare minimum to achieve this. An ice box can replace a fridge for week-long trips thanks to its thicker insulation. They’re a middle ground between nothing and a fridge… and seriously worth considering, depending on your needs.
5 tips to keep your fridge cool
- Give it a head start
Fridges work far more efficiently when they’re maintaining a temperature rather than trying to drop down to it. Keep your food in a 240V fridge until you leave, then chuck it in cold. If you can, plug the fridge into 240V and throw it in at the last minute so it’s already cold.
- Keep it out of the sun
When the sun is beating down on your fridge heating the outer case, the inside will have to work twice as hard. If parked up, keep airflow across your fridge and keep it in the shade.
- More is more
Your fridge is working non-stop to keep the contents cool; when the content is half air it’ll escape every time you open it, then need to start the process again. The more cold stuff in your fridge, the colder it’ll stay.
- Use the storage basket
While a packed fridge means less loss of cool air when you open the lid, you’ll also need enough air to flow inside the fridge to ensure even cooling. The included baskets are perfect for this, so leave them in there.
- Keep it powered up
Most fridges will have a low-voltage cut-out. If the battery or wiring can’t keep up, it’ll teeter on the edge of on and off all day. Nobody likes warm beer.
Easy beach tucker
While cruising the tracks all day is most of the fun, kicking back by the campfire with a cold drink and great food is just as important. Here’s three quick and easy recipes that’ll be perfect on your next adventure.
Campfire Pizza Logs might sound a little strange, but they’re dead simple and perfect beach food. At home with your pizza dough rolled out, make a pizza with your favourite toppings – then roll it up into a log and freeze it in foil. When you’re at camp, simply let it thaw and then sit it on hot coals for 15 minutes.
There’s nothing better than a cool meal after a hot day, and prawn
tacos tick all the boxes. A handful of fresh prawns in a pan over the fire with a dash of chilli powder, some olive oil, a little crushed garlic and lime juice. Pile it in a soft taco with a little coleslaw and you’re home free with an easy summer meal.
Here’s one for the lazy campers out there. Before you head off, pick up a loaf of Vienna Bread, slice it every 20mm and stuff in a handful of grated cheese and sliced ham; then wrap the whole lot in a couple of layers of foil. Ten minutes on some hot coals and dinner is done (if you can have a fire, naturally).
Sand recovery glovebox guide
These quick tips will get you out of most situations.
- Back off
As soon as you feel yourself bogging down, back off before you bury yourself. Recoveries are even easier if you’re not actually stuck yet.
Before you reach for the snatch strap, check to see if your pressures can go lower. Dropping down to single digits is almost guaranteed to get you out of most situations.
If you’ve got a wall of sand in front of your tyres or you’re hung up on your diffs, five minutes on the shovel can get you moving again.
- Solid ground
If your tyres are on solid ground and you’re not diffed out, you’ll move forward. Get something solid under your tyres like traction boards (or even floor mats) to give your tyres something to bite.
If all else fails, reach for the snatch strap. Your driveline is strongest heading forwards, so avoid snatching in reverse if you can. The stuck vehicle will need to help by trying to drive out, especially if towing a trailer. If you have a winch, and suitable anchor, winching would be my choice over using a snatch strap. But a safe snatch recovery, when done right, can be safe and effective.
- Take your time
If you’re not below the high tide mark, then you’ve got all the time in the world. Spending an extra night on the beach is far better than someone getting injured through carelessness.
Overheating, and how to avoid it
Engines overheat for one of two reasons: Component failure, or working too hard. If your cooling system is in tip-top shape you can generally cross the first reason off the list – which leaves us with driving style. In a cruel twist of fate, engines can overheat by both not revving hard enough, and revving too hard. It ultimately comes down to load. If you’re in too high a gear and the engine isn’t making peak power it’ll have to work hard which builds heat; eventually it builds more heat than your cooling system can cope with and something pops. Likewise, revving harder than you need to will also build excessive heat. The trick is to keep in the rev range where you’re revving slightly higher than normal, with enough poke left to accelerate when you push on the pedal. It’s a delicate juggling act but a vital one.
If you’re driving with an automatic transmission, you’ll need to keep an eye on temperatures on that front as well. Around 90% of all auto failures are due to overheating, with burnt or ineffective fluid causing the transmission to slip. In extreme cases the internals can fail to a point you’ll no longer have any forward drive at all. The key to driving an auto on sand is keeping it cool. External transmission coolers are a must-have as they introduce more fluid to the system and provide additional cooling. Aftermarket valve bodies and torque convertor lock-ups can help as well. If you’re stuck with a standard box, the harder you push the more heat will build up inside the box. Smooth driving and staying out of overdrive gears can help; and using low-range will halve the amount of work required of your transmission.