Can I Drive My Awd (All Wheel Drive) On The Beach?

Source: “Subaru XV 2.0i 2013” by RL GNZLZ – Under Creative Commons license
Source: “Subaru XV 2.0i 2013” by RL GNZLZ – Under Creative Commons license

The first car I ever brought worth more than $3,000 was a Subaru Forester that I use to have. I have always wondered how it would of performed off-road being an AWD, particularly on the beach, so I decided to find the answer.
So, can an AWD (All Wheel Drive) drive on the beach? In short, yes! AWD vehicles though they aren’t designed for off-road usage, they are capable in doing so, as long as your car has adequate ground clearance and the sand isn’t too soft or deep. You need to stay on hard, compacted sand, existing tire tracks are perfect! Also, keep an eye out for signs of people getting bogged and stay away, otherwise you might end up in a pickle.

Hold on! Before you go down to your closest beach in your AWD Sedan or SUV, you might want to take a minute to learn the difference between 4WD and AWD systems. Not to mention some tips and tricks for trouble-less beach drive.

Before you continue, If your new to 4wd and offroading or are not sure what equipment to take out with you on your adventures, make sure to check out the Off Road Aussies Essential 4×4 Equipment List where I have taken the time to review and recommend the equipment I use.

If you kit yourself out correctly you will be able to tackle everything that your new adventures will throw at you.

Is AWD the same as 4 Wheel Drive?

On Paper, AWD and 4 wheel drive and fundamentally the same thing. Both are designed to drive all 4 wheels of your vehicle but that’s where the similarities end. AWD has been designed to help road going vehicles with inclement driving situations, think things like ice, gravel and sand on roads.

The fundamental difference between 4WD and AWD is the drive trains and the features each system has. There are 3 basic groups; Full-Time 4WD, Part-Time 4WD and AWD. How and when torque is supplied to each wheel is what differentiate each system.

Full Time 4WD
• All torque supplied to all four wheels at all times
• Transfer case; divides torque between the two axles
• Options available for drive trains for various conditions
• Normal operation (driving on bitumen); front and rear axles are split by a differential which Allows different rotations between the axles when required ie. cornering
• Diff lock (off-road); locks up the center differential and restricts any rotation difference between the front and rear axle for maximum traction
• Low range (extreme off-road); changes gearing of drive train to provide a torque multiply effect, for steep inclines

Part Time 4WD
• Normal operation (driving on bitumen); vehicle is driven in 2WD, usually powering the rear wheels
• 4WD can be selected by a mechanical lever or by electronic switching
• When 4WD is selected, the torque is split evenly between the four wheels
• Tend not to have a differential between front and rear axle; limiting use of 4WD to only use off road
• 4WD feature on bitumen surfaces (good traction), can cause excess stress and damage to drivetrain (known as windup), Make sure to check out our article on what to do if you accidently drive in 4WD.
• Low range for extreme off-road conditions

• Sends torque to all four wheels constantly (similar to 4WD system)
• Don’t have the option to operate 2WD
• Differential between front and rear axles can’t be locked
• Differentials have ability to limit slippage between axles in a low traction situation ie. some high tech AWD systems can direct up to 100% of torque to the front or rear axle
• Some AWD are part time, driving only front wheels until there is a loss of traction sensed and torque is automatically directed to the rear wheels.
• AWD lacks a low range feature; less effective and more fragile in situations when high torque is required
• AWDs also have another down fall with their automatic CPU traction and brake assist. They will dig for traction. Traction assist will force spinning wheels when driving on sand, even a slight spin to jar on and off causing the vehicle to get bogged.

So how does having a AWD affect you when you go on the beach or on the sand?

This affects you when you go off road or on the sand in your AWD as you need to be more careful about where you are going. This is due to the fact that your AWD lacks the features and high torque that can be required in some conditions, so you don’t get stuck or bogged.

you need to make sure you avoid or at least proceed cautiously on dunes, soft sand etc as its difficult to know the conditions until your on the dune itself or the soft sand. The best terrain for an AWD is hard, compacted sand, so the wheels can get some traction; a good example of compacted sand id the tyre tracks of others. You also need to be more vigilant to your surroundings and keep an eye out for where others have been bogged or where the sand looks softer.

What are some AWDs are capable of going on the beach or on the sand?

Most AWD will have the capabilities of going on the beach as long as they have the ground clearance and you stick to general sand driving guidelines below this is why you see so many 4x4s with lift kits, its all about the clearance baby. Interestingly, Most high clearance AWD’s are actually very capable on the beach or the sand in the right conditions as they are generally lighter then 4x4s and the have a better power to weight ratio. Lets face it too, they are generally a better ride and more comfortable too.

Some examples of AWD that are capable of going on the beach are:

• Subaru XV
• Subaru Forester
• Ford Territory
• Jeep Cherokees
• Jeep Renegade
• Toyota Rav 4
• Ford Escape
• Subaru Liberty
• Honda CRV

So which AWD vehicles would you NOT take to the beach or on the sand?

It’s really a subject question but like I mentioned above it’s a game of clearance, without the clearance under the body of the car the more chance your car will scrape across the sand killing your momentum and putting less of the cars weight on the tyres. You will also find that the ruts caused by other peoples tyres will be too deep for your vehicle causing the above.
A general rule of thumb is if you can’t clear a curb face of with your car, then don’t take it off road or on the beach.

Other things you need to consider.

Obviously with the above in mind you may decide to still want to go and have a play on the beach. I would recommend that you check our Tips and Tricks, Driving in Sand article but if you don’t have the time here is some quick tips to make sure you have the best chance of having a good time on the sand.

Make sure the beach you’re going to permits the use of vehicles
• Find out the incoming high tide so you don’t get stuck
• Try starting your journey on an outgoing high tide, as the sand will be firm
• Minimize your chances of getting bogged by lightening your load
• Ensure you have good ground clearance to avoid bottoming out over a small rise in terrain
• Make sure to air down 15 – 18 psi is usually good, If you do deflate you tyres to the those kinds of pressures, make sure you don’t turn too sharply on the sand as you may debead your tyre! Check out our Article on How to Deflate Your Tyres if you want to learn more.
• Wash your vehicle after a beach drive, so the salt and sand doesn’t rust your vehicle quicker
• Be considerate of others
• Leave nothing behind but your tracks

Some quick beach driving tips:

If you get stuck, straighten your wheels out until you get going again
• Don’t take sharp corners, you’ll get stuck
• When turning, ensure you accelerate a little to encourage your vehicle to turn
• When you get stuck, don’t keep revving the engine, you’ll end up digging yourself a hole
• Normal road rules apply
• Make sure you face downhill towards the sea when you park, so it is easier to get going again

Things to bring with you:

Bring sunglasses, minimizing glare so you can see the gradations in the sand clearly
• Get a good compressor to reinflate after your finished on the beach, I would also recommend bringing a deflator as well if you intend to go to the beach often
• Bring a shovel for when you get stuck and need to dig
• Bring traction aids, ie floor mats to put under wheels when you get bogged for traction or a set of MaxTraxx.

Do I need a permit to drive on the beach?

Some beaches and national parks in Australia require you to have a permit. This can be done online, over the counter or by phone. Make sure you check with local authorities whether you are a) allowed to drive on the beaches at all and b) if so, do you require a permit.

If you are just starting out in your beach driving journey, Make sure you time to check out my essential 4×4 equipment page where I review and recommend the equipment I believe are must have for safe and fun offroading.

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