After buying myself a new 4WD vehicle I was asking myself what mode should I be using when driving on sand? Newer vehicles come with multiple modes and it can be overwhelming trying to understand the appropriate mode to use in every situation, so I asked around and did my research to find out what mode I should be using and when.
So should you be using high range or low range when driving in the sand? The correct mode that you should be using is low range. This mode is the most beneficial when driving on surfaces such as soft sand and sand dunes. As soft sand terrain has less traction than normal roads, you want your wheels to be moving slower and granting you more torque. Low range is the optimal setting to achieve this result.
Many new 4WD enthusiasts are completely unaware of all the features of their vehicle. There are many different features that are designed for specific conditions and this can be a lot of information for those who are new to 4WD. Keep reading to learn more about some best practices when hitting the sand.
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.
What Are the Different 4WD Modes?
If you are new to 4WD vehicles it can be quite intimidating trying to understand all the different types of lingo and acronyms. For starters, 4WD (four wheel drive) refers to a vehicle that has the capability to provide power to all four of its wheels at the same time. Many modern vehicles have the capability to change modes with a simple flick of a switch.
However 4WD vehicles come with an array of features and modes that all have specific uses. Engaging these modes at the incorrect times could actually lead to long-term damage to your vehicle make sure you read our article on accidentally driving in 4WD if it happens and what to do. With that in mind it is important that you understand what each mode is what their intended uses are.
High Range (Four High, 4H)
High range mode, commonly depicted as 4H, is best implemented when you are travelling at normal speeds but the terrain has harsher conditions. Drivers will commonly switch to this mode when they are on highways with less than optimal conditions. Examples would include dirt or gravel roads, wet and icy roads.
Due to the purpose of this mode of your vehicle, it won’t bring any excess damage on your vehicle if you drive safely while engaged in this mode as long as your maintain normal driving speeds.
Low Range (Four Low, 4L)
While 4H is recommended for higher speeds, low range or 4L is most effective when you are travelling slower over non-road terrain. If you were to attempt to traverse over water, mud, snow or sand, this mode is the preferred choice. As we previously mentioned, this mode of your vehicle engages your wheels with more torque so it is most effective when you are travelling at low speeds. Combining 4L along with a reduction in tyre pressure will allow you to traverse over some of the harshest terrains.
Automatic Four Wheel Drive (AWD)
If you have just begun your 4WD experience, it is recommended that you utilise this setting. AWD is a function that detects the conditions of the road along with the torque of your wheels and will change the driving setting automatically. For example, if you were driving down a highway and it starts raining, the vehicle will analyse the change in road conditions and change into 4H mode.
Prolonged use of some modes in the wrong conditions can really damage your vehicle, so AWD is great if you’re not experienced with 4WD vehicles as it does the thinking for you and will turn off the settings if you are using them wrong.
How To Engage Low Range Mode
Before you engage your vehicle in low range mode it is important to deflate your tyres to a pressure that suits the terrain. Tyre pressure is one of the most important factors when you are four wheel driving as it can make or break your trip.
What you are intending to drive on will ultimately decide on what pressure you should be using. Soft terrains normally call for a pressure of 15 to 18 psi while more solid surfaces are best at 20 to 25 psi. These numbers are also only guidelines so you may find that you need to drop your pressure even lower in some situations.
To engage low range mode you should bring your vehicle to a halt and put it in park or neutral. Depending on what you were driving beforehand, you should change your dial from either 2H to 4L or 4H to 4L. Once done correctly you should see an illuminated icon that says 4L appear on your dash. You want to be sure that the mode has been engaged properly before you attempt to climb over any hills or rocks.
The art of four wheel driving while in low range mode is to let the vehicle do all the hard work for you. Once you are in 4L you want to ease your foot of the brake and let your vehicle crawl across the terrain. You want to be moving slowly while also accelerating gently and braking softly. Four wheel driving isn’t a race so take your time with it and enjoy the ride.
What Not To Do When In Low Range Mode
As mentioned previously, each 4WD mode has an intended use and utilising these functions at the wrong time can damage your vehicle. Low range mode is intended for slow driving across harsh terrains. It is not meant for high speeds and can actually damage your vehicle. It is highly recommended that you don’t exceed 60 km/h when you are engaged in this mode.
Driving for long periods of time at high speeds can do some serious damage to your vehicle. If you accidentally have engaged 4L while driving at high speeds it is highly recommended that you take it into the shop. Bearings and axel belts can wear down extra quick when this mode is used like this so its always better to be safe than sorry.
When you are finished driving in 4L mode it is important that you re-inflate your tyres to their correct pressure and engage the right mode for the surface that you are on. If you’re going back onto pavement or bitumen switch it back to 2H otherwise for firm and go to 4H.
Another important thing to note when you are four wheel driving is that you shouldn’t be taking any sharp turns. This is included for both high and low range modes at can also seriously damage your vehicle. When you engage 4WD the front wheels are locked into place and can cause your vehicle to slide and jerk. With the build up of torque in your vehicle it is possible that your vehicle can flip if you take a sharp enough turn. This happens due to the build up of torque becoming so high that it needs to displace the extra force.
Important Things To Note About 4WD Modes
Before you engage any 4WD mode it is important to remember that your vehicle is providing more torque to your wheels but it doesn’t help you stop. Braking can be difficult so it is vital that you remain at speeds that allow you brake. Regardless of your driving conditions or experience, safety is the most important part of any 4WD trip.
You may also be wondering when it is okay to shift modes when you are driving. The answer is that you should come to a stop when going in and out of 4L mode but other mode switches are fine. If you are travelling down a highway or on a dirt road, it is completely fine to transition to and from 4H to 2H while you are moving. You can always check what mode you are in by looking for the light up indications on your dash.
What tyre pressure should you have when driving on sand?
The best tyre pressure for your vehicle when you are driving on sand is 16 psi. When you deflate your tyres down to 16 psi your wheels gain a much larger footprint within the sand. The science behind this trick is that the weight of your vehicle is being supported by twice as much rubber, which means that the weight per square centimetre for your vehicle is also halved.
Can all wheel drive vehicles drive on sand?
All-wheel drive vehicles are constantly providing power to all four wheels rather than only two. While they operate similarly to 4WD they are not the same and aren’t recommended for sand driving. This is because that conditions can change rather quickly (hard sand roads to soft sand dunes) which is a lot easier to navigate through when using a 4WD vehicle.
Do 4WD vehicles use more petrol?
Generally speaking vehicles that are 2WD have better fuel efficiency due to the energy expenditure. 4WD units require extra energy to be provided to the front wheels which burns more petrol. However 4WD vehicles with the capability to switch back to 2WD mode save a lot more petrol than all wheel drive vehicles that require the extra energy expenditure all the time.