By Russ and Tiña De Maris
With summertime on us, where do you want to go? To the mountains for fresh air and cooler nights? To the forests with abundant shade? How about the beach? Yeah, break out the umbrellas, the beach towels, and sunscreen – but be careful about the trailer or the motorhome.
Every year coastal tow companies gear up for the summer visitor season wherein there’s more to buckets of sand on the beach – there’s buckets of money to be made when hapless visitors get their cars, trucks, and, yes, RVs stuck in the sand. It’s a real trick to try and beat the tide if your rig is buried in that soft stuff up to the axles. Here are a few quick words about beach driving.
First, most seasoned sand drivers will warn you – getting stuck is an inevitability. Hence, if you think you want to pull your trailer with you onto the beach, be prepared to get it stuck. Getting an SUV or a truck unstuck is one thing, but getting a travel trailer or fifth wheel out of beach sand, well, that’s likely to wind up with the need of professional (spell that “expensive”) help. Hence, the safest rule for RVers and sand is this one: Don’t go where you couldn’t use a pogo stick.
What about taking your sightseeing rig to the beach? The SAFEST bet to staying out of trouble is, sure, if it’s a four-wheel-drive capable rig. Second best rigs for beach driving – rear-wheel drive. For some reason, front-wheel drive rigs are almost a sure bet for getting stuck. Full time 4×4 rigs beware — you may be too low to the ground and your “low” gear not low enough for crawling out of a sticky situation.
When you do “hit the beach,” STAY OFF dry sand. Dry sand is analogous to quicksand, and a sure bet for getting trapped. But even before you venture onto wet sand, which by its water-filled nature is a more firm and less likely cause of a hang-up, REDUCE your tire air pressure. By letting a few pounds out of your tires, you’ll tend to roll the sidewalls of the tire out, giving a wider surface to “float” over the sand. BEWARE: Before you hit firm ground again you MUST reinflate those tires, so you’ll need an efficient air pump you can use right there on the beach. Don’t try to drive on solid ground with reduced pressure – you can “drive right out of the tires.” How much pressure to let out of the tires? Popular Mechanics magazine recommends you reduce pressure in the typical SUV tire to 12 to 15 PSI – pretty low, but you’ll need that extra width.
When on the sand, technique is important. Keep the pressure on the accelerator smooth and steady. If you start to bog, this is not the time to get off the gas, nor to jazz it, but rather, try keeping the pressure steady with a slow increase in speed. Don’t try to make sharp turns – it’s a surefire way of digging into the sand. If you get stuck, first try backing out gently. Still stuck? Take the floor mats out of the car and put them under the drive wheels for added traction. Rocking may help: Put the car in first gear, accelerate GENTLY to foll forward, stop before you hit the slip point, then let it roll back. The trick is to flatten the sand under your tires to give you a surface you can crawl out of. Try doing it a few times – but don’t overdo it lest you risk damaging a transmission.
Also, beware of unofficial gravel campsites along rivers. I got my Class B Roadtrek stuck along the Rogue River in Oregon when I pulled in late one night and sunk into the gravel. It was even wet, just soft gravel. There was no phone service, so I had to ride my bike the 10 mile round trip to the nearest pay phone twice to call a tow truck.