THOUGHTS ON DRIVING A 4x4 VAN ON THE BEACH
Two points of view!
What is the best east coast beach tire/wheel size for a 4wd van?
by Tom L.
My vote = a Yokohama Geolander AT+ II on a 16-inch wheel. Here's why.
I drive a 1996 Ford E350 Quigley conversion Sportsmobile (cargo van version, only some storage bin space in the back) with a 460 gas engine. I bought it used in 2001, with 40,000+ miles already on it. I've put about 90,000 on it since then. Home for me is in Washington, DC and I drive either:
(a) long-distance high-speed highway trips for work. I mean loooooong distances, 2000+ miles non-stop per trip, mostly interstate for days with some rough and sometimes snowy Rocky Mountain back roads in between, just for fun.
(b) I go beach driving and surf fishing year-round with my wife and dog out on the beaches in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina.
Both extremes, not much in between. I use other vehicles for other driving. That's a tire choice dilemma if I've ever seen one. I've been very happy with the Yokohama Geolander AT+ II for those two extremes. LT 265 75 R 16's (on 16-inch aluminum wheels).
My emphasis here is that the same tire works well at both extremes all-over the USA on highways and out in the sand on east-coast USA beaches. I'm sure there are better tires for either highway OR sand, but these tires are really good for both. They work just fine in winter weather too, anyplace in the USA. Even when the snow is on top of the beach sand. And they fit on my Ford E350 van nicely, a reasonably large size tire without rubbing the wheel wells or the sliding door too much.
The sliding side door rubs on the tire a little when the door's opened, but it still works just fine. I'm on my second set of these tires. The first ones lasted about 50K miles. They'd been put on the van by the previous owner just before I bought it. He'd thoroughly researched it, and I've confirmed in practice that his research was accurate.
I bought a new set through a large chain tire dealer, as a special order, since no one had them locally in Washington (Merchants or NTB, I don't even recall which one was $10 cheaper). I don't remember how much I paid, last year sometime, but it was not anything outrageous. Any tire dealer should be able to get them, I'm sure. If you have somewhere to mount them, I'm sure you can get them even cheaper on the internet.
Here's a few more random thoughts on beach driving and tire use on the beach, in no particular order:
1. Air down. Way down. I mean waaaaaaaaaaay down. I routinely go to about 15 pounds, down from the 60+ I run on the highway. You may have heard this advice elsewhere. Believe it.
2. Get real 4wd, not AWD........but stay in 4wd high instead of 4wd low when you're on the beach. Too much torque in 4wd low will only dig you deeper into the sand. You want to get some wheel speed to float you to the top of the sand instead of digging you in deep. I've tried both, and 4wd high is better, on east coast sand anyway. A little wheel spinning is actually a good thing, to get you up on top of the sand, and that's easier to achieve in 4wd high with gradual pressure on the gas pedal. I also switch off the overdrive, although that's not really necessary (so don't worry about it if you don't have that particular feature on your van).
3. Remember that lighter weight jeeps and pickups can go plenty of places on the beach or in the dunes that you may not be able to go in a heavy van without sinking..........so don't try to follow every track you see everywhere in the sand. The flip side of this is that I had the raw power and axle clearance in my van to tow several jeeps out of deep holes they'd dug themselves into on the beach at midnight. Besides, jeep drivers cook themselves in the sun and freeze their butts in the rain all summer, and freeze even more crucial body parts on even the nicest days all winter long. Jeep drivers tend to be unanimously envious of anyone on the beach in a 4wd van, any season of the year. They should be, even if we can't go quite everywhere in the sand that they can.
4. Beach driving is a lot like deep snow driving. Take your time but keep moving. Don't try to take turns too sharply. Don't try to force the van into a track it just doesn't want to take on its own. Get mellow, go with the flow and your van will float to the top of the sand and let you cruise anywhere. A van is a reasonably heavy vehicle to have out on any beach, but if you drive with a light touch, you can avoid gravity sinking you into the sand. Most of the time anyway.
5. Practice deep sand driving, preferrably on days when lots of other 4-wheelers are on the beach to help drag you out even if you do get stuck. You'll learn how your van performs in the sand, because each van is a little different. You'll learn more by finding the limits of when you get stuck and when you don't. When you do get stuck, especially with lots of 4-wheelers watching, it's incredibly tough on the ego, but it's worth the trouble for what you've learned. My wife and I are usually the only people on the entire beach in the winter...........except for the rare jogger.......so we realize that we'd be totally on our own if we got stuck then. I'm glad we'd learned all about getting stuck (and unstuck) on nice summer days when there were several other vehicles around to help us out if we'd really needed them to. Well, OK......once we had a bunch of jeep guys pushing us out. Um.......could be twice.
6. Use your head. For example, don't fall asleep in the back of your van without first checking the tide tables. You can get tide information from the fishing sections of local beach town newspapers, presented in a simple day-by-day format. You can tell how far up the beach the previous high tide went just by looking at the sand, but tide times vary in ways that I'll never understand. However, don't rely 100% upon the sand to tell you how high the tide will go.......just last weekend on January 15th we were all alone on the beach in Delaware when the wind direction and speed changed dramatically. The end result was that the high tide came 50 feet further up the beach than the earlier one on the same day (yeah, 50 feet......no kidding........the whole way up to the high dunes). We almost had our return route cut off completely already hours before high tide. That would have been potentially challenging, because it was only 20+ degrees on the beach and we were all out of toilet paper. So you've got to stay aware of the tide each time it comes in, or be prepared to stay out on the beach way longer than you'd planned, in some safe spot that you won't be washed away. Bring extra toilet paper.
7. If you are going to seek serious beach solitude in winter like we do, seriously consider getting a serious winch and the beach buddy (or whatever-it's-called) anchor-like contraption to give you a place to winch from in the sand when there's no one around to help hook you onto their vehicle. I've been seriously considering that for years, without ever having bought a thing. But I'm still considering it. I've been told that for vans the Mile Marker hydraulic winch is better than any of the electric winches (despite many 4-wheelers who swear by Warn winches). I have hitch mounts on the front and back, ready for me to use a hitch-mounted winch tray at either end. I've noticed that Mile Marker recently came out with a new lighter-weight winch that can still pull something over 10,000 lbs, but I haven't seen a review of it. I'm now considering it. Seriously. That's worked well for me so far. However, the first time I get stuck on the beach in 20 degree weather, I will probably quit my "considering" and go actually buy something instead. So far I've only invested in a hi jack, a shovel and a rabbits foot for continued good luck. Don't follow my example.
8. If you get a Sportsmobile, buy the Trojan super-heavy-duty spare tire carrier to mount your spare on the rear drivers side door instead of under the van (you can find the Trojan tire carrier on Sportsmobile California's website). If you bust a bead (that is, get a flat tire because the seal between the tire and wheel rim gives way when the tire is aired way down) it's awfully hard to get the spare out from under the van when the van is low to the sand because one tire is flat.......and dangerous too, because there's no way to hold your van steady enough to crawl under the van when it's balanced on a jack set on shifting sand.
Besides, I could not get the same size tire to fit under my van in the spare tire area because of my heavy duty rear hitch. The spare needs to be the same size as your other tires, even if it's not exactly the same tire, or you can quickly do lots of damage to the van axle just getting to wherever you will have your flat tire re-mounted.
So I decided to mount a spare Yokohama Geolander used tire on the rear. The only truly heavy-duty carrier I found was Sportsmobile's Trojan. It mounts on the van frame and rear door hinge, instead of on the door panel. That's important, because the heavy tire will rip a door panel right off when you're bouncing around on ruts, ripples in the sand and getting over the dunes onto the beach. I used a regular cheap steel wheel for the spare and covered the entire tire/wheel with a vinyl spare tire cover, athough a nice matching aluminum wheel (or a fancy hard-sided cover) would look nicer. I have separate lug nuts to use with the spare wheel, because the aluminum wheel lug nuts won't work with the spare's steel wheel.
Sportsmobile products are generally overpriced, in my view, and the Trojan tire carrier was far more expensive than any door-panel-mount tire carriers or bumper-mount carriers I'd seen anywhere. But I bit the bullet, shelled out several hundred dollars more than I'd planned to spend for some other tire carrier, and it was worth it.
I ordered one by mail from Sportsmobile in California. That was easy as can be, but first I stopped in person at the Sportsmobile Indiana store to buy the Trojan carrier and have it installed there. They didn't know what I was talking about, even though their own promo pictures on their own shop wall showed their own tire-carrier product on their own vans. Duh. The Sportsmobile people in Indiana could only give me the product info off their company website and told me to contact their company in California. Beats me why...... So it was shipped from California, and I installed it myself.
That's my two cents on beach tires and beach driving. I look forward to seeing you vannin' on the east coast beaches sometime!
What is the best east coast beach tire/wheel size for beach driving?
I spend a lot of time on the sand of Long Island's beaches.[Very similar to New Jersey's beaches] On the sand you want FOUR wheel drive. Not ALL wheel drive.
Bigger, wider, taller tires may be nice and more expensive, but, the most important thing is that you air down. When you air down by at least 50%, your tires foot print increases by at least 200%! Most of that increase is not width but length! In soft sand it is more important to have a longer, aired down, softer, tread-print than to have a wider high pressure, harder tread-print.
On the pickup I spent the extra money, and run 17" 285/75s Good Year ATXs. On the van I run plain old 16" 245/75s. While there would of course be a difference if I was bouldering, mudding, or trail riding… it makes very little difference for aired down beach driving. In fact, the thing you have to worry most about; is a reinforced side wall to withstand the wear and tear of airing up and down.
Lastly despite the temptation of running the beach with out airing down; A new set of tires is much cheaper than a new transmission.
Just my 2 cents, drysuit2@....
Enjoy your beach driving everyone!