Off-Roading

AutomotiveMap's top tips for driving on sand dunes

Imperial Sand Dunes, a few hours east of San Diego, provide some of the best dune driving terrain in the world.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

This wasn't a dream. The sounds of Pat Benetar's "We Belong" flowed through the cabin at near-concert levels as the Rolls-Royce Cullinan dove from sand dune to sand dune at speed. The magic carpet ride was keeping the 6,000-pound car's occupants stable but the expert driver behind the wheel was keeping them from sinking in the Imperial Sand Dunes' tough terrain.

Whether you're setting off for your first or fiftieth time in the dunes, here are the top tips for success you'll want to remember.

Remember that the dunes are always changing.

Wind, settling, water, animals, people, and other vehicles impact the dunes on a regular basis. As the wind blows, the sand settles, creatures move about, and steps are taken on them, the surfaces changes. The sun will dry out the sand, making it more easily able to be sunk into.

Where you just went, you might not be able to go again.

Because of the constantly changing dunes and tire pressures on the sand, the sand shifts once you pass and may create a space of no return for your vehicle. It's important to have a good lay of the land before proceeding and keep in mind that you might not be able to go back.

As wind whips the landscape, you'll want to keep newly forming witch's eyes in mind as well.

The sun makes the sand dry out.

When it gets hot, the sand heats up and dries out. This causes the surface to be squishier (dry sand is easier to move than wet sand). Because of this, vehicle wheels can quickly become buried in sand that was passable hours prior.

Rolls-Royce Cullinan Rebelle Rally When the sun is at high noon, the sand begins to loosen up and can easily swallow a tire or two or four.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

What's dark isn't always hard.

When you go to the beach, water wets the sand causing it to darken in color. As sand dries, traditionally it lightens up. This isn't always the case in the dunes where dark sand may purely be an easily breakable crust on top of deep dry sand.

More throttle, less brake.

When driving in sand, you won't want to give the car too much gas or brake. Stopping can mean the difference between sinking down into the sand and skimming the surface. The best speed will keep the car moving at the right pace, on top of the sand, while making stopping easy should you come across an obstacle.

Midday sun is flat sun.

As the sun rises, so does the chance of getting dehydrated. It also means that you're seeing flat light, which can make even larger whoops look like small ripples. Drive cautiously as the light reaches high noon and pay attention as shadows develop later in day, hiding potential obstacles.

Don't forget your tools.

No day at the dunes is complete without at least getting stuck one time. A shovel and Maxtrax are two of your best friends. Wet wipes, goggles, and gear such as the Deadman Earth Anchor are a must as well. Something as simple like an analog compass can help you if you get lost. For deep desert driving, consider making a satellite phone standard equipment.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross Country athlete and 2018 gold medalist Jesse Diggins took a Land Rover Defender out on the trails at the Center in Vermont this week.

Photo courtesy of Land ROver

With social distancing and fun in focus, Land Rover Experience Centers across the U.S. have reopened. The schools are located at Quail Lodge in Carmel, California; Equinox Resort in Manchester, Vermont; and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Each experience continues to offer adventurous off-road drive experiences in Land Rover vehicles, including the new Land Rover Defender. However, there are changes regarding how the programs operate. Expert instructor coaching will no longer be in-vehicle, but rather delivered via lead follow 2-way radio communication, hand signals, and ground marshaling.

Land Rover will also provide all guests with face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer upon arrival and all vehicles will be fully sanitized after each Experience. In addition, temperature checks will be conducted for staff members daily, and for guests prior to each experience.

Land Rover Teen Driver Experience The Experience Centers offer off-road driving instruction for teens and adults.Photo courtesy of Land Rover

"We are thrilled to be able to reopen our Land Rover Experience Centers throughout the U.S. The wellbeing of our guests and staff is at the center of the extensive health and safety guidelines we have put in place at each location," said Michael Curmi, Director, Brand Experience, Jaguar Land Rover North America. "We are especially excited for guests to experience the Centers' latest addition, the new 2020 Land Rover Defender."

U.S. Ski & Snowboard Cross Country athlete and 2018 gold medalist Jesse Diggins was among the first to take advantage of the school reopening, taking a new Defender out at Equinox Lodge earlier this week.

"Visiting the Land Rover Experience driving school and getting behind the wheel of the new Defender was an awesome experience," said Land Rover Ambassador Jessie Diggins. "As an athlete, I also take health and safety very seriously, and the team at the Land Rover Experience did an outstanding job with their COVID-19 procedures and made me feel very comfortable. It was such a fun experience and it certainly expanded my driving abilities."

Experiences at the centers range from one hour to full day, and start at $275. Available packages include Half Day, Full Day, and Heritage Experiences. Each experience takes advantage of the expertise of certified Land Rover Experience Instructors, who demonstrate the full capabilities of the brand's latest SUV vehicles across a variety of terrains including water crossings, muddy ruts and rock crawls, all redesigned to be entirely outdoors.

New for the season is the "Bring Your Own Vehicle Experience", a half-day program where participants can explore the Center trails in their own Land Rover vehicles. Guests will also have the opportunity to drive the most capable Land Rover ever produced with the addition of the Defender to the Centers.

For more information visit www.landroverusa.com/experience.

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There are some easy ways to get more miles per gallon.

Photo by Getty Images/boonchai wedmakawand

If you own a car and are among the 99 percent of Americans not driving an electric vehicle, you likely spend a considerable amount of time and money at the fuel pump. And, unless you plan to purchase an electric car, this continued fuel consumption is not going to stop — even Toyota Prius owners need to fill up occasionally.

However, there are some easy things to do, as well as habits to change, that will at least make your trips to the gas station less frequent. So not only will you be using less of the planet's finite gas reserves, you'll be spending less cash, too.

Proper inflation

Midsection Of Woman Inflating Tire

Photo by Getty Images/Siam Pukkato/EyeEm

Make sure your car's tires are inflated to the proper pressure. Don't use the maximum-pressure number on the tire sidewall, look for the sticker or plaque on the driver's side door jamb – these will show you the correct inflation numbers for your vehicle.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 PSI that a tire is below its optimal pressure. In addition to the fuel savings, properly inflated tires are safer and will increase tread life.

Junk in the trunk

Dog by car full of luggage

Photo by Getty Images

If you're hiking with a heavy backpack, you're going to run out of energy a lot sooner than if you're carrying a light daypack. The same reasoning applies to your car. If you're carrying around a 50-pound bag of dog food, the pile of books you keep forgetting to return to the library or your pristine collection of every print edition of the Weekly World News (BatBoy Lives!), your car has to work a lot harder, and therefore uses fuel more rapidly.

According to the DOE, every 100 pounds can drop fuel economy by one percent. So clean out the trunk, removing anything you don't need in there (best to keep the spare tire and jack, though), and you may find that your car actually has better performance as well as improved fuel economy.

​Lead foot or light foot?

Low Section Of Man Wearing Shoes On Pedals In Car

Photo by Getty Images/José Luis Salinas/EyeEm

Are you one of those people who sees every red light as a signal that a race is about to begin? The light turns green and you put your foot to the floor to beat the car next to you off the line. Although pretending you're a racecar driver can be fun, as those revs ramp up your gas gauge is quickly going the other way. Instead, be light and smooth on the accelerator and you will quickly see positive results in fuel mileage. There's also a lot less wear and tear on your car and tires when you take it easy on the throttle.

No speeding

Roadside sign in desert landscape

Photo by Getty Images/Gary Yeowell

A typical speedometer will indicate that the vehicle can go 120 mph —or more — and most modern cars are fully capable of going well beyond most posted speed limits. Not only will that practice get you an expensive speeding ticket or worse (a big repair bill, an extensive hospital stay, or a lavish lawsuit), it will also make your car guzzle gas like it's going out of style.

As your speed increases over 50 mph, your fuel economy rapidly decreases. This is especially true with many of today's smaller, fuel-efficient engines — with less power they have to work much harder as speed increases. Stick to the posted speed and you'll make it a lot farther before you need to stop for a fill-up.

Check your rack

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

Most modern cars go through considerable wind-tunnel testing to make them as aerodynamic as possible, which improves efficiency and performance. When you put a large rack or cargo box on the roof, all of that wind-tunnel work gets blown away. The DOE estimates that a roof-mounted cargo box can decrease fuel economy as much as 25 percent at highway speeds. Skis, boats, bikes or other equipment carried topside have similar results. Granted, there are times when you legitimately need to carry these items, but remove them when they're not needed. Whenever possible use a rear-mounted carrier, or pack your gear inside.

Windows down or air conditioning?

Happy boy look out from auto window

Photo by Getty Images/Solovyova

Everyone wants to be comfortable in their car, and when it gets too hot, the answer is to either roll down the windows (in most cars, of course, "roll down" means push the button) or turn on the air-conditioning. At slower speed when driving around town, lowering the windows makes the most sense.

Air-conditioning puts a load on the engine and will definitely reduce fuel economy. However, at highway speeds lowered windows add considerable drag on your car, which in turn reduces fuel economy. So if you're going to be on the freeway, raise the windows and turn on the AC — there will still be a drop in fuel economy, but this is the lesser of the two options.

Or, you can go with option three (AC off, windows up), but we really don't recommend that during the dog days of summer.

Plan your itinerary

2016 Audi A7

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

If you have a number of places to go, make a plan to cover them all in one outing. Shorter trips with a number of cold starts will use much more fuel than if the engine only has one cold start and stays warm for the rest of your drive. It's also beneficial to plan your route to reach all your destinations with the shortest driving time. Be sure you choose the right time to go, if you can — avoiding rush hour will reduce your stop-and-go driving, improving both your fuel economy and your mood.

Avoid idling for a long while

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Sitting in your car with the engine running is quite inefficient — that's obvious. When you're not moving, you're getting zero miles per gallon. According to the DOE, you can use a quarter to a half gallon of gasoline per hour while idling — possibly more depending on engine size and if your air-conditioner is running. This is why many newer cars shut themselves off automatically when you brake to a stop, restarting automatically when you release the brake. If you're going to be waiting in your car for a while, shut it off. It doesn't take much fuel to restart it, and you'll be saving gas and money, as well as being good to the environment.

Cruise control

2022 Chevrolet Traverse High Country Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Keeping a steady speed on the highway can go a long way to improving fuel economy, and using cruise control is the easiest way to do that. However, this method only works when the road is relatively flat —cruise control will try to keep a vehicle's speed constant even when climbing hills or mountain roads, which makes the engine work harder, thus burning more fuel.

Proper motor oil

motor oil

Photo by Getty Images

Most people don't specify a type of oil when getting their oil changed, but this too can affect your fuel mileage. Look in the owner's manual to see what grade of motor oil your vehicle's manufacturer recommends for your car — using the correct oil can improve fuel economy up to two percent.

Buy a new, more fuel-efficient car

The 2020 Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid gets 100 MPGe and 37 miles of all-electric range for under $35,000 Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Compay

Clearly this isn't an option for everyone, but cars today are among the most fuel-efficient ever produced, so if you are in the market for something new this is your chance to make a difference. If you can increase your fuel economy from 15 mpg to 30 mpg, based on $3 per gallon and 15,000 miles of driving per year, that's a $1,500 savings each year — enough coin for quite a few lattes. Added bonus: odds are the new car will be running much cleaner than your current ride.

Be hybrid and electric vehicle savvy

Rivian R1S

Even if you have already made the jump into a very efficient vehicle, there are still ways to improve your mileage. Avoiding hard braking will make better use of the regenerative braking system, putting more energy back into the batteries — for free. Any vehicle that you can plug in should be plugged in whenever you have the chance — especially true for plug-in hybrids, since the more charge you have, the less often the internal combustion engine will need to run. Most of these vehicles have indicators to tell drivers how to drive more efficiently. Listen to your car — it knows what it's doing.

Public transportation

Young mother father and infant riding city bus

Photo by Getty Images/Tony Anderson

Okay, okay, so we're being Captain Obvious. And Americans love their cars, so this may be the most difficult fuel-saving tip to follow: Leave your car at home. Take a bus, ride your bike, carpool to work (with this option you still get to drive, sometimes) or if the distance is short enough (or you're in really good shape) you can simply walk. It may be a no-brainer, but the less you use your car, the less fuel it will use.

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