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How to Clean your 4WD after a Beach Trip?

Featuring insights on how to save time and money from expert Dave Darmody (from Australian Offroad Academy). Hint: salt water is not your car’s friend!

Rous Battery, Moreton Island
Rous Battery, Moreton Island

Thoroughly cleaning your vehicle and gear should be an essential part of any offroad trip to the beach, says Dave Darmody from Australian Offroad Academy. A bit of extra care can go a long way.

We all enjoy getting our vehicles sandy in our quest to visit special places, but over the years I’ve learned some tricks to save time and money when it comes to the post-trip clean. So, the next time you’re ready for a beach trip, you’ll be set to go.

Fowlers Bay 4WD in sand dunes
Fowlers Bay 4WD in sand dunes

Open one door at a time on or around the beach. When we pull up for a swim, or arrive back at our campsite, I demand a little bit of patience from my passengers. Only allowing one person out at a time prevents the 4WD from becoming a wind tunnel, reducing the amount of salty, sandy air inside (and on the inside of the windscreen) that needs to be cleaned out later. This also ensures that the little bits of rubbish accrued inside the 4WD during the day don’t blow out before they can be collected and disposed of properly.

Windows up on the beach as often as possible. I’ve spent plenty of time in topless Suzukis and Jeeps (and even Defender 130s) on the beach and it’s great fun. But as I’ve gotten older and as vehicles have become more complicated, it occurs to me that there really is no place inside the car for warm, moist, salty air.

Beach creeks are for crossing and swimming, not for under-body washes. Not only is it an ineffective method of cleaning an area that needs a lot of attention, but many a four-wheel driver has found that the fast-moving water of the running creek has eroded the sand from under the tyres and left them rapidly sinking. There are a few famous photos from Eli Creek of just that happening.
It’s a good idea to give your vehicle an under-body wash before heading home, but it’s even more important to do an extended clean once you get there. After driving on the beach, what your under-body needs is a good wash out with lots of water (not necessarily high pressure water, the garden hose will do, although a pressure washer works brilliantly) to dislodge any salt and sand in all of the nooks and crannies, otherwise rust will come calling sooner rather than later. These kinds of detailed cleans are also an excellent opportunity to have a look around under your 4WD and get a better understanding of what’s there. Remember to clean your wheel arches/wells, chassis rails, bash plates and roof racks — these can be often overlooked but they’re just as susceptible to rusting as the rest of your vehicle.

Check the state of all your gear upon returning home. Everything wears out, but you can extend the life of your camping or recovery gear by checking and tending to it before you pack it away again. After giving your gear a good rinse with fresh water, ensure it’s all dry and without any worrying damage, and if anything needs replacing, better to know about it and do it early, as opposed to finding out the day before or while you’re on the next trip.

Mt Tempest, Moreton Island
Mt Tempest Moreton Island

Following the above suggestions (in conjunction with proper vehicle maintenance) will ensure your 4WD stays newer for longer, and most importantly, is up for the task of your next beach driving trip. 

Next steps

At Hema Maps, we strive to provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps and guides for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore Australia's natural wonders.

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  • Stephen Shay: February 28, 2024

    Hi Team

    We got a professional specialist beach car clean at our home after our beach trip and he seem to use only high pressure equipment, as I am not getting any younger and thought this would save me from crawling under the vehicle myself.
    Curiosity got the better of me how good he did, so I did a clean out of curiosity after him with car ramps and normal garden house and to my amazement I managed to get at least 200ml in a standard bucket of sand out.
    You can not beat a really good flush when it comes to your chassis rails, high pressure just doesn’t do it.
    To help preserve our vehicle we have had best quality electronic rust prevention unit installed and rust prevention spray applied as well, which is serviced every 12 months.

    Cheers Stephen

  • Mal: February 02, 2024

    A simple idea if you have a bit of lawn at home is to stretch out a “soaker hose” on the lawn and park your 4wd over the top while you water your lawn 😁

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