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Driving and Equipment Tips for Baja and Central America

by Nick H-J

One of the wonderful things about Baja and Central America is the abundance of coastline, which means beaches, to see, camp on, fish on and drive on.  There is also an abundance of nasty washboard-covered dirt roads that get you to those beaches. If you are like me, both of these things sound great.  However, these things can be hard on both you and your equipment. Here are tips on keeping yourself and your rig safe and happy as you head down the sometimes punishing roads and salt covered beaches to the places where everyone wants to be and nobody is.
1. Before you drive on the beach, and regularly while in salty environments, spray the bottom of your rig liberally with diesel fuel. Diesel is essentially a light oil, and, when combined with dirt and dust (which applies itself as you drive around), it makes a great barrier against salt.  This is your best weapon against rust on the beach. You can spray it on with compressed air, using a very simple attachment you can make, or maybe find at the local mechanic. Don’t think for a moment that salt isn’t a force to be reckoned with.  It will reduce even the most stalwart trucks to scap-metal in just a few short years if you give it half a chance.

2. Tire pressure is king. Washboard is much more comfortable and much easier on your equipment when you are running over it with lower tire pressure.  Sand is also much easier to drive in at low pressures.  However, as you start letting air out of your tires, you need to be aware that not all tires are equal. If you are driving on crappy tires, you can lose the seal (bead) where the tire meets the rim on a hard turn if you run too low a pressure.  I am running 20 lbs over the washboard of Baja’s worst roads as well as on the beaches and am fairly comfortable.  I would go as low as 10 lbs if I needed to get out of some soft sand, or maybe 18 lbs or slightly lower if the washboard was particularly nasty.  Realize, though, that the lower you go with the pressure, the greater the risk of loosing a tire becomes

3. When you are on the beach know what the tide is doing. If you are heading down the beach a ways, you want to know where the tide is now and where it will be later.  Do not be the guy that gets stuck between a rising tide and the soft sand of the dunes.  If you are that guy, get your self as far into that soft sand (above the waterline) and away from the rising tide as you can.  If you have ever stood in the shallows at the beach and noticed the waves eroding the sand out from under your feet as they recede, you can imagine what happens when that same action is working on your tires.  Once safely in the dunes, wait out the high tide by planning how your going to dig yourself out of all that soft sand… or more likely and more pleasant, drink a bunch of beer.  Always carry enough beer for this eventuality.

4. When you are on the beach, stay on the hard sand but out of the water. While this is certainly not a hard rule (no pun intended), soft sand, as you will quickly find out, is not great for driving in.  When the tide is out, you will see where the high water mark is, and, depending on the beach, you can drive on that area without much trouble.

5. Salt water is the worst thing you can get on your truck. Don’t drive in it unless you really have to.

6. Always carry a shovel with you. Also always carry a spare tire.  If you get completely stuck in the sand (or something else), and there are no trees around to tie off to, you can dig a hole and bury your spare tire to use as an attachment point for winching.  You may have to dig several feet down and cut a channel for the cable to run in, depending on the soil and terrain you are in.  This is something you can do anywhere there isn’t a handy attachment to tie your winch or come-along to.  If you don’t have a winch, or even if you do, definitely carry a come-along (or a hi-lift that doubles as one) and a good length of recovery strap or sturdy webbing.

If you take all this advise to heart and head out into the wild and never get stuck, you aren’t pushing yourself far enough.  Getting bogged down is a sign that you are pushing the limits of your gear and ability.  I say that’s the thing to do.  So go out and get stuck, maybe one of these tips will help you in a pinch.  Either way, take good care of your equipment, and it will take good care of you.

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One Comment

  1. After seeing the pic, I see why you are still there!!!!

    1. Mom on June 29th, 2009 at 5:13 pm

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