The 8 Dangers Of Dune Bashing (And How To Stay Safe)

Dune bashing is one of the best things you can do with your ATV, dune buggy or sand rail when you are near a beach or desert, where there’s nothing to do but play around in the sand.

The are many dangers of dune bashing including:

  1. losing control in the sand
  2. Engine failure
  3. Changing dunes
  4. Sudden drops
  5. Wrong tires
  6. Broken parts
  7. Improper preparation
  8. Night-time dangers.

While these dangers are clear, overcoming them can be confusing. Knowing what to look for and which parts of your vehicle to check can be tricky. Follow along to the rest of this article to learn how to check your equipment, travel safely at night, and what to do when you get stuck when dune bashing.

These are the 8 dangers of dune bashing:

Dangers of Sand

This may sound obvious when you first consider dune bashing, but the sands you are riding around on can be much more challenging than you think. The danger sand poses are more than just a small problem that makes your dune buggy perform in odd ways. There are three main dangers that sand poses to your dune bashing experience, which are wheels behaving unpredictably, filters to break, and hidden pitfalls.

Unpredictable wheel behavior

When dune bashing, there is only one real terrain that you will be crossing, and that is sandy beaches, sandy deserts, or sandy bush. All of these bring the problem of how your dune buggy will behave when racing across terrain that is both unpredictable and ever-changing.

The main challenge with sand and any vehicle that is racing or driving on it is the lack of control when moving at speeds, and the danger of getting stuck. Dune buggies are usually light enough that they won’t get stuck in loose or thin sand, but the danger still exists. Thanks to the environments where you would be dune bashing, getting stuck can be a problem made worse by time and dehydration.

A danger that becomes more relevant when driving up a large dune and having your tires spinning when trying to crest a hill. This means that you and your dune buggy will be in the dangerous position of having to get unstuck while at a steep incline. Many videos have been posted of dune buggy drivers not having enough control or power while going up a dune only to get stuck halfway.

This may seem like an easy thing to overcome with speed, but this also means making your dune buggy heavier, which means it can get stuck in the sand much easier than with a lightweight vehicle. The trade-off comes with choosing between a lightweight powerhouse that dances across the sand or a heavy engine in your dune buggy that can push it over any dune with ease. This leads to not knowing how your wheels will react when driving on, over, or around dunes.

Getting the tires perfect and knowing how they may handle on the particular type of sand is a crucial step to remember when going dune bashing.

Clogged Filters

There is something that few people think about when they drive through or around deserts and beaches. Sand is dusty, and the accumulation of years of dust, which once said, is obvious but can be something forgotten when getting ready to go and enjoy dune bashing. Many young drivers excitedly take their vehicles out and then are left high and dry when their dune buggy, sand rail, or ATV dies an hour into the day.

This is because of filters not entirely ready for dust that when driving on these sandy dunes. You can easily find many drivers overcome by this, unable to move from their positions simply because their engines are clogged with enough sand and dust to build a sandcastle. This is because the filters are unable to effectively block out the finer dust that gets generated when driving across this sand.

This eventually clogs the filters enough that even normal sand does not fall away, blocking any air from entering the engine. This prevents combustion, and soon the engine can’t function at all, requiring you to clean the filters or, in the worst cases letting sand enter the engine itself. This breaks the engine, no matter which vehicle you are in.

The best way to prevent this is to get special housing with filters that can handle finer particles but still let in some air—creating more time for you to have fun and enjoy your dune bashing experience.

Hidden pitfalls

These are less known and are more likely to happen in bush or desert areas than beaches. It will affect heavier dune buggies or sand rails much more than it would ever affect lightweight ATVs. These are pitfalls made when dunes are blown across their terrain by wind and slowly cover dead trees, caves, or even strangely shaped rocks.

When driving you can suddenly find your wheels sinking into the ground much more deeply than should be possible. This is because of air pockets in the sand, while they are rare, they can be extremely dangerous if you aren’t aware of what to do when falling into one of them. These pitfalls are hard to predict but locals in any area usually know the conditions needed for them to form.

Very rarely will these pitfalls be large enough to swallow an entire vehicle. They are deep enough to get your vehicle stuck, with either all or some of the wheels sinking so deep that getting unstuck can be a real challenge. Having wheels that sunk beneath the desert sand can make it impossible to move, but luckily these pitfalls aren’t prone to appear in older or more well-traveled areas.

Deserts that have dunes that travel more, or are always expanding, will be more prone to have pitfalls. When you go out to your first dune bashing location, listening to what the locals have to say and where the dangerous areas are will be the best thing to prevent you and your vehicle from sinking into the desert.

Changing Dunes

Something that not everyone knows about desert, bush, and beach dunes is that they never stay the same. This is not because of human intervention, either. Dunes are always changing because winds and water physically move them. Over a year or more, the desert landscape that you may be familiar with will change entirely.

This creates challenges when you are out dune bashing, as there may be buildings and large boulders hidden beneath the sand that will appear as the months go by, creating a dangerous situation for you. When dunes are changing, you may not be familiar with a desert that you already traversed.

It can create further problems when things are only partially covered. On one side of the dune, it may look normal while on the opposite side, there are rocks, boulders, and sometimes even trees being uncovered. Imagine you are driving around at 80mph, and suddenly over the crest of a small dune, the terrain changes to be exclusively rocks and trees. Losing control even on sand can be dangerous and, in the worst case, cause death.

.ATVs are more susceptible to this danger than dune buggies or sand rails. Their small size means that anything too big can cause you to lose control of the vehicle. When doing things as a group, it is highly recommended to have a few people at several points walk out the course that you are planning to drive. This will allow you and your friends to see what the dunes look like at the time before getting started.

Dune buggies and sand rails allow you to scout large areas more easily as well. If you own either of these, you can then easily scout the road ahead for your friends so that they may drive at full speed without going into the unknown.

Fix Small Damage

Before and after every trip, there is one thing that you will always see about your vehicle; there’s something to fix—anything from wiring that is wearing away to a suspension that is about to break. Getting your vehicle fixed for something is an endless task that you will be experiencing on a regular basis.

Therefore, dune buggy owners’ vehicles that are unique to them, thanks to their endless modifications and additions that make their vehicles last longer. Sand rails are great in the way that few if any of them haven’t been upgraded to travel at near-impossible speeds across terrain that few others could ever travel on.

ATVs are not exempt from this. As owners use them, they will change, and soon they start reflecting the terrain they are used on more than anything else. Over time with repeated uses, each of these vehicles will be damaged. There may be a rock you didn’t see, a dune that was steeper than you thought or simply something that’s been standing for too long.

All of these are seen as small, unimportant things that most owners will simply ignore; however, when you are dune bashing, these things should never be overlooked. As you use your ATV, dune buggy or sand rail to traverse terrains that are hard on them, something small can become a big problem. There are reports from all over the world of drivers and owners ignoring small rust spots only to have their vehicle break apart when being used.

Something like a slow puncture in a tire can cause you to lose your wheel halfway down a dune, losing control and rolling the rest of the way. A seatbelt that doesn’t work correctly can be the difference between life and death. Each part that is damaged on your vehicle is a potential part that could cause catastrophic danger.

Therefore, professional events have mechanics that do inspections before any vehicle is allowed to join. Preventing death or severe injury is one of the most important things when you are going out dune bashing with friends. You must have all the vehicles as prepared as possible. This gives you the knowledge and comfort that no matter what, you can safely and fully enjoy your dune bashing days in the sun.

Required Dune Gear

There are three parts to having the right gear when you are going dune bashing with any vehicle. These are the gear for your vehicle, the gear needed for yourself, and the gear you need to help others. Going through a checklist at home before setting off will be the difference between being stuck alone and dehydrated in the middle of nowhere or being able to get yourself and others out of a tight bind.

Gearing your vehicle

The gear needed for your vehicle is more than just getting it all fixed; it involves making sure that it is fixed. The shape of your vehicle, the width of your drivetrain, and the weight of it all change how gear it should be fitted.

Your filters are one of the essential parts, and it has been touched on before, which is why you need to ensure you have that covered before anything else. However, some of the other parts that you need to be sure about are the extras that you’ll find around your vehicle that you may think you’ll never need.

These can be the extra fuel tanks that you should have, ways of getting your vehicle unstuck with rails, or in some of the larger vehicles adding a winch to pull others out of tight spots. When you prepare for a dune bashing session, it is essential to know what exactly you will be doing and how far you may go from your original location.

If you and your friends are going to be driving along a beach, then you may always be close to civilization. Then the only tools you would need are the ones required to get unstuck. There are dune bashing trips that can take several days in the desert. For these, you may want to pack everything from several extra gallons of water to full camping gear to ensure that you are sleeping safely every night.

This way your vehicle, be it an ATV, dune buggy or sand crawler will be able to go wherever you want it to go and provide you with all the tools you may need.

The gear you need

While your car may be fully ready to take on the dunes, you still need to get some things for yourself. The list of things you need for yourself can be just as long and complicated as the list you will need to get for your vehicle. Rough terrains and the time of year you are going dune bashing will decide what you need to take with you.

The first thing that you should always make sure you have more than you need is water, water tanks, water bottles, and, if possible, water bags. Dune bashing is a hot adventure that means you must be in the sun the whole day while fighting to keep control of your vehicle no matter what. Many people have underestimated how much water they needed on these trips, then getting sick at the end of the day owing to dehydration.

After you have enough water for yourself and those around you, getting the right protective clothing will be necessary, like helmets, goggles, and regular clothes to protect your skin from the elements. Depending on where you are, your clothing gear will be anything from long sleeves and pants to protect against the sun or beach attire that will let you easily enjoy the beach whenever you stop.

However, all of these are easy things that you should consider taking with you to make sure your dune bashing is fun and as enjoyable as possible. These are the extra batteries for your phone if going far into the desert satellite phones for emergencies. Your camping gear should include ways of cooling down if needed, relaxing after the day has passed, and even sunscreen to protect yourself against burning.

The real trick to taking the right gear for yourself is finding out what others are taking with them, and where you are going. Deserts and beaches require protection against the sun and ways of getting back to civilization if lost.

Gear to help others

The gear you have for your vehicle and yourself will most likely be needed to help others. Your vehicle’s winch will help others get out of troubling situations, your rails will get used when others get stuck in thick sand, and you may even find that others forgot to bring enough water.

Gearing up to help other drivers, your friends, or even strangers, will mean that you are a bit heavier, which is why you and your friends should plan together. Getting geared up for a trip alone means that you must pack less of some things while other more important things will need to be prioritized.

Getting together and planning the trip ahead of time with your friends will enable you to have more gear, with each having specific duties. One vehicle may carry more water, while others can have camping equipment and tools to escape being stuck. In larger groups, you may have trucks and other off-road vehicles that will follow you over, through, and around the dunes that you may be bashing.

Getting geared up correctly and ready for your dune bashing experience will become like second nature once you have gone on a lot of trips. But for your first few trips, you should plan appropriately, get together with your friends, and plan for as much as possible.

Sudden Cliffs

This is a danger that many people are entirely unaware of, owing to the perception that dunes are always gradients that slowly rise and slowly fall. However, most dunes that you will drive on will have slight rises on one side and extremely sharp drops on the other side.

Most areas that have dunes worth going dune bashing on will have this pitfall. The higher the dune is that you want to climb, the higher the drop on the other side will be. One of the dangers that regular dune bashing brings is that many times you will be climbing up smaller and smaller dunes. However, eventually, you will reach a point where you can’t climb any higher; you will then have to go back down.

The danger of dune bashing then becomes a lot clearer. Dunes are not like mountains. There is no plateau on the top; they reach a height and then will drop off suddenly. So, when you are driving at speed up a dune, you may find yourself suddenly going downhill on a dune with very loose sand and quickly needing to regain control of your vehicle.

The best way to counter this danger is to have someone go up a bit more slowly, either walking up a dune or driving slowly to the top. This means they will be able to see what the top of the dune looks like, giving you a fair warning to what the drop on the other side will look like.

Ultimately, being prepared and looking at the terrain ahead of you will mean you can safely have fun driving over and on the dunes.


Tires. These are simple but require some preparation of their own, as having tires meant for snow, or open roads will mean instant failure. Sand, unlike any other substance, behaves in a way that driving on it requires special tires for ATVs, dune buggies, and sand rails. Getting them fitted properly and being ready to use them for hours on end will make your dune bashing experience much more fun.

Most tires meant for driving on sand will be thicker than regular tires. This gives more surface area and spreads the overall weight of any vehicle over larger areas. This means that your dune buggy and sand rail won’t get stuck as much as they usually would be when used in these conditions.

Having the wrong tires, however, will mean that your vehicle will constantly get stuck, be unable to move over more loose sand, and even lose grip while climbing up larger dunes. If you do find yourself with the wrong tires and you are unable to get a quick fix, one of the quick-fix ways that you can use is to let some air out of your tires. This makes them flatter and easier to drive on sane, but you will be unable to drive on hard surfaces.

Engine Failure

This is the worst-case scenario for anyone going dune bashing, having an engine failure for any reason can cause you to lose something you love. Dune bashing is a risky hobby to do in any vehicle that you may use for it, and it always takes the engines to their absolute max.

This means long hard runs where your vehicle is continually running near the limit of what they can do. Combined with hard work trying to climb up dunes and then engine braking when going down the other side, it is no wonder that your vehicle’s engine may eventually break if not taken care of properly.

With the hard work, harsh conditions, and temperatures of any area that may have dunes in them, you will be exposed to lots of heat. Getting your engine cooled will be just as much a problem as keeping yourself cool. Letting your vehicle rest during the hottest parts of the day and getting yourself adequately hydrated is the perfect chance to check up on everything.

Because without the proper equipment, mods, filters, there will be many things that will eventually break your vehicle’s engine. Having a broken engine in the middle of the desert, bush, or on a sandy beach will mean that you are left with no choice but to abandon the vehicle.

This is owing to the difficulty of getting to the areas where you will normally be dune bashing. Having a vehicle that can easily load up and then carry your dune buggy to a safe area is almost impossible. This is why you will sometimes find older dune buggies left to rust in the middle of nowhere in deserts where regulations are more relaxed.

However, if you are traveling as a group or you stay within walking distance of your towing vehicle, then you won’t have to abandon your vehicle. However, it is not recommended to use your towing vehicle to fetch your vehicle if it got stuck in a difficult position.

The only thing you can hope for is that your engine won’t break when you need it the most.


In conclusion, no matter how you go about dune bashing, with a sand rail, ATV, or dune buggy, there are dangers that you will face. Overcoming these challenges and finding ways to work with them is a big part of what you will enjoy about dune bashing.

For more on the differences between ATV’s, dune buggies, and sand rails, check out my articles on “ATV vs. Dune Buggy: The 7 Essential Differences“, “Sand Rail vs Dune Buggy: The 5 Essential Differences“, and “How To Build A Dune Buggy: Everything You Will Need

Go grab your helmets, your water, and your friends and go experience the amazing fun that it is to go and conquer dunes larger than life!

Happy dune bashing!

Louis Pretorius

As an amateur off-road enthusiast, I have always been drawn to outdoor adventure. I have decided to share all of my learning experiences with you as I dig a little deeper into my new-found passion and wonderful world of off-roading. My mission is to create the Ultimate Off-roading space on the internet in the process. Stay safe and happy Off-Roading!

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