What is a Dune Buggy?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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A dune buggy is a type of off-road vehicle designed for use in sand dunes or on beaches. The dune buggy is very often a highly-customized vehicle that is stripped down to save weight, and the engine is very often enhanced for more power. The tires are usually fairly wide, and sometimes they feature scooped fins that help the vehicle gain traction in loose sand. A dune buggy that is specifically designed for sand only is often called a sand rail, while more multi-purpose vehicles are known as dune buggies. The Volkswagen Beetle is a commonly used vehicle for customization into a buggy.

There are two common ways to make a dune buggy: the first is to purchase a Volkswagen Beetle and customize it from there, and the second is to weld a frame from scratch and come up with a custom design. The Beetle is commonly used because the engine is mounted in the rear, which means much of the engine weight is over the rear wheels rather than the front wheels. This weight distribution aids in traction during use in sand. Volkswagen parts are also usually quite interchangeable, meaning the smaller Beetle engines can be customized with parts from larger vehicles, such as the Volkswagen Bus.


Creating a dune buggy from scratch can be difficult and expensive, but it allows the builder more room for customization of the dune buggy as well as for unique designs that can enhance the performance of the vehicle. The frame is usually made from tubular steel for strength and durability as well as weight savings over solid steel. The overall design of the vehicle will change depending on the builder's intended use for the vehicle; some sand rails tend to be quite long, whereas buggies meant for off-road use in other conditions may be shorter and even narrower. The builder will choose the engine size based on the size of the vehicle as well as the amount of suspension the vehicle features.

A dune buggy built off a Volkswagen Beetle is very often a manual transmission; custom-built buggies can feature either a manual or an automatic transmission depending on the builder's preferences. Most of the original Beetles came with a manual transmission from the factory, so most buggy owners stick with the original design and components if possible. Some owners replace the body panels with fiberglass panels for weight savings over the original metal panels; it is not uncommon to see the fiberglass panels molded in the style of the original Beetle panels.


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