Guide to driving in the mountains

Taking your car up into the hills can be a very exciting drive. And the drive is meant to be enjoyed. Here are some handy tips that will ensure your trip into the mountains is a safe one.

Before you head off on a trip to the mountains, make sure you inspect your car thoroughly. Top up the coolant, check the brakes and the condition of the tyres. Mountain driving does tend to stress out vehicles quite a bit, and if you’re not used to it, it could stress you out as well.

mountain driving tips

Shift early

Once you start climbing the hills, try to maintain a steady pace and not speed unnecessarily. Shift gears early to maintain momentum as you come up to a steep slope or a hair-pin bend. This way you won’t stall the car or run out of power mid-way through a hair-pin bend. The best way to take a turn is to downshift early, maintain a steady pace as you enter the turn, and as soon as you cross the apex, accelerate, and you won’t lose momentum (slow in, fast out).

Keep an eye out on turns

In the hills, you will often encounter blind turns, where you cannot judge if there’s oncoming traffic (especially on undivided roads). In such cases, always stick to your side of the road so that you’re not in for any nasty surprises. Give a warning honk with your horn when you approach a blind turn. Driving in the hills is often easier at night, because you can see the headlight beam of approaching vehicles easily. Use your wing mirrors and also look out of the side windows if you have to on turns, to avoid the blind spot created by the A-pillar (the area between the windscreen and door) in cars that have thick A-pillars.

Use the gears, spare the brakes

A common mistake many people make when coming down a twisty mountain road is to constantly apply the brakes almost all the way down, while travelling in a higher gear. This can result in rapid brake wear and tear. Spare the brakes, use engine braking. A rule of thumb is to use the same gear you came up the slope in, to also go down the slope, although this is not always possible. However, downshifting and using engine braking will take some of the stress out of the brakes and prevent premature brake failure.

Give way to upcoming traffic

Vehicles that are coming uphill have the right of way. If you are going downhill and see a narrow road ahead of you with a vehicle coming up, pull over to a wide enough spot and wait for the vehicle to pass. This is common courtesy in the hills.

Don’t overtake in a hurry

When overtaking on hilly roads, make sure you have enough clear space ahead before you do. Don’t overtake on turns. Pull up behind the vehicle you want to overtake and flash your lights or a short honk of the horn to draw the driver’s attention. And then wait for the vehicle ahead to indicate that it’s safe to overtake, but still be cautious. Always downshift into a lower gear than necessary before overtaking so that you have enough power on tap to quickly complete the move. The same applies even when going downhill, as it gives you better control over your vehicle.

Use common sense

On narrow mountain roads that have very deep gorges on one side and a steep cliff-face on the other, you sometimes have to use plain common sense when driving. If two vehicles approach each other in such an area, and there’s very little space, it sometimes makes sense to go on to the wrong side, so that you can keep an eye on the edge of the road. Also if a heavier vehicle is on the gorge side, it’s better to let it pass on the side closer to the hill face, especially in landslide prone areas or areas where the road surface is soft, slushy or slippery. Similarly if a fully-loaded vehicle or heavy vehicle is coming downhill and you are in a car climbing uphill – it makes sense for you to stop and let him pass or even reverse to a wide enough area, because it’s difficult for the heavier vehicle to reverse.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll have a safe trip in the mountains. Happy driving!

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