Of course you want to have brakes that are in good condition, however the most important part of mountain driving is the correct use of your transmission.
RVs of any kind are a lot different to drive than a normal car, pickup, or SUV. They're heavy, and cumbersome, and almost awkward feeling to anybody who's never driven one before. They accelerate slowly, and they have a lot longer braking distance than a car.
So, when you see a sign like this, you want to be confident that you know what you're doing!
Going uphill is not often a problem. Sure, we're usually a little slower than any other traffic if you're on a steep uphill, but we don't worry about that. If other people are in a rush, just let them do their own thing. It's more important that you do your own thing. Just because the speed limit is 60 mph doesn't mean that you have to try and maintain that speed all the time, and in fact you'll often want to be going much slower than the speed limit.
And the same applies when you're going downhill. In fact, going downhill is when you really don't care what other people think of your speed.
Your transmission is designed to be able to slow you down when going downhill. In fact, I've often driven very steep downhill stretches without ever touching the brakes at all. And the whole idea is to never get going too fast to begin with!
That means going slowly even at the top of the hill, because you often have no idea just how steep the hill will be, or how many curves you will encounter.
Using the transmission properly entails some understanding of what the different gears are capable of. Most automatic transmissions on gas powered vehicles look something like this.
Park, Reverse, Neutral, Overdrive, Drive (3rd), 2nd gear, and 1st gear.
When you are in overdrive, the transmission uses the gears as efficiently as it can to make use of the engine's power depending on average driving conditions. In other words, you put in in overdrive, and you go. When going downhill with the transmission in overdrive, you are essentially coasting.
However if you're at highway speeds and going downhill, putting your transmission into drive, or 3rd gear, will use the braking power of the idling engine to actually slow you down a little bit if it's not too steep. If it doesn't slow you down enough, you'll want to drop the transmission down to second gear, or maybe even first gear.
However, to drop down to 2nd or 1st gear you need to be driving slowly enough for the transmission to engage those gears.
For Sherman, (our motorhome), we need to be going below 50 mph in order to drop to 2nd gear, and below 30 mph in order to drop to 1st gear. These speeds will be slightly different for different vehicles, but it'll be somewhere close to that.
Very often on a steep section of downhill, I will have Sherman in first gear and driving at 25-30 mph despite the fact that the speed limit might be 50 or 55 mph. If there is a lineup behind me, I don't care. If there is somewhere for me to pull over and let them by, I will. But if not, I don't care about them.
I care about the safety of us and our vehicle!
Going downhill towards Jerome, Arizona.
Sometimes driving in Mexico we end up behind a vehicle that needs to be going slower than Sherman! Perhaps a heavily loaded work truck, going down a steep hill in that vehicle's 1st gear, which might have him driving at between 5-10 mph for several miles. Oh well. Just have to be patient, and I realize that he's doing what he needs to do to get down that hill safely.
And for those of you who are towing a trailer or towed vehicle? All of these same rules apply, except even more so because whatever it is that you're towing is acting as a 2000 lb (or more!) weight that is actually pushing your vehicle down the hill. One of the reasons that it's so important to have trailer brakes or a toad braking system because it's more likely that you will have to use the brakes at some point to help the transmission do it's job.
So, what did you learn today? Slow down, and gear down!
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