For years we lived in Western Canada and frequent road trips to the Rockies and Kootenay’s were a regular part of our life. We learned that even in favorable weather conditions, mountain driving certainly presents new challenges. A small driving mistake can easily turn into a big driving mistake. In addition, the wear and tear on your vehicle is definitely different when driving in the big hills.
- Make sure your gas tank is full. Gas stations in the mountains can be few and far between. The price you pay for gas at remote stations can also be much higher than at home. Unexpected road blockages from snow slides or falling rock can create delays, causing you to idle longer. Especially if it’s cold outside.
- Bring food, water and emergency gear. Breakdowns or long travel delays are not uncommon and cell phone signals may be weak to non-existent. You could be stuck alone for awhile so make sure you are well prepared.
- Driving slowly can cause driver frustration behind you. Be aware that if you are driving slowly to enjoy the sights, other vehicles can backlog behind you. This is when dangerous passing starts to take place. For the sake of your safety, find a safe pullout and let the backlogged traffic pass.
- Know the weather conditions before heading out. The temperature and climate changes with altitude. Don’t assume the conditions you started out on will be the same for your entire trip. Don’t be caught off guard by sudden freezing roads, precipitation, snow, or fog as you climb in elevation.
- Brake early before curves in the road. Pay attention to the posted speed signs. Sharp curves are common on mountain roads. When going downhill, there is more vehicle momentum to stop so braking early will help glide you through turns. Braking while in a turn puts weight on the front of the car making control more difficult. Accelerating coming out of turns puts weight on the rear of the car, giving you more control.
- Brake and downshift before downgrades. When going down a hill, don’t start braking too late to avoid building up too much speed. This will prolong your car’s brake life and provide better speed control. With a manual transmission, shift into a lower gear before the downgrade. With an automatic transmission, downshift to S or L.
- Use “pulse” braking. From time to time, you’ll need to apply your brakes on the downhill runs. Never ride your brakes for a long time. It can cause overheating and glazing of the brake pads. Pulsing your brakes gives the brakes time to cool down. Be attentive to the distinctive odour of overheating brake pads. Pulse breaking is used to maintain your car between two speeds (ex. between 40 – 50 kph).
- Use a lower gear on steep uphill climbs. Keep an eye on your engine temperature gauge. If the engine starts to overheat, turn off the air conditioning to reduce load or turn on the heater to help dissipate some heat. You may need to pull safely off to the side of the road and let the engine idle until it cools down.
- Stay away from the center line. Some people are uncomfortable driving near the shoulder on winding mountain roads. Oncoming drivers may therefore hug the centre line or cut corners on these roads. You don’t want to meet them head on. Stay on your side of the road.
- The car going UPHILL is generally given the right of way. Give passing vehicles time to make it safely back to their lane. Car horsepower is reduced by thinner air at very high elevations, although turbo-chargers can help.
Drive with caution
The mountains are known for their beautiful scenery, wildlife and recreational activities. Whether you’re heading out to go skiing, hiking, sightseeing, or just passing through, driving in the mountains is a higher risk. Always drive with caution to get your destination safely.
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