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Five tips for driving an RV on steep roads

Taking an RV into the mountains can be an amazing experience, and seeing all the spectacular scenery that North America has to offer is something that all RVers should experience.

Getting there will involve steep grades and sharp turns, but don’t let that deter you. Check out these five tips that will help keep you safe and prepared.

Practice

There’s no substitute for experience so try and get some practice in if you can, driving on local hilly roads for a few hours will really give you a feel for how your vehicle behaves under steep conditions. Mountain roads tend to be narrower than major highways so try not to hug the center line.

It can be alarming to have larger vehicles coming the other way, especially on a bend, and it makes it more difficult for faster traffic to pass you.

Signs

Learn the relevant road signs that you are likely to encounter, and how they apply to you as an RV driver. Remember, the speed limit signs refer to cars (unless otherwise stated) and so you must reduce your speed accordingly.

How much to reduce your speed will depend on the weight of your vehicle, but go too slow and you may become a hazard to other drivers. If the traffic starts to build up behind you, pull over and let it pass.

Driving uphill

Leaving it in automatic ‘D’ will significantly increase the risk of overheating your engine on the way up and your brakes on the way down, but you can put it back into auto on the flat stretches and drive as normal.

How many gears you have to downshift to will depend on your vehicle. A typical automatic car will have two gears to choose from, but a pickup or RV can have three or four. With practice, you will know which ones to use at the right time.

If your engine temperature starts to rise, turn off the air conditioner. If it continues to rise, turn on your heater. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it is drawing heat away from the engine into the cabin.

If the gauge starts to approach the red line, pull over and rev the engine to slightly above idle. This doesn’t tax the engine, but keeps the cooling system active. If you actually do hit the red line, switch off the engine or you risk permanent damage.

Driving downhill

Like the engine, your brakes will get very hot under load. So a trick used by truckers is to keep it in the same gear going down the hill as you used going up.

This will cause engine compression (or engine breaking) to help slow the vehicle down, using the brakes only when necessary. Engine breaking doesn’t harm the engine or any other of your vehicles components.

Preventing brake failure

If your brakes overheat and fade away, follow these rules:

  • Get off the gas
  • Turn off the cruise control
  • Downshift to get more engine breaking
  • Pump the brake to try and regain some pressure
  • Apply the emergency brake (parking brake)
  • If available, use the ‘runaway truck’ ramp
  • If all else fails, use the crash barriers to slow you down

It may seem very challenging,  but many RVers venture into the mountains and have a great time. So give it a try, and you’ll discover a whole new dimension to the RV experience.

About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is the editor of Let's RV and the editor of RV Daily Report. A Wisconsin native and father of three grown daughters, he is now based out of Arizona and travels the country in his Winnebago Adventurer motorhome interviewing industry professionals and interesting RVers alike. He can be reached at editor@letsrv.com

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