Driving a big rig on a mountain road is very different from traveling on a flat highway. With the immense amount of weight being hauled in your trailer, you’ll want to be sure you get down the mountain safely. But before you go down the mountain, you have to climb up.
For the most part, you need to find the highest gear possible to pull you up the mountain, but when the truck starts to bog down, you’ll have to shift into a lower gear. You also need to keep a watch on the temperature gauge. Even though the truck seems to be taking you up the mountain in a high gear with no problem, it may begin to overheat. Shift down a gear – you will travel slower but are less likely to have an overheating problem.
Now that you have successfully climbed the mountain, it’s time to come down. There are some general rules for traveling safely down a steep grade. One of them being “Go down the mountain in the same gear you used going up.” This is good advice if you’re driving an older truck with a simple transmission, but today’s trucks are built differently. Some have 600 horsepower engines and 18-speed transmissions. These big rigs have little problem making it up the mountain, but you shouldn’t fly down the other side.
Some of the advice you’ll hear about traveling down a mountain is about how to use your brakes. Do not keep a gentle but steady pressure on your brake pedal the entire way down the mountain. This will cause your brakes to overheat and possibly catch fire – and maybe lose the use of your brakes altogether, sending you into a freefall.
A good way to maintain a safe speed down the mountainside is to determine a maximum safe speed – say 50 MPH. Apply the brakes firmly when you reach your maximum speed, until it is about 5 – 10 MPH lower. Then let off the brakes until it reaches your maximum speed, giving the brakes time to cool between pushes – and making them less likely to overheat. If you brake to 45 MPH and you find you reach 50 MPH too quickly, brake to 40 MPH. Release the brakes at let it roll. If it still reaches 50 MPH too quickly, set a lower maximum speed.
You can determine a safe maximum speed by calculating the equipment, road characteristics and weight of your load. Some mountain roads are long and winding, while others are short and steep. The first time you travel a mountain road, you’ll be going in blind so be sure to stay alert and practice safe driving techniques. After you travel the road a couple of times and you get to know the road characteristics, you’ll know a safe speed for your equipment.
Experience makes you a better driver, when it comes to traveling mountain roads.