Driving on Hills – Do’s and Don’ts

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So you have bought yourself a new soft roader and are thinking of visiting Murree or Nathia Gali on your next vacations, there are a few things you might need to keep in mind before you visit any hilly area. I live in the Capital City and near all those nice hill spots where a lot of people from mostly plain areas come from for a weekend trip. Believe it or not, you can spot a driver from plain areas from a mile here. People from all over Punjab, and as far as even Sindh, come to visit the beautiful northern parts of Pakistan. Road trips have gotten quite normal for last decade or so due to ever so reliable vehicles, improving road infrastructure, general better security conditions, and overall increased interest in exploring the far reached areas of the country along the technology playing its part in bringing everything on the screens of people’s mobile phones. Apps like Google Maps and other various free navigation apps have made it easier for people to visit new areas without getting lost on the way.

There are certainly some things that can only come with experience. You can only learn how to drive uphill if you do it again and again. And if you move further up towards northern areas of Pakistan where roads are treacherous or even non-existent, and see a lot of land sliding, you need a lot of road awareness and driving skill to drive there. But let’s not go there for now, and keep it to normal and accessible hilly areas where there are nice roads, and you can visit them at the weekend with your friends and family without a lot preparation and packing. As mentioned above, some things can only be learned with experience, but if you keep these 5 things in mind, you can have a safe trip to your next hill spot without hurting your car.

Mastering hill starts

That is one of the most important things you can learn that can not only save you, but also save your car from hurting itself. If you have a car with automatic transmission, you are in much better condition. But those with manual cars need to know the importance of hill starts. As the name suggests, it is about learning how to take off after fully stopping on an incline. For those who are not very familiar with unusual hill climbs and all they know is the ramp of the garage in front of their houses in the name of an incline, an actual hill start can be tricky.

As mentioned above, for auto cars, it is relatively easier. Make sure you apply handbrake when you have fully stopped on a steep hill climbing upwards. Keep your foot on the brake pedal as well. When you have to take off, supposedly your vehicle is already in drive (D), let the brake pedal go, accelerate while simultaneously taking the hand brake off hence reducing the back roll.

But for manual cars, it can be tricky to coordinate all your limbs to do a perfect uphill start. Like auto, make sure you have applied the hand brake. And when you have to depart, keep your right foot on the brake pedal, press clutch and put the car in first gear, and now comes the tricky part. This is where you have to leave the brake pedal while giving the your car a little gas, and taking the hand brake off while releasing the clutch so there in minimum back roll. Once you have mastered this, you are pretty much set for the rest of the trip. For some, this comes natural and they don’t have to think twice. But for many novice drivers, and those who are not used to the inclines, it can become quite daunting.

Riding the clutch

This is something only affecting those who drive manual cars since there is a clutch involved. By riding the clutch pedal I mean it is when the driver do not fully engage or disengage the clutch pedal and keeps a car in motion half way through the clutch. This is only going to overheat your clutch and eventually decrease the efficiency of the clutch and pressure plate. You must always fully press or depress the clutch pedal in order to make sure you do not overwork the clutch of the car in already extreme conditions.

Some people are in the habit of riding the clutch when they are stuck in traffic or trying to climb a hilly road. Basically the thinking behind riding the clutch is that you don’t have to engage the handbrake every time you make a stop and you try to use the accelerator and the clutch pedal to stop the car from rolling backwards midway on an incline. As mentioned above, this is only going to overheat your clutch plates and hence reducing the overall life of the transmission parts in long term. But the short term effect of riding the clutch pedal is that you might immediately burn your clutch if it is already in weak condition. You will end up stranded on the road with burnt clutch and nowhere to go.

Smaller cars like Suzuki Mehran or Suzuki Cultus require some extra juice in such demanding conditions. So it has been often seen that people try to drag the cars by riding the clutch to make sure it doesn’t bog down under load. Learning to better control your car with clutch will not only save on premature damage repair bills as well as save you from being stranded.

Keep the momentum

Keeping the momentum of your vehicle is important for both small and large vehicles. You must not unnecessarily brake or slow down the car right before or in the middle of a turn unless there is an emergency or you feel like you’re losing control of your vehicle. Make sure that your vehicle makes through a corner in one go without breaking its speed.

This is something you must understand by learning how your vehicle behaves in different scenarios. You should know how your car will behave while climbing a hilly road and making a sharp left or right turn, and how it will act if extra load is a factor as well. Do not rush into the turns and maintain a steady speed. There is absolutely no point in speeding towards a turn only to brake right before it because you were carrying too much speed. You are only burning unnecessary fuel by racing the vehicle only to brake later. Braking right before the corner to change gear because you misjudged the speed of the car or inclination, you are only going to put extra load on the vital components of your vehicle like the engine and the transmission.

Disrupting the momentum hurts the cars with either manual or automatic transmissions but it will have larger affect if you do it in a car with a manual transmission since you will be manually switching between gears. In automatic cars, you might end up overheating your automatic transmission fluid (ATF) which is also not great for the health of your vehicle.

So make sure you maintain the speed of the car while making the turns. Also as a courtesy, try not to break the momentum of other vehicles who are trying to climb the hill. It makes everything a lot harder for the other drivers as well.

Driving on ice

Driving on ice or in snow can be very tricky and dangerous on straight roads let alone doing that on hills. First of all, it is better to have a more experienced driver with you if you are new to driving. No need to take unnecessary risks if you know your capabilities or experience as a driver are limited. Let someone with more experience take the wheel the car.

I have seen many incidents where people underestimated the power of nature and how even a light snowfall can turn into or death trap. Freshly fallen snow is not that dangerous and you have some control over your vehicle while driving cautiously. But as soon the snow becomes hardened and turns into ice, you can be in a lot of trouble if you are not fully prepared.

You either should have winter tires on your vehicle or if the conditions are even more treacherous you must use chain links on your driving tires (front or rear depending upon your vehicle) to make sure you don’t slip into another vehicle. The hard ice is as slippery as anything. And regular summer or even all-weather tires will not work properly on such slippery surface. And now add an incline in the mix and you are in a lot of trouble.

It has become quite frequent for people to rush to hill spots like Murree whenever it snows there. Literally thousands and thousands of vehicles enter the already quite narrow roads of Murree. And when that snow turns into ice and people are inadequately equipped to deal with such conditions, they end up sliding and banging into other cars around them.

Don’t ride the brakes

Just like the clutch, you must not continuously ride your brakes when going down on steep roads. Distribute the load of slowing down the car between the brakes and engine. Keep your car in a lower gear, like first or second gear, so the engine can slow the speed of the car for you as an aid. Just relying in the brakes to slow it down the hill is quite dangerous. It is quite common among some people to turn the engine off while going down the hill in a bid to save the fuel and solely rely on brakes to keep the car in control. It is downright stupid and one must never do that.

Although newer cars have much better and efficient brakes, it is still safe to let the engine share the workload. Just using the brake is only going to overheat your car’s brakes (pads and rotors/drums). Overheated brakes mean brake fade and that means the brake pads have lost the bite and are unable to slowdown the vehicle as quickly as they usually do. That second or two of brake fade can be fatal.

For cars with automatic transmission, this becomes ever so important. If you are driving a car with conventional automatic gearbox, put the car in lower gear (D1 or D2 depending upon your vehicle) for the engine to slowdown the vehicle. And if your car comes with a CVT gearbox, put your vehicle in ‘B mode’ to engage engine braking when going down a steep road.

And finally, maintain the speed of the vehicle when going down as well. Don’t race it down when you know you will have to apply brake to make a turn. This will prevent the quite dangerous brake fade as well as premature brake wear.

These were just few tips that can make your journey to those lovely and beautiful higher parts of the country pleasurable. You won’t have to worry about your car needlessly breaking down on the trip and you can enjoy your journey without unfortunate incidents. Happy motoring!


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