How to drive properly on mountain passes

Cars are no longer made like the old ones … luckily? We have modern technology to thank for the enormous advances in engine resistance, power and braking equipment, especially when tackling mountain passes or steep slopes. For many petrolheads, they are the favorite playground, for many other drivers, a necessary paperwork. Do you know how to drive properly in ports and slopes greater than 15%? With these advice, your car will suffer less and your circulation will be safer for you and your companions.

1) Don’t let the engine stall

When climbing important slopes, we demand much more power from the engine than driving on the flat. Although we can level calmly at 1,750 rpm, on a slope of 13% we cannot bring the engine to a low speed. In fact, we will be damaging our mechanics if we go deep in a low regime. The engine must be exerted to the maximum and you will notice that it is choking – vibrating, making excessive noise – if you do not take it to an adequate regimen. Don’t be scared by taking your diesel above 2,500 rpm.

Take the happy engine for laps, and do not suffer to take it to that regime. The mechanics and your safety will thank you.

Or if you have a gasoline, above 3,000 or 3,500 rpm. The engine is generating more power and good maximum torque, and you will feel more at ease. You will have enough power to overtake swiftly, and your engine will not suffer. As long as it is at service temperature, it will not be at all harmful to its internal components. And if you are a quemadillo, you will know what a sporty driving in a mountain pass is enjoyed, with the note of the exhaust bouncing and echoing off the walls of that gorge.

2) Use the engine brake

In the past, descending a mountain pass was a tough test for any car. If the port had very steep slopes and we were loaded, we had to make the most of engine braking so our brakes don’t overheat. Truckers know this well, and they know the location of all emergency ramps, designed to stop a vehicle that has lost its brakes. Fortunately, modern cars have much more powerful braking equipment, and above all, with much more resistance to fading.

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A lower gear, greater engine brake. Second and third are usually the most recommended.

This does not mean that we have to abandon the engine braking technique. It simply consists of leaving a gear engaged, and that the engine retention itself prevents us from “launching” downhill of good inclination. In addition to preventing our speed from skyrocketing, it releases load from the service brakes – conventional brakes, to understand us – reducing disc and pad wear. And that translates into a saving of money and mechanical wear. They are all advantages.

As we have indicated before, do not be scared of a high speed with the engine holding the car. If your car is automatic – and its gearbox has this function – you can select position 2 or 3 so that the engine does not exceed that mark. If you have the ability to change gears manually, make use of it.

3) Check the weather forecast and be careful

The mountain can be very treacherous. You must bear in mind that the higher the altitude, the lower the temperature, and at the top of a pass that is barely 1,500 meters high, it may be 10 or 15 degrees lower than in the valley. In summer it is not a concern, but in times closer to winter there may be a risk of rain, snow or fog. Adverse weather phenomena that limit the visibility and grip of the car, making it necessary for us to be extremely careful at the wheel. It is common sense, but it should be remembered.

The mountain is treacherous, and you never know what weather phenomena it can develop. Check the weather in advance and keep your car in good mechanical condition.

That is why we advise you that if you are going to travel through high altitude areas or mountainous areas, check the weather before embarking on the trip. If your idea is a more agile driving, remember that the lower the temperature, the less grip. If it starts to rain or snow, remember that the braking distance multiplies: respect the safety distance and do not be rough with the steering wheel or the brakes. If there is fog, we suggest you read the special on driving in fog that we published a while ago.

4) Respect slower drivers … and faster drivers

A tip that really applies to all twisty secondary road traffic. If you see that a driver does not know the road and circulates slowly, give him space. Don’t pressure him by “hitting his ass”, because in addition to being illegal you will take it ahead if it stops suddenly, and you will be causing stress. Get ahead of him when you get a chance and it’s safe to do so. If you do not know the mountain pass, you have the right to slow down than other drivers and the duty to be civic.

Respect and be respected. Whether you are driving at a higher pace or at a slower pace.

Facilitates overtaking For faster vehicles, give them the indicator to warn them that they can safely pass you and do not prevent them from passing you on the straights if you are going slow in the curves. Others will thank you and you won’t have to worry about the cars ahead. In Diariomotor we usually drive through mountain passes in our tests, and there is few things more dangerous than an aggressive and fearful driver, a driver who endangers others and himself.

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5) Overtaking: be cautious and know the road

If you regularly drive through a mountain pass, try to memorize the areas where it is possible to pass easily. Remember the most complicated curves, blind or double radius curves in which you must exercise extreme caution. This knowledge of the road will help you circulate safer and faster, without ever losing respect for the road. It is especially important not to risk overtaking: ports are usually one-lane roads in each direction with poor visibility and little escape.

Visibility is the key: do not pass if you are not sure you can complete the maneuver. Don’t cut corners without visibility.

Do not overtake if you are not sure that you will be able to finish overtaking on time. Know the reactions of your car and its benefits: it is the only way to calculate accurately if you can overtake in that gap, or you have to wait. Keep in mind that many trucks circulate in groups, and there may be another trailer in front of the orange truck that you want to overtake. Never, never play it. Do not cut corners without visibility, because it is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with a one and a half ton machine.

6) Monitor the water and oil temperature

Mountain passes can put the mechanics of your car to its limit, especially if we practice sporty driving. But the same will also happen if it is very hot or we drive loaded. Although in modern cars it is not usually a problem, it is important keep an eye on the needle for the water temperature. If it starts to approach red and does not stop, there is possibly a problem in the cooling circuit. If you overheat the engine you can develop cylinder head problems (in addition to being stranded).

Going up a port puts the car’s cooling system at the limit.

Not all cars have it, but some vehicles have oil temperature gauges. It is convenient watch that the oil temperature does not rise above 130 degrees in sporty driving. The oil will start to burn and degrade, losing lubricating properties and generating waste. The same can happen with an automatic gearbox in these types of situations, and always in demanding use. If the temperature is rising, slow down, and let the car “breathe.”

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7) Draw the curves correctly

Always look towards the exit of the curve to trace it correctly. Always brake before reaching the curve, and do not touch the brake in sharp turns – unless it is strictly necessary. It is especially dangerous if your speed is excessive, because it can destabilize the car. Reach all curves at a suitable speed and use the engine brake so that the car does not launch. In more open curves you can safely touch the brake: it will prevent the car from launching and your speed from becoming excessive.

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