Driving a truck in the mountains is a challenge for any trucker. You should take extra precautions and follow certain guidelines to keep yourself and other motorists safe while climbing or descending a grade. There are simple rules that experienced drivers and owner operators abide which make mountain driving a lot easier and safer. In this article, we will list the most important among those rules, so be sure to check them out and implement them if you haven’t already.
How to Prepare for the Trip in the Mountains?
Preparation is always the key in our business. Since the time spent on the road can be pretty long, you should always think ahead and equip yourself for various scenarios. Determining your route is one of the first steps in pre-trip preparation. This means you’ll know right away if a mountain road is awaiting you, so you proceed with this in mind.
Do a Complete Inspection of Your Truck
It’s important to inspect your truck thoroughly before every haul, of course. But driving in the mountains, being a challenge of its own kind, makes pre-trip inspections even more of a necessity. Don’t forget to check your fluid levels and wiper blades, and make sure you have all the safety equipment including flares, cones, and a first aid kit.
Make Sure to Check the Brakes
In addition to your pre-trip inspection, check all the crucial elements every day before you start driving. Most importantly, double-check your brakes since mountain driving is going to put them to the test first. There will often be brake check areas ahead of mountain roads, so when you come across one, stop and check your brakes again.
Fuel Your Truck Up
Gas stations are pretty rare in the mountains, so it would be wise for you to fill up your tank before getting to the mountain road. You might think you’ll pass the mountain area quickly, but it’s always possible to get delayed by a storm, fog, road accident, etc. Some of those could even get you stranded for some time and having a full tank of gas means you’ll have heat and electricity longer.
Prepare Tire Chains
As part of the preparation for the trip, always check the weather forecast. If there is a chance of snow or ice, be sure to bring your tire chains. The chains should be inspected before every use. If one of the chains breaks while you’re driving, it could damage your tires, mud flaps, or even your tires. It’s also a good idea to always have a spare set of chains.
Important Tips to Have in Mind While Being on the Road
After making all the right plans and preparations, you will have made mountain driving far easier. Still, the most important part is still ahead of you. Along with general driving tips that you should follow whenever you bring your truck out on the road, there are a few more rules to have in mind now that you are about to take on a road in the mountains.
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Drive Slowly and Carefully
General advice for truck driving in the mountains is to drive slowly. When descending a mountain, it’s very easy to lose control over your truck when it gains too much momentum. Use the jake brake to help you keep the proper speed all the way down the steep road and avoid truck skidding.
When driving up a mountain, you should down-shift gears and keep your RPMs at a medium level. This will allow to increase and decrease speed without having to switch gears all the time.
Use Proper Braking Techniques
It’s a general rule of thumb to always slow down before beginning the descent. Inexperienced truckers will sometimes slow down only when they have come halfway downhill, which can be very harmful to the brakes. The brakes can heat up and even catch fire when overused, so be sure to spare them as much as you can. Asides from slowing down before the downgrade, you should make sure to not stay on the brakes for too long at any moment. You can do this by finding your “safe speed”. If your safe speed is 40 mph, you should let your truck go to 45 mph, and then slowly bring the speed down to 35 mph. This way, you will give the brakes some time to cool off.
Use Proper Shifting Techniques
Driving downhill, you should always go one gear lower than the one you drove uphill in. And, just like with braking, it’s safer to downshift before starting the descent. If you shift gears while going downhill, you increase the risk of stalling your engine.
Keep Distance Between Vehicles
Tailgating on a grade is never a good idea. You should leave as much space between you and the next vehicle as possible. In the mountains, you’ll always need more space to stop the truck, slow it down or straighten it. If an emergency arises, that extra space will mean a lot. You never know if the driver ahead of you is as diligent in following the safety rules as you are, so it’s best to stay safe.
Make Frequent Breaks at the Rest Areas
While driving downhill, try to make as many stops as possible. When you come to a rest area, pull over and take a short break in order to let your brakes cool off. You can also use this time to re-check brakes and tires because you can never be too cautious.
Adjust Accordingly to the Weather
We already mentioned that you should check the weather forecast before starting the trip and prepare accordingly. But it’s as important to adjust to any unexpected changes in weather and road conditions. Mountain driving can be unpredictable since the fast changes in altitude can bring varying visibility and temperature. Keep an eye out for early signs of changes in the road conditions so that you can make adjustments along the way. If there are chain signs posted, put your tire chains on. If you notice ice on the road, it would be wise to wait until the sanders take care of it.
Use Runaway Lanes
If, after all the safety precautions, you do encounter a problem with your brakes, there is one last resort. Runaway lanes are designed to help drivers of large vehicles such as trucks or busses stop safely in case of a brake malfunction. If you start losing control over the truck, don’t hesitate to use them. Depending on the location, runaway lanes can come in various forms – as arrester beds, gravity escape ramps, sand pile escape ramps, mechanical-arrestor escape ramp, etc.
Truck driving in the mountains certainly brings some challenges but following all the guidelines that we have laid out will keep you a lot safer and make your job easier. To summarize our advice – think ahead, and don’t rush it. Never compromise your safety and safety of others for the sake of a timely delivery.
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