Hills present a special challenge for coach owners, but they’re not something to be feared. If you properly manage the hill, it’s just another part of the adventure of getting where you’re going!
Speed: The number one thing to understand about hills is speed management: it’s better to stay “behind the speed” rather than “chasing the needle”. For example, once the coach gets going too fast, it’s closer to out of control and it takes more evasive action to get back under control than it would had you managed the speed and kept it under control. Proper preparation and actions will help you descend hills confidently and safely.
Snubbing: The proper downhill braking technique is called “snubbing”. This technique is to press hard on the brakes for 3 seconds, bringing the coach down in speed by at least 5 mph (don’t be shy – hit them hard!). Then release the brakes. This allows the brakes to cool down between braking applications. DON’T DRAG! For some, it’s tempting to just drag the brakes as they descend the hill. This will often result in overheating and brake failure (also called “brake fade”)!
The proper way to manage speed is to keep it 5 mph under the speed you wish to maintain. When you reach that speed, “snub” the brakes to get control again and continue to manage the speed with your auxiliary braking system or by downshifting your transmission. This is called the 5-3 braking technique. It stands for “5 mph down in 3 seconds”.
- Pay attention to the traffic climbing the hill. Are trucks using flashers? Are you coming upon traffic fast?
- If you are on a hilly road, and traffic is ascending and descending hills often, be careful following a large vehicle too closely. They often will lose significant speed as they go up the hill. It is normal to be passed by large trucks going downhill (they can go fast!) and then you pass them going back up another hill. This leap-frogging is normal.
- When driving on a hill, you may have seen a slow trucker with his hazard lights flashing. This is a best practice: It allows approaching traffic to realize that the object in front of them is not doing the same speed, and you’ll be moving faster than him when you get to him. Similarly turn on your hazards when you will be driving slowly. This is usually done around 45 mph
If you properly manage your speed going downhill, you shouldn’t need to apply your brakes very often. Engine/exhaust braking and downshifting should be sufficient to control your speed. Techniques for descending a hill include:
- As you crest the hill, slow down. Engage supplementary braking.
- Watch for grade signs, given in percentages and often distance. For example, 6% grade next 5 miles. This gives you information to help manage the hill and know how far away your run-out is.
- Take note of the speed of other traffic, especially larger trucks.
- Determine what speed you want to maintain and use supplementary braking system and snubbing to maintain control. NEVER let the coach get going faster than you’re comfortable driving. A good rule of thumb is to go down the hill in the same gear/speed as you would have gone up it.
- Don’t be afraid to disconnect your tow vehicle and have a second person drive that vehicle down the hill behind you.
- Passing on mountain roads: be careful, as you must go faster to pass, but then if you come up on a turn you won’t be ready for it… sometimes you just have to sit tight and follow.
- Pay attention to curve signs! Make sure you can negotiate the speed before you get there. If a yellow curve sign reads “45 mph”, you should probably be around 35 mph. These signs are not always accurate, but you don’t want to test that with your new coach! Don’t tailgate down hill! It can be tempting to believe that the vehicle in front of you will just “run out” their speed at the bottom or maintain their speed. This is not always the case, and you have fewer options if you are speeding and close behind a vehicle that may be able to brake faster than you.