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Winter Driving Tips: Moving off and Driving Downhill and Uphill

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Winter is the most difficult season for drivers. In extreme weather conditions even simple manoeuvres can become a challenge. When driving in snow, going up- and downhill may be particularly difficult. There are a few things, however, you can learn to make it easier and safer.

Going uphill in winter weather conditions can be quite a problem even for vehicles equipped with winter tyres and even for drivers who know very well how to drive in snow. Shortly speaking, technique is the key issue during these maneuvers. But what exactly should you keep in mind in such situations? There are a few things that will help you when driving on hills in winter.

Going downhill

The manoeuvre of going downhill, too, requires special caution from the driver. Combining a proper technique with good winter tyres allows smooth and safe execution of the manoeuvre. How to drive downhill, then? There are a few factors worth remembering.

  • Use engine braking with the correct gear reduction while going downhill.
  • You shouldn't drive in neutral and rapidly accelerate or reduce speed.
  • You often should brake with both brake and engine.
  • Release the clutch in a gentle way after adjusting the engine speed.
  • Try to go downhill in the same gear you would use to go uphill.

Braking when going downhill

In the case of a popular car model with ABS equipped with winter tyres, you need 33 meters to stop from the speed of 50 km/h on a flat, snow-covered stretch of road. The same car needs 37 meters when going downhill on a slope of 4%. The situation gets worse when the car is fitted with summer tyres. Then, in the same weather conditions, it will stop on a flat stretch of road after 60 meters, and a 4% slope will cause that the stopping distance will increase up to even 79 meters.

Any increase in the inclination angle of the road or in speed will result in a longer stopping distance.

Going uphill

  • If possible, accelerate before you start going uphill.
  • While going uphill, maintain constant speed (rapid acceleration is dangerous because it can result in your tyres losing grip).
  • When moving uphill, don’t lose the fluency of driving and grip while you carry out any manoeuvres such as braking, accelerating, changing gears, etc.

Moving off uphill

  • Before you drive off uphill, use the accelerator gently.
  • Let the clutch go at the lowest possible engine speed.
  • Try not to let the driven wheels skid. If this happens, don’t nervously push the accelerator.

Some sources recommend moving off in the second gear in such situations. This should theoretically reduce the torque appearing on wheels but a side effect is forcing higher engine speed when starting and lack of control over the clutch.

What if you cannot accelerate the car?

In such situations, it may help to swing the car by alternatively starting off in first and reverse. You can also slightly reduce the pressure in your tyres. It is also recommended to carry a bag of sand – a small amount thrown under the wheels helps with starting off in winter conditions.

Emergency braking

The situations described above showed cases in which the circumstances allowed safe downhill braking. However, this isn't always possible. It happens that during braking the rear axle of the car, despite the proper functioning of ABS starts to shift from the track.

In such a case we must assess the situation and make a decision – whether to continue braking risking a bigger swing of the back of the car or to "straighten the back" by releasing the pressure on the brake pedal for a moment. It’s worth remembering that the later we decide to return to the proper track, the harder it may become.

Sometimes when you are driving downhill, it turns out that the grip is insufficient and the car will not be able to reduce speed and stop safely within a specified distance. In such cases you must analyse the situation with lightning speed. Sometimes it may turn out that the best solution is an emergency manoeuvre, for instance intentionally driving into a snowbank. It happens that such difficult decisions may be the only logical solution preventing incidents posing a much bigger threat on the road such as, e.g. entering an intersection on a red light.

Notice! All the data and information given in this article is for reference only. Braking distances vary depending on numerous factors. Any downhill and uphill driving techniques should be applied with caution and considering all the relevant factors.

Making uphill and downhill driving easier

Some cars have a feature that is very useful when driving uphill and downhill. It is called hill start assist or hill hold assist. It works by holding your brake even after you take your foot away from the pedal to switch to the accelerator. In this way, hill assist helps to prevent car rollback on an incline. Some versions can also prevent your car from rolling forward on a decline.

If you don’t have any hill start assist control system, you can always practise driving uphill and downhill. Pick a place with an inclined road that’s preferably closed to traffic. Position your car safely and perform these maneuvers, always making sure you are in control, until you feel confident enough. Keep our winter driving tips in mind to stay safe behind the wheel in challenging weather conditions.


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