How to Drive Uphill

Driving a car uphill can be difficult, particularly if the inclination is very steep. If you are driving a manual transmission, you might have problems with stalling on hills. Regardless of which car you're driving, you might be looking for the most efficient way to crest a hill. Read on for tips about safety and efficiency.

Driving a Manual Transmission Uphill

1. Gather speed as you approach the hill so that you will climb more efficiently. If you have the space to do so, approach the hill in 4th or 5th gear. Give the car about 80% of its full power, and stay in 5th for as long as possible. If you have enough momentum coming up the hill, you may not even need to downshift.

Do not go dangerously fast, and be especially cautious if you aren't familiar with the contours of the hill. If you know that there is a sharp turn at the top of the hill, plan accordingly and give a little less gas in anticipation.

2. Downshift into a lower gear if your engine struggles. When you drive uphill, your car needs to supply more power to the wheels to counter the force of gravity pulling it down the slope. If your engine roars and whines, it is struggling, and you're probably in too high of a gear. You may notice that your car slows down dramatically, even though you're in a high gear and you've been applying constant pressure to the gas. The moment you feel that the car is slowing down, shift into the next-lowest gear (probably 3rd or 2nd) and step on the gas pedal.

Drive fast enough that your engine can handle 3rd gear—the threshold varies between vehicles, but 30-45 mph should do the trick. Make sure to switch gears quickly to avoid losing momentum.

If the engine is still unable to keep up with the incline, downshift into 2nd gear. In some circumstances with very steep inclines, you may need to shift back down into 1st gear. Be aware that many cars don't downshift very smoothly into 1st gear; if you haven't done it before, you may notice some grinding or jerking when you do this.

3. Upshift, where possible, to save gas. The higher the gear, in theory, the more efficiently your car will run. Upshift to keep gas consumption low, if you can, but make sure that you have enough power to climb the hill.

4. Downshift on tight uphill turns. You may need extra power to make it through sharp turns when you're driving uphill. Downshift to the appropriate gear—usually 2nd—before you enter the turn. This way, you can power through the turn, if needed, and maintain that power while ascending the hill.

5. Use the hand brake when starting from a stop on steep hills. The parking brake can keep you from drifting backwards when you start up again. When you're stopped on a hill with the transmission in neutral, pull the handbrake. When the light turns green, step on the clutch. Put the transmission into first gear, then slowly let out the clutch. When the clutch starts to engage, gradually release the parking brake.

Since you are using the handbrake, your feet are free to operate the controls that move you up the hill: the clutch and the gas.

You'll need to give the engine a little more gas than usual so that you don't roll backwards. Accelerate steadily, not all at once. If you floor the gas, your car will jerk forward, and you might lurch into the car ahead.

Driving an Automatic Transmission Uphill

1. Know how to get more power from your car. When you drive a car uphill, you need more power than you'd use on a flat road. An automatic transmission will downshift for you when you drive uphill, but you can still make manual adjustments to prevent excessive shifting. Using the D1, D2 or D3 settings will prevent your car from shifting into higher gears, which enables your car's torque to be used more effectively on inclines.

D1 (1st gear only): This may be marked as "1" or "D1". You can shift into 1st using the same lever that you use to switch between Drive (D), Park (P), and Neutral (N). Use first gear for very steep inclines and low rates of speed. 1st gear is also useful when driving downhill on very steep slopes — it allows you to the engine to help slow your car.

D2 (1st and 2nd gear only): This may be marked as "2" or "D2". Use a D2 mode on fairly steep inclines, and to pick up speed after you have accelerated in 1st gear. 2nd gear allows your car to travel faster than 1st gear.

D3 (1st, 2nd and 3rd gears only): This may be marked as 3 or D3. When your car is is in D3 mode, it will use the first 3 gears only, which can help when you need to travel at a good rate of speed, but the engine lacks enough torque to maintain speed in a higher gear.

Use a low gear when climbing a long, steep incline. Don't switch into first gear if you're going more than about 10–15 mph (16–24 km/h). Your engine will turn at higher RPM than usual, so make sure you're not over-revving it. A lower gear will actually put less strain on your transmission, ensuring a smoother and safer ride up the hill.

When you climb a steep hill, gravity pulls back on your car and makes the load on the engine much heavier. This pull effects your car in the same way as a heavy load—it raises the base level of engine power required to keep the wheels rolling forward.

Using a low gear on a hill keeps your engine running at a higher RPM, which helps generate the power necessary to reach the top without stagnating.

Parking and Starting a Car on a Slope

2. Engage the parking brake (handbrake) when you park on a hill, even if the grade is slight. You can usually find the parking brake either on the center console of your car (between the driver and front passenger seats) or next to the gas and brake pedals (especially on trucks). Leave the parking brake engaged until you pull back out of the spot.

3. When you are parking on an uphill slope, turn your front wheels away from the curb. Let the car roll slowly backward until the rear part of your curbside front wheel rests against the curb. This way, if the brake disengages, your car will not roll backward—the edge of the street will block the wheels from moving any further.

If you park your car facing downhill, turn your front wheels toward the curb. This way, if your car begins to roll down the hill, the front wheels will hit the curb and stop the car before it can descend any further.

4. If you are parking on a hill with a manual transmission, leave the car in gear. If the parking brake fails, the engine should stop the wheels from turning. This means that if you parked in 1st gear, you should not shift to neutral—you should leave it in 1st.

5. Start a manual transmission on a hill. Ensure that the handbrake is on, depress the clutch, and shift into 1st gear. Set the gas at around 1500 RPM, and bring the clutch up to the "biting point": the hood should lift, slightly, and the RPM should drop off a bit. Once you have set the gas and the bite point, hold your feet steady. Check to make sure that the road is clear of other cars, and use your turn signal if you are on a busy street. Raise the handbrake, press the release button, and disengage the brake very slowly.

If the car grumbles or strains, depress the clutch about half an inch. Depressing the clutch all the way can make you miss the biting point.

If the car starts to roll backward: reapply the handbrake and the foot brake, and engage the clutch. Practice these motions until you have full control and can keep the car from rolling backward.

As you gradually release the handbrake, the car should either remain still or slowly move forward. In either case: continue to release the handbrake. Gently apply more gas as you slowly release the clutch.

6. Use more gas when starting on steep hills. The steeper the incline, the more power you will need to get the car rolling forward. If you're driving a manual transmission, release the clutch more slowly on steep hills.

7. Start an automatic transmission on a hill. Start the car with your parking brake engaged so that you don't roll backwards. This is especially important if there is another car parked behind you. Make sure that your wheels are turned away from the curb and into the street. Key the ignition, shift into 1st gear (2nd or Drive will also suffice), and carefully depress the gas to pull out into the street. Straighten your wheels, merge into a lane, and keep your car in a low gear as long as you're on the hill.

If you are on a busy street, make sure that there aren't any cars coming up the hill. If so, make sure to put on your turn signal to show that you intend to pull into the street. Wait for all cars to pass, check your mirrors, and pull out slowly.

Keep your foot brake depressed until you accelerate out of the parking spot. Keep friction on the wheels, then step on the gas quickly so that you don't roll backward into the car behind you.

8. Practice parking and starting on hills. Hone your hill skills on a variety of grades—steep hills, gradual hills, everything in between—so that you will be prepared if you unexpectedly need to park on an unfamiliar hill. Try to practice on hills that are relatively free of parked cars and traffic. It may be less stressful to learn the mechanics of hill driving if you don't have to worry about being struck by oncoming traffic.

Tags: How To, Driving