As an over-the-road (OTR) trucker, you’ll encounter a wide range of different driving conditions and terrains. This includes mountain driving. Although your first few mountain routes on your own can be challenging, taking it slow and following the tips in this article can help make it easier.
Some things to keep in mind when driving a truck through the mountains:
Before the Drive
1. Check Your Brakes
You need to perform a pre-trip inspection every day before you start driving. This should always be thorough and you need to fix any issues right away. If you know you are going to be driving through mountains, double-check your brakes and make sure you know they are working properly.
If there is a brake check area before the mountain road, pull off and check your brakes again.
2. Prepare for the Weather
Mountains may have different weather conditions than lower altitudes. Check the forecast and be prepared. If there is going to be snow or ice, make sure to chain your tires.
If the weather makes it impossible to drive safely, wait it out. It’s better to take a little longer to reach your destination than to put yourself and others at risk. Be sure to communicate any changes in your plan with your dispatcher, but don’t let anyone push you to drive in unsafe conditions.
3. Fuel Up
There are not likely to be many gas stations in the mountains, so fuel up before you start your route. Having a full tank ensures you aren’t in a position where you run out of fuel in an emergency.
During the Drive
1. Slow Down
This is a good tip in general for if you are driving through difficult terrain or if the road conditions are not ideal. There’s a saying that you can drive down a mountain too slowly hundreds of times, but you can only drive too fast once.
You can put your hazards on and allow others to pass you, but don’t be too focused on how fast others are going. A semi-truck is significantly larger than passenger vehicles and simply can’t travel at the same speed on mountainous roads. Even if other tractor-trailers are going faster, it may be because they are not loaded.
2. Downshift Before the Descent
You will typically need to descend the mountain in a lower gear than you used to climb it. The exact gear will depend on the weight of your vehicle, the grade of the descent, and other factors. In any case, you should downshift before you begin to go down the mountain. Shifting in the middle of the descent can overheat your brakes.
3. Use Your Engine Brakes
Relying on your service brakes to maintain your speed during a descent can overheat them, and may cause a problem if you need to stop suddenly. Instead, you should use the right gear so you can maintain a safe speed using your engine brakes (Jake brakes). However, you should not rely on your Jake brakes if there is poor traction due to icy or wet roads.
Newer automatic trucks have a “descent mode” option that engages the Jake brakes to keep your truck at a safe speed.
Keep in mind you will often still need to use the service brakes to maintain your speed, but do so sparingly and carefully.
Prepare For Your Trucking Career
At HDS Truck Driving Institute (HDS truck driving school), our skilled instructors will help you prepare for your career as a trucker. We can get you on the road and earning in as little as four weeks.