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Driving an RV (in particular gassers) can be stressful, especially when navigating steep grades and mountain passes at altitude. During our drive over the Continental Divide on I-90 in Montana, Marc shared some great tips on how he safely navigates our RV up steep grades and back down again, without overheating the brakes. Whether you drive a gas RV, diesel pusher or truck and trailer, you’ll find many of these tips promote good, safe driving practices, while helping reduce wear and tear on your vehicle.

Click the video below to watch and/or simply scroll down to read the 9 tips.

Just east of Butte, Montana while crossing the Continental Divide on I-90, our coach was just down to just 30mph on a 6% grade while driving over the mountain pass. As many of you know, our RV is a 36′ gas motorhome which weighs 22,000 pounds, and as usual, we were towing our Mini Cooper Convertible mounted on a tow dolly weighing about 3,500 pounds – that’s a total weight of 25,500 pounds.

A gas RV has substantially less power than a truck or diesel RV when driving up these passes, so you just have to take it slower. Plus gas coaches don’t have the advanced engine braking or airbrakes of diesel RVs, so you need to take extra care when driving down the mountain. You don’t want to overuse and overheat your brakes, reducing them to mush which makes them virtually unusable and substantially decreases safety. Not to mention the stress and white knuckling that goes along with it!

Here, Marc shares his tips for how to navigate steep grades and mountain passes safely, calmly and arriving with cool brakes.

9 Tips for Driving Your RV on Steep Grades

  1. Be Patient  Accept that you’re going to be driving slow and other drivers will be expecting you to be driving slow, so just be patient.
  2. Use Hazard Lights – Anytime you are driving say 20-30mph below the posted speed limit, turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers you are going extra slow, as a good safety precaution.
  3. Downshift before Ascending – Before you even start going up the hill, downshift to a lower gear so you have some extra power.
  4. Use Tow Haul Mode – Put your transmission in Tow Haul Mode which uses different gear shifting to keep the engine in a more optimal range (we leave our RV in Tow Haul Mode almost all the time).
  5. Descend Slowly – When preparing to go down the mountain pass, bring your speed way down (even as low as 30mph, depending on the length and steepness of grade of the hill) before you even begin your descent and stay in Tow Haul Mode. This allows you to use more engine braking and gives you room to increase your speed safely. If you start driving down the hill at a high speed and try to come down to a lower speed, it’s going to be a lot harder on your brakes.
  6. Downshift before Descending – If the RV doesn’t automatically downshift itself when going downhill, firmly press the brake to force the transmission to downshift. This will increase your engine speed (and rpm) so the engine will be doing some of the braking for you, minimizing the amount of time you need to use your brakes.
  7. Minimize Braking – When braking, aim to press the pedal for only 15-20 seconds each time and allow time in between so you don’t cook your brakes – the last thing you want is hot, mushy brakes when you need them!
  8. Don’t Overwork it – There’s no sense in working your RV too hard with a screaming engine or overheating brakes. Take it nice and slow and you’ll get better longevity on your vehicle.
  9. Enjoy the Drive – There’s nothing better than the expansive views from the top of a tall hill or mountain, so take your time, relax, enjoy the drive and take in the beautiful scenery!

Remember, RVs are heavy vehicles and you have a lot riding in them, so remember to use caution, be patient and stay safe and slow. If you’re white knuckling it, you’re probably not being safe!

Finally, mountain passes and steep hills are nothing to be afraid of – even in a gas RV. As long as you follow these tips and take your time, you’ll be able reach your destination safely – and who’s in a hurry anyway, right?

PS. We recently discovered the Mountain Directory books, ebooks and apps which provide the locations and descriptions of over 700 mountain passes and steep grades in 22 states. You may also find it an invaluable resource for planning your route to safely navigate and/or avoid mountain passes and steep grades on your travels. 

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Got any tips or stories to share from your experience driving over mountain passes? We’d love to hear them!

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