There is a huge difference between driving a huge truck at a mountain road, and travelling on a flat highway. This is caused by the immense weight that is carried by the trailer.
Driving an 18-wheeler right across steep mountains and long, winding passes can be scary, even when it comes to seasoned truck drivers. It becomes excruciatingly difficult during the winter months, when the snow and strong crosswinds in the higher elevations can be unpredictable and hazardous. Operating big rigs can be dangerous when driving through snow and ice, and should never be attempted, unless it is absolutely necessary. If the weather requires the driver to install tire chains on big trucks, then he may be better off to sit out the storm. However, this is not always the case.
Tips on Ascending and Descending a Mountain
Even though the truck seems to be taking the driver up in the mountains in a high gear with no problem, there is a possibility that it may end up overheating. It is advisable to shift down a gear. This will slow down the travel, but there is a lesser chance of overheating.
Climbing a mountain with a big rig requires the driver to downshift, in order to maintain his pull on the trailer. If the driver misses a gear, the truck can come to a full stop and possibly endanger him and the other passengers. The driver needs to keep his RPM (rotation per minute) high without over-tacking the engine. If the tachometer drops below 1,200 RPMs, then he should downshift to the next lower gear. He should be careful not to allow the RPMs to exceed 2,200. He needs to shift as smoothly as possible on icy roads.
Some advice that drivers will hear about travelling down mountains is about how to use the truck’s brakes. He should not keep a steady yet gentle pressure on the pedal while going down the mountain. The brakes may overheat and possibly catch fire. If this happens, then the function of the brakes will be lost altogether, sending the driver into a freefall.
The driver should descend the mountain or downgrade with the gear that is lower than the gear used when climbing up the summit. A lot of modern trucks are also equipped with an engine retarder, which is also known as a Jake Brake. The Jake Brake can be used to help drivers maintain a safe speed while on the downgrade. Additional braking may still be required if the Jake Brake is still being used. Jake Brakes are not recommended for use on slippery roads.
The driver should also apply a light, yet steady pressure to the brake pedal so the brakes will not overheat. Brakes that overheat can result in melted air lines, as well as a complete loss of air brakes. Hard application on the brakes should be avoided too. A stable braking procedure works better, and reduces the likelihood of overheating the brakes. Driving down mountains in a big truck can be dangerous, and should only be attempted by a driver with experience, or with the supervision of a certified instructor.