In winter driving conditions, the goal for a trucker is to maintain traction on a slippery hill, when ascending and descending the hill.
Negotiating a slippery hill in a big rig, is one of the most challenging situations you’ll run into when driving a truck for a living. Snow covered hills present a whole different driving scenario to a truck driver.
There are a few good tricks which I use that you may also find useful.
5 Tricks to Maintain Traction on Slippery Hills
- Axle interlock engaged. When travelling up a slippery hill, I like to have the axle interlock engaged. The interlock is engaged in order that all the drive wheels are in touch with the drive shaft and the gears. All the drive wheels are then engaged and working to pull you up the hill. This helps the truck to maintain traction.
- Feather the fuel. Another thing I like to do is feather the fuel. Don’t give the truck too much fuel when you’re going up the hill because it could cause the wheels to spin. Just gradually give the truck some power.
- Keep the motor running closer to the top of its RPM range. That way, if the wheels do decide to spin a little bit, they can only spin a couple hundred RPM before they hit the limiter and then they can’t spin any faster, causing an even bigger problem for you.
If you’re down in the low RPM, slugging it up the hill and you hit a patch of ice, and all the sudden the wheels jump 600 or 700 RPM, then you’ll really spin the wheels. It’ll be all that much harder to redeem traction. Whereas if you’ve only spun, 200 RPM, you can just ease your foot off the throttle a little bit, bring the revs down, and the wheels will probably catch and you can ease back into it again.
- Don’t follow tracks. Another good practice when going up a grade, is not to follow the tracks of other trucks up the hill. Chances are, the other trucks will have polished up the road as they travelled over the hill. You’re much better off to cut your own trail for the best traction.
- Keep a little to the right shoulder. I like to move just a wee bit toward the right hand shoulder of the road. Chances are, there’s gravel on that right shoulder that will help give you a little more of a grip to help you maintain traction on slippery hills. You’ll then travel up the right hand side of your lane, hopefully with your right hand drive wheels in the gravel on the shoulder. Be careful not to get too far to the right. Just stay on the edge of the road try to find that bit of gravel on the shoulder. Sometimes that bit of traction, will be enough to make a difference between getting to the top of the hill or not.
5 Steps To Climbing a Slippery Grade in a Big Rig
- Engage the axle interlock. Wheels are locked in to help the truck up the grade. I’m use a combination of horse power plus momentum to get up the hill, so I don’t spin my wheels. If you see the sanders have been out, look for patches of sand to drive on and the wheels will grab on the sand so give some good traction.
- Feather the pedal. I like to feather the pedal, and not go into the corner too quickly. I’ll keep my RPM’s up a little higher than I normally do because I don’t want to wipe my feet then jump 700 RPM if the wheels start to spin. That way, if the wheels do spin, it won’t become a major spin. It’s important to keep up a certain degree of momentum to make it up the hill, but not too quickly. Definitely not too fast into the corners.
- Pick up a gear. If when you’re travelling up a hill and you encounter a flat spot, it may be a good idea to pick up another gear and improve your momentum. But do keep in mind that control is the issue, as you do not want to slide off the road.
- Approach a corner cautiously. If you see a corner when you’re climbing, be aware of your speed as you approach the corner. Do not approach a corner with excess speed.
- Keep your shifting to a minimum whenever possible, because it’s when you shift gears and let out the clutch that there’s the potential to spin the wheels as well. You do not want to spin your wheels. When you reach the top of your hill successfully, but there’s a flat spot with a stop sign, this can be a tricky situation. Don’t stop the truck on the hill, but stop at the top of the grade, once the truck has levelled out. If you stop on the grade, you’ll probably have difficulty in getting the truck moving again, and most likely will spin your wheels and get stuck.
Tips For Descending a Slippery Hill & Maintain Traction
As far as going downhill on a slippery grade in bad weather, there’s ONE IMPORTANT SECRET… GO SLOWLY!
- Slow. Go slow. Speed will just get you into trouble. Just creep down the hill like you’re walking down the hill.
- Feather the brakes. Use the jake brake. But go down very slowly and you’ll won’t run into trouble. You’ll run into trouble if you’re going down too quickly and then have to compensate for your speed, over correct or over brake. You could then put the vehicle into a slide. If you’re creeping down the hill, you won’t get into that situation.Braking should be gradual. You need to check the mirrors to make sure the trailer isn’t starting to jackknife. Use the jake brake as much as you’re able, making sure the unit stays straight. Do not travel too quickly. This is especially important on long mountain downgrades.If the trailer is empty, it is lighter than the tractor, and it may start to jackknife if the tractor receives too much brake pressure. When the trailer is loaded, it often weights twice as much or more than the tractor. Going downhill, the trailer weight is pushing the lighter tractor.
- Brake when the truck is straight. If you must brake on a downgrade, do it when the truck is on a straight stretch of road. Don’t brake into a curve. The combination of the braking action and lateral movement at the same time on a slippery road, can be a hazard and cause the truck to slide. Do as much deceleration as possible when the truck is pointing straight down the hill.
Move slowly and steadily down the hill and you’ll arrive tractor first at the bottom, as you should.
the video version for some tips on maintaining traction and control on a slippery hill.
More Driver Skills:
- 15 Trucker Tips For Winter Driving
- How to Scale a Tractor Trailer
- How to Slide the 5th Wheel
- A Trucker’s Guide to Using the Jake Brake Effectively
- 5 Tips For Truckers For Effective Use of Cruise Control