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Old 05-23-2016, 10:40 PM   #1
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Mountain driving 101

So on our maiden voyage last weekend, the truck made it up Petit Jean Mt. overlooking the Arkansas River Valley NW of Little Rock just fine. I actually got a little testosterone boost hearing the HEMI roar as it lugged the 29 ft., 6500 lb trailer around and up the switchback. Unfortunately, since I was only going about 30mph, the folks in cars behind us probably weren't as enthusiastic.

I must say, however, having never towed a trailer, that I was a little unprepared for coming off that mountain at the end of the weekend. Like the way the whole rig wanted to accelerate uncontrollably right towards that same switchback with the preceding 25mph warning sign, and the way I had to turn the brake controller up to 6 and ride 'em all the way to the bottom, all the while holding my breath and telling DW and DD to hush up!

So, for our second trip, we're going to drive about 1500 miles from the Midsouth/Memphis area to the Grand Canyon crossing the southern Rockies and Continental Divide in New Mexico. Having done this in a car before, I know that first you go up, and then you go down, maybe not quite as far as you went up, but down nevertheless.

I would really appreciate any advice anyone can offer on how to conquer the great mountains of the West behind the wheel. I've heard you're not supposed to brake with the TV, but rather use the manual trailer brakes from the controller. Is that true?

Newbie driving a Ram 1500 pulling a 29' Salem Cruise Lite 261BHXL

PS: I remember quite well I70 west of Denver having these things called runaway truck ramps. Hopefully I won't have to avail myself of such things!

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Old 05-23-2016, 11:01 PM   #2
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Use your engine. Gear down. You'll find gearing down as you go up the mountain will help you. typically you want to go down a mountain in the gear you went up in. I've been known to pull off at the top of a mountain in the truck pull off to stop and check everything before going down. You want to use the engine more than brakes. When you do use your brakes you want to hit them hard enough to drop about 10 mph and then let the engine try to hold you there. When your speed goes back up, repeat the process. Riding your brakes will overheat them and cause a very dangerous situation. Higher rpms are ok. Take it slow and easy.
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Old 05-23-2016, 11:09 PM   #3
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One of the best suggestions I have seen here and it is sage advice is to descend the mountain in the same gear you took on the way up. So what if the people behind are not happy, that is what passing lanes are for. Better to be under control than white knuckling it with searing hot brakes. Anther tip, your engine is not the only one working hard. The transmission will work up quite a sweat as well. If there is a long lump of traffic behind and no way for them to pass, pull over to let them by and also give the tranny a break. Just my 02 drachmas worth, guarantee you will see other great tips shortly.


Doh, for the record, asquared beat me to it!
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Old 05-24-2016, 12:01 AM   #4
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X3 great advice from both asquared and scOOter. Use the same gear going down the hill as going up the hill.
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Old 05-24-2016, 06:27 AM   #5
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Great! Thanks for letting me know that. So basically, putting the truck in tow/haul isn't enough. I still need to downshift with the gear shifter on the steering column?

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Old 05-24-2016, 07:01 AM   #6
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I70

I WOULD TAKE I 40, It would be easier on you and your rig.
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Old 05-24-2016, 08:00 AM   #7
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Thing is, DW has plans up north of I40. We're going I 40 to Santa Rosa, NM, and then heading north on US84/I25 to Santa Fe, then taking US550 from Albuquerque to Farmington, then it looks like US 160 up to Mesa Verde NP, then over to Monument Valley, UT, and on to Page/Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. So we should be crossing the Mts and Divide somewhere in there.

Coming back shouldn't be too bad because we'll be turning south through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and San Antonio. It's really the northern leg that looks like it will be hairy.

I definitely plan to weigh the rig before leaving to verify our weights.

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Old 05-24-2016, 08:19 AM   #8
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Great! Thanks for letting me know that. So basically, putting the truck in tow/haul isn't enough. I still need to downshift with the gear shifter on the steering column?
Yep, even in my diesel- the tow haul and engine brake aren't enough to keep us at speed when going down 7% or more grades. I use the gear shifter and find a gear that keeps me at a comfortable speed (aka posted "truck" speed).
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Old 05-24-2016, 08:48 AM   #9
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There are no significant grades at all on your route, won't even reach 8,000 feet. Some good size hills around Santa Fe and going south to Phoenix. Should be a pretty easy drive.


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Old 05-24-2016, 08:48 AM   #10
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Yep, even in my diesel- the tow haul and engine brake aren't enough to keep us at speed when going down 7% or more grades. I use the gear shifter and find a gear that keeps me at a comfortable speed (aka posted "truck" speed).
X2
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Old 05-24-2016, 08:59 AM   #11
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I was in the same situation in my 2014 F150 EB. Going up was fine, coming down my first time towing was a bit scary. I thought tow/haul and just engine breaking would be enough to get me down, but I had to use my brakes and trailer brakes a whole lot more. Now I know the capabilities of my engine and use a combination of tv brakes, tt brakes and engine breaking. You'll get there, you now know what your rig can do and that's half of it.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:10 AM   #12
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Going uphill is the easy part seeing the truck determines how fast it can go up the hill. Now going down hill is another story. Start down slow using the engine and transmission to control the speed and don't depend on the brakes. Use the brakes to adjust your speed in short bursts.
I drove I-70 across Vail and barely touched the brakes. Just let the truck do it's job. I never let it go past 50-60 so I can stop if needed. I once came down I-17 out of Flagstaff and let it crepe up to 75mph. Not a good feeling!!!!
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:49 AM   #13
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Yep, agree with lbrjet, no steep grades in that area. Lived in Farmington for a short stint. Your trip sounds like a blast, have a great time!
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Old 05-24-2016, 10:07 AM   #14
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With Duramax Diesel and Allison transmission is this what the "M" option is for? Put it into M Mode and that allows you to manually shift? My first Durmax with Allison transmission and haven't had to really use this option much. Iowa is fairly flat but in August heading to Gatlinburg area.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:05 PM   #15
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With Duramax Diesel and Allison transmission is this what the "M" option is for? Put it into M Mode and that allows you to manually shift? My first Durmax with Allison transmission and haven't had to really use this option much. Iowa is fairly flat but in August heading to Gatlinburg area.
That is just what M is for!! Just shift into any gear in M. Also enable the Exhaust Brake when going down the hills. It uses the engine to brake when the Allison down shifts in tow mode. You can slowdown without touching the brakes on a 6% grade.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:13 PM   #16
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When we come off of Petit Jean Mt. we use second gear. Follow the above advice from fellow members and you will have no problem.


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Old 05-24-2016, 09:43 PM   #17
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When we come off of Petit Jean Mt. we use second gear. Follow the above advice from fellow members and you will have no problem.


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This was my problem. I didn't know to downshift and just used the brakes. Now I know better. Good excuse to go back to Petit Jean and practice

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Old 05-24-2016, 10:08 PM   #18
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In my opinion, and driving experience, your drivetrain, whatever the combination, should be able regulate your decent speed. Meaning manual downshifting an automatic/manual trans. using your engine, exhaust brake if you have one to maintain your speed. You should not have to continually use your brakes, if you are, YOU ARE GOING TOO FAST! Too much heat in the brakes, boiling the fluid, WILL result in a loss of brakes, what happens if you MUST stop, chances are are you wont be able to. 5 extra minutes coming down will be well worth it. Not towed out west, just these little hills here in NC, but across I40 and all the mountain switch backs we drive on we don't use our brakes as a way to maintain our speed, we keep them for any surprise stops that may be needed.
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Old 05-24-2016, 10:21 PM   #19
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We've made reservations at Pettit Jean the first week of July. So far, our trips have only been about 30 miles so this trip will be our longest at about 113 miles. I planned to exit I-40 at Morrilton and come in to Pettit Jean from the East side. The lady I made the reservation with said that road is sort of steep but no one seems to have any trouble. Maybe I should have asked how is the descent. What kind of grade do you think it is and how long is the climb? I have the "M" gear but never knew what it was. I'll have to get my truck manual out on how to use it.
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Old 05-24-2016, 10:32 PM   #20
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Thing is, DW has plans up north of I40. We're going I 40 to Santa Rosa, NM, and then heading north on US84/I25 to Santa Fe, then taking US550 from Albuquerque to Farmington, then it looks like US 160 up to Mesa Verde NP, then over to Monument Valley, UT, and on to Page/Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. So we should be crossing the Mts and Divide somewhere in there.

Coming back shouldn't be too bad because we'll be turning south through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and San Antonio. It's really the northern leg that looks like it will be hairy.

I definitely plan to weigh the rig before leaving to verify our weights.

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I would recommend you study your proposed route. From Santa Rosa, you will cross Glorieta Pass east of Santa Fe. This is a very gentle ride but there are a couple of short, steep downhill grades. Going south out of Santa Fe is La Bajada Hill, a long, moderately steep grade with a lot of uphill and downhill afterward until you get to Bernalillo and US 550. You cross the Continental Divide west of Cuba NM. Watch the drive between Flagstaff and Phoenix. It is steep. But then, any road off of the Mogollon Rim is steep.
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