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Safe driving tips for mountain passes

And what to do if your brakes fail…

South Africa’s mountain ranges are among some of the world’s most famous driving routes and while there’s a lot to appreciate about venturing on these roads, there are certain dangers to avoid.

According to Arrive Alive, steep uphill and downhill driving can put extra strain on your vehicle’s main components, from your engine to your brakes, and it is in these driving conditions that the vehicle engine is most likely to overheat.

Also read: What women need to know about driving alone! 

Take a look at the following suggestions to ensure your vehicle is fit enough for mountain driving:

  • Ensure that your brakes, windshield wipers, defroster, heater, and exhaust systems are in good condition.
  • Check that your lights are in effective working condition if you are to drive at night.
  • Brake and transmission fluids must be filled and changed within the interval recommended for your vehicle.
  • Brake fluid, as it ages, takes on moisture and contaminants that lowers its boiling level. Frequent brake use can overheat the fluid and you can lose braking efficiency when it is most needed.
  • Check the tread on your tires and ensure that they are properly inflated.
  • When the drive is in winter, add special solvent to the windshield washer reservoir to prevent icing.
  • Keep the gas tank filled – avoid getting stranded without fuel in remote areas.
  • Turn off your air conditioning and roll your windows down if you’re travelling up a particularly steep grade, since running the air-conditioning puts an additional strain on your engine that can cause it to overheat.
  • Avoid overheating by slowing down.
  • When the car starts running hot, find a safe place to stop so it can cool down before continuing your climb.
  • Never remove your radiator cap until the engine is cool, and check your owner’s manual for insights on how to cool your engine down, or what type of coolant to add if needed.

Safe Driving Techniques in the Mountain

“The ability to adjust driving style and an awareness of the risks are some of the most important aspects to consider for safe driving in the mountains,” says Arrive Alive.

Take note of the following safe driving tips for mountain passes from Arrive Alive:

  • Obey the posted speed limits, and look for signs that warn you about the steep grades that may lie ahead.
  • Your view can be blocked heavily in curves with rock walls or trees along the road, so you need to adjust your speed there.
  • Reduce speed during and after bad weather – there may be rocks and fallen trees around every corner.
  • Speed should never be too fast for road and weather conditions.
  • You should be able to maintain a safe speed on winding mountain roads.
  • A crash barrier or fence, which is mostly present, is not always designed to actually stop a vehicle.
  • Only pass slower-moving traffic when you’ve got a clear view of the road ahead. Never pass another car on a blind curve, or when your visibility is compromised.
  • Mountain roads may have unlit tunnels. Double check if your lights are switched on, take off your sunglasses and adjust your speed.
  • Engage the suitable gear before dealing with any hills and don’t get caught out trying to engage a lower gear in corners or bends.

What to do if your brakes fail

Nobody wants to be in a situation where your brakes fail, especially not on a mountain pass! Here are some crucial steps to take if you find yourself in a situation where your brakes fail:

  • Quick action is required if you notice that your brakes fail while you are driving.
  • Try to decelerate by pulling and releasing the brakes repeatedly, or try one more pull with hard pedal pressure.
  • Only pull the handbrake if the road is not slippery, otherwise you will lose control of the vehicle completely. If necessary, change to gear 1 or 2 without shifting to neutral, hopefully causing the engine to decelerate.
  • In worst case scenarios you may have to choose the “lesser of the evils” in deciding where to bring the vehicle to a stop.
  • You can also turn into an ascending side-road or meadow to decelerate, or scrape the car at a small angle to a (rock) wall along the road.
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