5 Tips to Make Mountain Driving Easier and Safer

Hitting the trail in a 4x4 can be a blast, but consider some safety strategies to make your off-roading experience even better.

Andy Stonehouse | 
Mar 1, 2023 | 3 min read

Truck driving through mountain roadsGetty Images

The rugged outdoor driving adventures you see in ads for today's 4x4 trucks and SUVs certainly demonstrate the vehicles' off-road capabilities. But driving on mountain trails can be trickier than it looks, especially for first-time adventurers. Before you head out, be sure you know the safety rules of the (unpaved) road.

Understand Your 4x4 Equipment (and Its Limitations)

Your new SUV may have all- or four-wheel drive, but four-wheel grip won't make you invincible, especially at high speeds and on loose and slippery rock or gravel. Slow down, take your time over rocks and other obstacles, and plan your turns carefully. It might also help to ask someone to get outside the vehicle to spot for you as you negotiate tight and tricky spots, if possible.

Preserve Your Braking Power

Tall mountains mean steep slopes, and while it's exciting to go up, the trip back down can seriously strain your brakes or even burn out your brake pads (that's why you'll see those ominous-looking runaway-truck ramps for commercial vehicles on mountain passes). On very steep slopes, shift your transmission into a lower gear or low-range four-wheel drive, which can help control speed without using the brakes. If you have one, employ the vehicle's hill-descent-control system to help handle a steep road without riding the brakes. That way you'll have stopping power left for the rest of the drive.

Pass Carefully on Tricky Stretches

Trails these days can be crowded with adventure traffic, but not everyone moves at the same pace. Unlike a paved highway, mountain roads can be unpredictably steep and narrow, so be considerate when timing a pass around slower drivers. Keep your eyes far ahead for oncoming vehicles and try to avoid kicking up dust or gravel while passing. A friendly wave will also go a long way toward preserving good vibes.

Keep an Eye on Your Gauges

High-altitude driving and the additional mechanical strain of long, steep uphill slopes can cause even a brand-new vehicle to overheat, potentially leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Keep an eye on your vehicle's temperature gauges, and if your thermometer is in the red, pull off the trail for a bit to give the engine and cooling system a chance to recover. If you plan on extended off-roading, check your fluid levels and hose connections before heading out.

Watch Out for Blind Corners on Winding Roads

Mountain roads don't adhere to the same safety standards as regular highways—they're sometimes nothing more than old railway routes surrounded by steep rocks and overgrown trees or narrow trails perched on the edge of tall cliffs. As a result, you may not see oncoming traffic until just a few seconds before it reaches you. So keep your headlights on, stay aware of your traveling speed, and be prepared to move far to the side of the road—or to back up if necessary—to let another vehicle pass you on a narrow stretch of trail.

Written by humans.
Edited by humans.

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