An ex-truck driver friend recently recounted a story of a recent caravan trip where another caravanner and he were going down a very steep and long decline. ‘TRUCKS USE LOW GEAR’ type decline.
My friend from his trucking experience, chose 1st gear and used a combination of engine braking, tow vehicle and caravan bakes to slow his caravan and cruiser. The other driver chose 3rd gear and mocked my friend on his slow decline and gear choice.
When the other driver passed my friend, he had smoke coming out of the tow vehicle and caravan left wheels from brake burnout.
At the bottom of the hill the other driver was found in the escape gravel ramp with burned out brakes on both the tow vehicle and caravan and had travelled through a village at speed as he could not stop. He needed the auto club to pull him out of the speed ramp trap and had to replace several brakes before being safe to drive again. A dangerous and expensive lesson.
Not surprisingly it was reported, the other driver was sometime later fined over $3,000 for having the tow vehicle and caravan vastly overweight on the Nullabor.
SO, WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL DOWN A STEEP DECLINE TOWING A CARAVAN?
After contacting both NRMA and RACQ, I have summarised the recommended advice.
Towing a heavy caravan down a steep decline will build up speed and vastly increase the chances of caravan sway. Down hill and speed are two of the many causes of caravan sway.
Braking lightly for extended periods, or heavily for shorter periods will both build up heat from friction of the brake pads on the drums or discs. Brakes need time to cool.
If the caravan brakes are not correctly adjusted, the tow vehicle brakes will overheat far quicker due to braking the tow vehicle plus the caravan weight.
Brake burnout will make the brakes basically useless and the vehicle will not be able to stop or slow down effectively.
If the sign says, ‘Trucks use low gear’, that is compulsory for the trucks to comply, and very good advice for a caravan rig or motorhome that can be the same weight.
SO HOW DO WE HELP PREVENT BRAKE BURNOUT?
Start the descent from a slow speed and select an appropriate gear to descend the hill in. Accelerate slowly to below the desired and safe speed for the hill and let the rig roll naturally to the safe speed before brakes are applied to maintain that safe speed.
Too high a gear and your will need far more braking.
Russell Manning, Principal Technical Researcher with the RACQ advises to remember the old truckies tip of, “Descend the hill in the same gear that you would use to come up the hill”.
NRMA advise, “Making sure caravan to car setup is the most important steps that will help reduce sway, never nose down or nose up. (Trailer brake override can be used but not to excess, some systems are pressure sensitive on the switch – The harder you press the more brake applied) The use of brake override needs to be used carefully always refer to owner’s manual.
Depending on type of transmission, select a lower gear to assist with engine braking. Be aware over heating can happen with prolonged use. If multiple steep hills are in short proximity to each other it may be advisable to stop where possible and let vehicle cool. This is good for both Transmission and brakes, but only in a safe place.
NEVER KEEP YOUR FOOT ON THE BRAKE FOR ENTIRE DESCENT THIS WILL CAUSE OVER HEATING.”
Never ride the brakes and when braking, avoid excessive braking and brake to below the safe speed if possible, to allow the brakes time to cool,
Always watch your tachometer to prevent over revving the engine.
Manual or auto select or similar gear boxes mean you can easily select a low gear, but don’t leave it too late or you may have other things to worry about.
If safe to do so, pull over if needed to allow other traffic to pass and time for your brakes to cool. There may be a good look out on the way to check out the views.
Travel with care and I hope we all get home safe.
Copyright – Ken Wilson