High altitude driving is a bit different than the flat and smooth roads typically found near home. Along with quickly changing weather conditions, drivers have to contend with winding roads, steep hills and varied wildlife. Beyond the added wear and tear on your vehicle, driving in the mountains can have an effect on you and your passengers as well.
Here are a few things to consider before you head up to the peak:
When it comes to climbing steep hills and extended travel up high elevations, especially when hauling cargo, a little extra horsepower is never a bad thing. The general rule of thumb is that your vehicle’s engine will lose about 3% of its power for every 1000 feet of altitude. So if you’re traveling in high altitude areas with a lot of weight, you may want to consider taking a vehicle that packs a little extra under the hood.
Typically mountain roads are narrow, windy and steep, which is an environment that will put your vehicle to the test. Before you head out, check your car’s brakes, steering, suspension, tires, cooling systems and fluid levels, to make sure it’s ready for the journey. Now is also a great time to ensure your car is ready for any situation by packing a roadside emergency kit.
Whether you drive stick or automatic, your vehicle is going to be constantly challenged with hills and curves. When high altitude driving, use a lower gear to keep better control over the car and try to maintain the same speeds going down hills as you do going up. The lower gear will keep the car from coasting down hills and help the car stay steady if there are any loose or slippery road conditions.
Mountain Road Etiquette
Proper mountain travel courtesy maintains the safety of everyone on the road and gives the driver at the greater disadvantage the space they need to keep their vehicle on the go. Mountain roads are typically more narrow than normal roads, so staying off the centerline will give vehicles enough room to pass each other. Also remember that cars traveling uphill should be given the right of way. As the vehicle works harder to climb a hill, it needs the added space from other vehicles to sustain travel. Be mindful that it’s also much easier to start again from a stop if you’re heading down hill, so if you come to another vehicle and there isn’t room to pass, pull over and cede the right of way to the car chugging uphill.
Your health is as important as the condition of your vehicle when driving at high altitudes. Drink plenty of water to avoid the symptoms of altitude sickness. If you do begin to become lightheaded or disoriented, pull over immediately until you can clear your head. Ascending quickly can heighten feelings of nausea and headache, so take your time when driving at elevations above 8000 feet.
Traveling mountain roads can offer spectacular views and amazing destinations but can be very hard on car and driver alike. By preparing your vehicle and keeping some simple common sense rules in mind, you’ll avoid getting stuck or being involved in an accident. By getting plenty of rest and fluids, you’ll be alert and healthy for your journey to the top.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on high altitude driving, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
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Erich Reichert has been an editor and on-air personality in the radio control car hobby for 12 years. A certified car nut since birth, he has written for internationally published titles such as RC Car Action, RC Driver and Xtreme RC Cars, as well as Stuff Magazine, Road and Track and Super Street. He's covered everything from product reviews and tech articles to high-profile lifestyle pieces and celebrity interviews. Erich found his passion for writing after a successful career as an art director, working with brands such as Pepsico, NASCAR, MTV, Nintendo, WWE, Cannondale Bicycles and HBO. He's also a father, an avid hockey fan and an FIA race license holder who enjoys hiking, playing drums and movies.