Tackle that Mountain! How to Prepare for Difficult Driving in an RV

Last updated on September 4th, 2021 at 12:41 am. Originally published on July 6th, 2015

I will never forget that first mountain pass we drove over in our 42 foot RV. It was terrifying. Not only were we 42 feet long, but we were also towing a motorcycle and a car. I was not prepared for the white knuckle road ahead.

Yes, it’s true that RVs are great for taking you to new places where you can enjoy some pretty awesome surroundings, but it’s important to be prepared to occasionally cross difficult terrain.

If you’re not a natural big rig driver, consider practicing mountain conditions prior to facing them. There are things to know and ways to practice before you leave on vacation to make sure you are ready to face any challenge ahead.


Defoe Bay Fire District

How about a quick game of true of false to test your mountain driving knowledge.

True or False?

You’re going up a steep incline. Make sure you have enough power to make it up by stepping on it an gunning the engine. 

FALSE! Don’t Gun The Engine!

Many newbies think gunning the engine will help push their RV up those tough hills. WRONG. Take your foot off the accelerator. By gunning the engine you put extra stress on your engine which in turn could cause a serious breakdown. This is not like in the movies. You are not racing up the hill.

Instead, find your RV’s optimal power band and stay there. The power band is the range of RPM’s which your RV has the most horsepower for the road ahead of you. It could be 2,000 or 4,000 RPM. Most people try to activate this power band prior to climbing the hill. If you stay within the power band you will limit the stress on the engine, and you will climb the mountain safely. Climbing a mountain can be difficult driving. It’s important to be prepared.

This takes practice. You have to know where the sweet spot is and how to get there before you head out on a trip with difficult terrain. My suggestion? Locate a steep hill or long driveway in your city or town. Choose a time where there is a minimal amount of traffic and take the time to practice. Locate the spot where the engine stops chugging and becomes slow and smooth. This is the sweet spot. Soon you will locate this spot with no practice at all.

True or False?

You come to a steep downhill section of the road. You don’t worry because going downhill is easy as long as you pump the breaks as you descend.

FALSE. Don’t be a fool! Driving downhill in an RV is dangerous and can be more challenging than driving uphill.

You do not want to lay on the brakes. Brake replacement is expensive and crawling down a hill, pumping the brakes will cause extreme stress. If you go fast you could lose control. The best plan is to travel at a steady, slower speed.  Going downhill can be difficult driving.  Take your time.

RV downhill

If your rig has a manual transmission, avoid using the brakes when possible. Simply shift to a lower gear at the top of the hill. Traveling in second or even first gear will provide resistance as you cruise down the hill. Pump your brakes on occasion, but not continually.

If you have an automatic transmission the engine will do most of the down shifiting for you. Again, light pressure on the brakes will help control your momentum. Do not ride the brakes or you will cause excessive wear.


To gain confidence practice going downhill in your rig prior to travel. Remember to adjust your speed, tap your brakes and downshift as needed. The more you practice in your RV the more confident you will feel.

Safety should always come first. Don’t wait till the moment of crisis. Gain confidence before your vacation so that you can handle the steepest hills and the deepest valleys. You’ll be glad you did!

Do you have any additional suggestions? Add your thoughts to the comment box below and help others prepare  for their first trip.

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