Munich. Gradients, uphill climbs, tight corners – tackling wintry terrain confronts both motorists and their vehicles with an exceptional range of challenges. When oncoming vehicles force drivers to stop on narrow mountain passes, or even move over to the edge of a dizzying drop, the watchword is to keep calm and be particularly vigilant behind the wheel. TÜV SÜD’s experts have tips on correct driving.
Changing gear and braking: Gradients place braking systems under higher strain than flat, even roads. Engine braking can provide valuable support, protecting the brakes from overheating and failure. An old rule of thumb advises choosing the same gear to go downhill as you would to travel the same gradient uphill. Drivers of automatic vehicles should go down one or two gear ratios (3, 2 or L). A further trick from TÜV SÜD’s Eberhard Lang: “Choose your car’s sports mode for downhill gradients.” This boosts the rev count and thus increases braking action.
Oil and fuel: Mountainous routes significantly increase fuel consumption. Make sure you refill your tank in good time, as fuel stations are often few and far between in the mountains. Although coasting downhill may slightly increase oil consumption, modern vehicles can usually easily cope. If you are concerned, check your oil levels and take a spare can or two of oil along.
Play by the rules: It’s actually a widely believed myth that uphill drivers have right of way – yet this persistent fiction is habitually obeyed, particularly in the Alps. In winter, however, it may prove dangerous; downhill drivers need longer braking distances, and thus require more consideration than other road-users.
Slow and careful: Mountain passes and high-altitude roads are not racetracks. Cutting corners is a definite warning sign of excessive speed. If you are being followed by a tailgater, “pull over and let them pass. This is always the lower-stress option – and it’s safer”, advises Lang. It’s a course of behaviour that is also recommended for less confident drivers in the mountains; as soon as a passing place or other opportunity comes up, drop out from the head of the line and let pushier drivers take over.
Cold and high: Cold is not the only obstacle to smooth starting. Many engines also have problems coping with the thinner air at high altitudes, although such difficulties are relatively infrequent thanks to modern fuel injection systems. Some cars may need to be started with a change of routine; the manual will give details of whether the accelerator should be half, or even fully depressed when the car is started in extreme cold or at high altitudes.
Boosting grip: When winter travel destinations involve mountains, suitable snow chains are an essential addition to the luggage. Germany does not have any regulations in place governing snow chains; however, in Austria snow chains must comply with the Austrian ‘Ö-Norm’ standard – identified by an intertwined Ö and N symbol. Branded products comply with the standard as a matter of course.