May 212013

After reading my blog last week about mountain driving, several readers have asked me for tips about how to safely drive an RV in the mountains. I’m not a professional driver, but I’ve been driving a big rig all over the country for over fourteen years and haven’t wrecked one yet, so I’ll give you what advice I can. But please keep in mind that my experience has been with Class A motorhomes, both gas and diesel pushers, and I don’t feel qualified to give you a lot of advice if you have a truck and trailer combination.

The first suggestion is to take an RV driving course. I don’t care how long you’ve had a driver’s license, even a Class C motorhome is a lot bigger than your minivan. The best investment you can make in your safety on the road is to call the RV Driving School or some other recognized school and take a class.

The second thing I consider essential is a good auxiliary braking system for your towed vehicle. We have used both the BrakeBuddy and the SMI Air Force One, which is my personal preference.

But no matter what you drive or what braking system you use, the number one rule is to slow down! Nobody ever went over the side of a mountain by going too slow. Call me an old fart if you will, but I always err on the side of caution. Don’t get halfway down a grade and realize you’re going too fast. Slow that rig down before you even start your descent. The exhaust brake on a diesel works best at high RPMs. On a steep grade, 7% or so, I shift our Allison transmission into fourth or even third gear and get my engine RPMs up around 2200 – 2300. I apply the brakes firmly and slow down when needed, and then get off them. Riding your brake pedal is guaranteed to get you into trouble!

I 40 downhill grade 2

In a gas rig, downshift before you start downhill and let your transmission hold you back. Be careful not to over speed your engine! Use that brake pedal when needed, then let up on it.

I 90 Montana downhill 2

Yes, there are a lot of people in a hurry, and the truckers are some of the worst. But none of them are going to replace my Winnebago if I wreck it. I get over in the right lane and stay there, put on my emergency flashers if needed, and let them pass me if they want to.


If you find your brakes getting hot, find the nearest safety pullout and stop and wait until they cool down again. It’s not a race, the goal is to get where you’re going in one piece.

Truck brakes warning sign

Forewarned is forearmed! Knowing what you’re getting into is always good. Any time we’re going to be driving in mountain country I check Mountain Directory East or Mountain Directory West to find out what to expect.

Somebody asked me if I’ve ever had to use one of those runaway truck ramps we see in mountain country. No, but I’ve seen a couple of trucks do so over the years and it’s not something I want to experience! I’d much rather start out safe and stay that way all the way to the bottom.

Thought For The Day – Stop looking back on your mistakes. What’s done is done. Learn from them and move on.

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  4 Responses to “Mountain Driving Tips”

  1. Nick, Don’t forget that it’s very important to keep your drive axle tires on the ground! Wreckers are expensive.


  2. (Butch)

  3. Excellent information Nick. We have a fifth wheel and pull it with a Dodge Ram diesel, 4×4 with a 5 speed. John gears down before we start down a steep grade and again if needed. Our Rand McNally for RV’s has been a big help too. Thanks!


  4. Thanks for the advice !

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