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Old 05-31-2011, 12:25 PM   #1
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Mountain driving

We purchased a 1997 HR35 last August, Chevy 454. We have taken 3 major trips from Wisconsin, to the Appalachians, to Florida, and to New Mexico. Having children in New Mexico and Denver we anticipate a lot of mountain driving in the future. I have learned a valuable lesson without damage when driving the Blue Ridge PW and my wife asking, "what's that smell?" I was able to pull off and let the brakes cool.
My question, would a diesel with it's better engine braking make a big difference, or is a gas rig properly handled ok? I do not tow but we will be buying a tow vehicle hopefully 3500 lbs or less. I will put brakes on the towed vehicle, but won't this make engine braking less effective as the brakes are not on when down shifting.
I came over Raton Pass without a problem but to be honest I don't look forward to the day when I will come down from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Denver.
Thanks for any good advice or encouragement.

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Old 05-31-2011, 12:40 PM   #2
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Hi Jerry,
A diesel, in my opinion, has better breaking than a gas engine. That being said, I've driven to Alaska and all over the Yukon in a Ford V10 motorhome. First, if your in the mountains and driving a gas engine you should turn off the overdrive. Also, depending on the grade you are descending, you should be at a slower speed and lower gear as you begin your descent. Once started down the hill you should never feather your breaks, press firmly on the pedal until you have reduced to a speed of at least about 15 miles per hour lower than when you started to apply the breaks. There have been some hills that I never got above third gear or faster than 40 miles/hour with some downshifts into second gear. Just don't let the traffic behind you make any decisions for you.

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Old 05-31-2011, 01:00 PM   #3
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I've lived in the west all my life and have driven most of it including the last 6 years in my class A gasser. I've learned the "expensive" braking issue and make it a policy to descend in the same gear and rate of speed I would normally climb a hill.

Just yesterday I came down from 7000' to 3000' in less than 20 miles and although I didn't take that route getting up there (I have before), I know that sometimes it's 25mph all the way, when fully loaded and pulling.

The 8.1L engine (with the Allison 1000) is very responsive and doesn't seem to mind 4000-4500rpm in second gear.
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Old 05-31-2011, 01:04 PM   #4
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Hi jerry katt,
Welcome to iRV2. RJay said it all. Explained a bit differently, with a diesel, one can turn on the engine/exhaust brake and most all the braking and gear down shifting is automatically taken care of. If the coach goes faster than you want, just stab the brakes until it is at the desired speed. With gas engines the driver needs to make downshift decisions.

An old rule of thumb is to go down a hill at the same speed and gear you came up the hill.
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Old 05-31-2011, 01:06 PM   #5
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Welcome to the forum Jerry!

IMHO, the answer to your question is yes, a diesel generally has better braking capability on descents but that doesn't mean that gassers can't be handled safely. As a newbie buying my first coach I was VERY concerned about being able to control all that weight on a descent and that drove my decision to purchase the diesel.

Glad you caught your problem while there was still time to pull over and let 'em cool. Brake fade doesn't always end so well.

Good luck...

Rick, Nancy, Peanut & Lola our Westie Dogs & Bailey the Sheltie.

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Old 05-31-2011, 01:13 PM   #6
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Diesel with Jake Brake or Pac Brake,,,These are exhuast brakes, the small diesel engines have NO engine braking capacity,,they are all exhaust brakes and work well, Watch your tranny temp when using an exhuast brake,,they have been known to cause hight tranny temps...The exhaust brake slows the engine and vehicle well and that means low air flow and low tranny pump pressure.
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Old 05-31-2011, 01:27 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by jerry katt View Post
I will put brakes on the towed vehicle, but won't this make engine braking less effective as the brakes are not on when down shifting.
Not sure what you mean here Jerry. If you mean the toad brakes don't operate unless the coach service brakes are being applied... that's not always true. My Brake Buddy Classic operates the toad brakes when it senses the coach is slowing so they do work with the engine brake.

Rick, Nancy, Peanut & Lola our Westie Dogs & Bailey the Sheltie.

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Old 05-31-2011, 11:56 PM   #8
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Well, my response to all this is, when it comes to going up and down mountain grades, what's your hurry?

Last year, my exhaust brake malfunctioned just before a planned trip through the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and the Sierra Nevadas in the States. We enjoyed the trip anyway.

I found that when the highway sign said 7% grade downhill, I immediately slowed down to 45 MPH, shifted the Allison to 4th gear, and slowly rode down the hill until I reached the bottom. Once or twice I had to jam the brakes the pull the unit down to keep it under control, but hey, no sweat.

That was a 4000 mile trip with lots of mountain grades, pulling a Honda Pilot behind us. I still haven't fixed the exhaust brake, and I'm not too worried about it.

I learned that I had to stop worrying about the sports cars behind me, and stop thinking that I've got to move my house over every hill in the country at posted highway speed. I started to think about the safety of my family, and then I started to really enjoy the ride.

This I learned: When approaching a steep downward road, I have to quickly get my coach under control. It doesn't matter if all the young folks in their 2000 lb sports cars are frustrated with me. I'm carrying my loved ones in my home here, and it doesn't matter how long it takes, I'm going to get them through this safely. I start at the top of the hill with my speed under control, no faster than I want to ever go at any time on that hill. I allow the coach to pick up a little speed, then I press the brakes very firmly to pull the coach back into my control speed. Then I release the brakes entirely. This lets the brakes cool down.

An experienced truck driver told me that the worst thing I can do is ride the brakes. Not only does it wear the brake pads prematurely, if I overheat the brakes enough, the drums can expand so large that the brake pads can no longer expand out enough to press against them. That means: no brakes at all. I don't want that to happen.l

I'm not out on that road to impress anyone with how much power my coach has and how fast I can handle the hills. I've driven trucks for enough years to know that the motor coach that passes me half way up the 6% grade going 60 MPH had to have hit the bottom of the hill behind us at a speed of at least 75 MPH, and that sir, is simply crazy.
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Old 06-01-2011, 09:37 AM   #9
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I just came down Vail Pass and down Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,700 ft elevation to Denver on Sunday 5/29/11 with no trouble at all. Tha Jake would slow my Monaco Sig. From 58 to 50 mph in 300 yards on a 6% grade. Never worried about it at all. Got really good mpg on that leg (down hill).

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Old 06-01-2011, 10:01 AM   #10
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Jerry to sum all of it into a nutshell either engine diesel or gas brakes better at a high rpm which means to downshift before you begin the descent. If possible avoid downshifting on the descent. As said before while braking use enough force to slow maybe ten to fifteen mph. Then release the brakes until you regain that speed and repeat the process.
I try to use a combination of engine braking with the regular brakes.
If you accidentally get to fast while descending I prefer to slow down with the brakes and then downshift the tranny and engine. It is preferable to use the engine brake as primary and supplement with the brakes.
Disclaimer: Under certain low traction conditions it might be best to use the brakes because with engine braking only one wheel is actually holding you back and could loose traction.
If I have mistated anything someone feel free to correct me.
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Old 06-01-2011, 10:38 AM   #11
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Everything well said. You know even if your not driving the mountains at this particular time it's always good to review articles like this to keep your mind sharp for when the time comes.
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Old 06-01-2011, 11:03 AM   #12
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I have a diesel and love the engine brake, bareley use the brakes on any declines, I tow a Chevy Colorado and Don't even know it is there. For me a diesel is the way to go.
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Old 06-01-2011, 09:14 PM   #13
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Mountain driving

Thanks for your responses. Jerry

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