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Old 05-23-2016, 09:57 PM   #1
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Mountain Driving 101

So on our maiden voyage last weekend, the truck made it up Petit Jean Mt. overlooking the Arkansas River Valley NW of Little Rock just fine. I actually got a little testosterone boost hearing the HEMI roar as it lugged the 29 ft., 6500 lb trailer around and up the switchback. Unfortunately, since I was only going about 30mph, the folks in cars behind us probably weren't as enthusiastic.

I must say, however, having never towed a trailer, that I was a little unprepared for coming off that mountain at the end of the weekend. Like the way the whole rig wanted to accelerate uncontrollably right towards that same switchback with the preceding 25mph warning sign, and the way I had to turn the brake controller up to 6 and ride 'em all the way to the bottom, all the while holding my breath and telling DW and DD to hush up!

So, for our second trip, we're going to drive about 1500 miles from the Midsouth/Memphis area to the Grand Canyon crossing the southern Rockies and Continental Divide in New Mexico. Having done this in a car before, I know that first you go up, and then you go down, maybe not quite as far as you went up, but down nevertheless.

I would really appreciate any advice anyone can offer on how to conquer the great mountains of the West behind the wheel. I've heard you're not supposed to brake with the TV, but rather use the manual trailer brakes from the controller. Is that true?

Newbie driving a Ram 1500 pulling a 29' Salem Cruise Lite 261BHXL

PS: I remember quite well I70 west of Denver having these things called runaway truck ramps. Hopefully I won't have to avail myself of such things!
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Old 05-23-2016, 10:05 PM   #2
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Are you sure you have the right truck.
Half tons have smaller brakes, it is not just the size of the engine.
If your first trip was "exciting", I would take that as a warning.
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Old 05-23-2016, 10:07 PM   #3
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Turn 'TOW/Haul' mode ON

'Stab' the truck brakes (and consequently trailer brakes) to quickly scrub off 10 mph of speed and then get off the brakes..........repeat

If still feel speed is increasing too quickly.............DOWNSHIFT

GO downhill in same gear you went uphill in.

NEVER ...Ride the brakes. That will just heat them up/warp rotors and cause brake shoe glazing resulting in NO BRAKES when you really need them
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Old 05-23-2016, 10:19 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Old-Biscuit View Post
Turn 'TOW/Haul' mode ON

'Stab' the truck brakes (and consequently trailer brakes) to quickly scrub off 10 mph of speed and then get off the brakes..........repeat

If still feel speed is increasing too quickly.............DOWNSHIFT

GO downhill in same gear you went uphill in.

NEVER ...Ride the brakes. That will just heat them up/warp rotors and cause brake shoe glazing resulting in NO BRAKES when you really need them
x2. No, don't use the trailer brakes to slow down the truck--that will burn them out real fast. If you are riding the brakes you are going downhill way too fast or in the wrong gear. There are many passes in the West--and I've been over most of them--when I went downhill even slower than I crept up them. When I had a 1/2 ton pulling a smaller trailer than you, I went down in 1st many times. I hate those cars pilling up behind me so I pulled over a lot, but I went down slow.
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Old 05-23-2016, 10:30 PM   #5
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I would really appreciate any advice anyone can offer on how to conquer the great mountains of the West behind the wheel.
Have you weighed the wet and loaded rig to see how much overloaded is your poor little half-ton pickup. Stop at a truckstop that has a CAT scale, fill up with gas, then weigh the wet and loaded rig. Add the weights on your front and rear pickup axles and compare the total to the GVWR of the pickup.

Rule One. With your overloaded Ram 1500, cross the Continental Divide only on I-10 or I-80. NOT I-70 or I-90, and I wouldn't even use I-40 because of the long steep grade pulling out of the Rio Grande Valley.

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I've heard you're not supposed to brake with the TV, but rather use the manual trailer brakes from the controller. Is that true?
I don't use that rule. But you have to be aware that if you overheat your brakes you could wind up as a grease spot at the bottom of a gully. I set the trailer brakes to work with the integrated trailer brake controller (ITBC), then stay off the brakes. Downshift to lower gears, all the way down to 2nd gear if necessary, then keep the speed down so you don't exceed the RPM red line on your tach.

If you need to use the brakes, then use them hard and slow the rig down in a hurry, then get off the brakes and allow them to cool off before you need them again. Do not "ride" the brakes. Have your trailer brake controller set to have max braking force without locking up the trailer brakes.

If the brakes get too hot to have much stopping power, then pull over and allow the brakes to cool off while you keep the engine running at a fast idle around 2,000 RPM to help with tranny cooling.
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Old 05-23-2016, 11:52 PM   #6
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A GVWR for the trailer of more than 7400 pounds? You might have overloaded your tow vehicle, depending on how the tow vehicle is equipped and loaded. Go weigh your wet and loaded rig as recommended above and you'll learn why descending passes is as nerve wracking as it sounds for you.

Downshift.
Downshift some more.
As long as you aren't going over the redline, you aren't harming anything.
If the rig won't hold a downhill speed after you've downshifted and you have to ride the brakes pretty firm all the way down a long hill, in my opinion, you're overloaded for that road. Unless you go weigh it all and find out, you cold very well be overloaded for the truck, and being over capacity could be a Very Bad Thing.

Using only the trailer brakes is a good way to make sure you overheat the trailer brakes, then in an emergency you have to depend on the truck brakes to bring you to a stop. Bad plan if you ask me.

Why do so many folks tow with little half-tons? I don't know if they are trying to save a few bucks, they don't do their research, they are lied to by sales scum, or a combination of any/all of those. I bought a 2500 with a diesel engine to tow because I live where there are mountain passes every where I can go, and I have the brakes and exhaust brake to get my rig around safely. I'm way *under* capacity, because I'v never heard anyone complain about buying too much truck for the job, but you can see folks tell stories on IRV2 about how they are close to their limits, or over them, nearly every day. It seems many have white knuckle stories to tell.

Yes, I'm boasting. If everyone had put as much careful planning into buying their rigs as I had, they would be, too. The best confidence is knowing that my rig is under all of the limits, and I can safely pull the hills up and down at reasonable speeds without ever breaking a sweat. The only problem I have with my rig going down the road right now is the California freeways are shaking the fillings out of my teeth.
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Old 05-24-2016, 05:24 AM   #7
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Ok, so scratch that rumor of only using the manual trailer brakes. Rather I should stab the TV brakes to shave off speed and downshift. And only use I 10 or 80.

Thing is, we're going I 40 to Santa Rosa, NM, and then heading north on US84/I25 to Santa Fe, then taking US550 from Albuquerque to Farmington, then it looks like US 160 up to Mesa Verde NP, then over to Monument Valley, UT, and on to Page/Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. So we should be crossing the Mts and Divide somewhere in there.

Coming back shouldn't be too bad because we'll be turning south through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and San Antonio. It's really the northern leg that looks like it will be hairy.

I definitely plan to weigh the rig before leaving to verify our weights. Thanks
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Old 05-24-2016, 07:39 AM   #8
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Ok, so scratch that rumor of only using the manual trailer brakes. Rather I should stab the TV brakes to shave off speed and downshift.
That stab breaking is a relic from the past. Extreme heating and cooling of the brakes by stabbing makes no sense, but some want to believe they can outsmart simple physics.

You need to learn to operate your transmission. Find the gear that will hold the desired speed while keeping the brake usage to a minimum. If your tow vehicle cannot control the the trailer, you need more truck.

The drum brakes on trailers are pathetic and will fade much quicker than the tow vehicle brakes. Over-using these brakes will only cause problems.
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Old 05-24-2016, 07:43 AM   #9
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WHy are you not in a lower gear coming down a grade? Try that here in Colorado and you'll find your self using the runaway truck ramp on fire.
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Old 05-24-2016, 08:03 AM   #10
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Wow i get this image of a little truck being pushed down a mountain by an out of control trailer. Ditto on getting a bigger truck. My 1 ton makes towing a breeze and the exhaust brake on a deisel is a must in my opinion. As others said, make sure your trailer brake is set strong enough and put your truck in manual so you can downshift. That pass over Albuquerque is no joke - very steep. Some of the other roads you mention are small and winding. 8%-10% grades. Don't take Colorado 139. You won't get over that pass.
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Old 05-24-2016, 08:39 AM   #11
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I appreciate all the suggestions to buy a bigger truck, but that ain't happening right now. My question really had to do with how to drive in the mountains. For example, as a newbie, I was unaware that I should use engine braking preferably rather than the wheel brakes.

Luckily I've been told there are no significant grades along my chosen route and that I should be fine. Thanks again for all the tips!
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Old 05-24-2016, 08:39 AM   #12
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A gas engine really has a hard time slowing a trailer. That engine will be screaming in 1st or 2nd gear but that is what you have to do.

I think I have said once. You can tow with a gasoline engine as long as you can stand it. If I were going to take long trips up and down mountains I would not want a gasoline engine. But If that is the hand that has been dealt get a set of ear plugs for everyone and stay in low high reving gears and use the brakes as needed.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:02 AM   #13
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Thing is, we're going I 40 to Santa Rosa, NM, and then heading north on US84/I25 to Santa Fe, then taking US550 from Albuquerque to Farmington, then it looks like US 160 up to Mesa Verde NP, then over to Monument Valley, UT, and on to Page/Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. So we should be crossing the Mts and Divide somewhere in there.
Good route. I've been that way several times dragging an RV trailer. You'll cross the Divide on U.S. 550 around Cuba NM without noticing it unless you pay close attention to altitude signs.

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Coming back shouldn't be too bad because we'll be turning south through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and San Antonio.
I was surprised by the number of steep grades on I-10 between Phoenix and New Mexico. You don't notice them in a car, but an overloaded truck will get your attention.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:08 AM   #14
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When I owned my half ton I had to manually downshift as it wasn't doing it much in tow haul mode. And that was with a trailer lighter than yours. But it did the job. I just made sure to not let speed build up on the downhill, especially in corners. It wasn't fun. But that's it, be aware of your speed, keep an eye on the corners approaching and manage your shifts.

In my 2500 it downshifts wonderfully on its own. I've never had to manually shift it. And the exhaust brake on the diesel makes it just that much better. When I crest a hill and am happy with the speed for the downhill I tap the brakes once and it knows to hold that speed and it does. It makes towing much more comfortable.
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