Uphill Or Down Dale, It’s Harder In A Truck

A road train driving on a country road

The difference between driving a car and a truck is never more apparent as when driving up or down a long or steep hill. 

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common hazards and risks to avoid when driving a heavy vehicle and crucial tips for staying safe.

What safety risks and factors should heavy vehicle drivers be aware of?

The road surface.

Drivers must consider the type of road surface and the length and gradient of the hill they are driving on. Dry, well-maintained asphalt is easier to negotiate.

On the other hand, driving on wet, slippery asphalt or unsealed gravel will change how the vehicle responds. Icy road conditions in winter can pose additional risks.

Loading the vehicle correctly is vital.

Insufficient load weight on the axle drive group of a towing vehicle or a badly distributed load will affect the vehicle’s ability to negotiate steep hills safely.


Incorrect tyre pressure or bald or badly worn tyres affect the vehicle’s traction and can slip or blow out under certain conditions.


Driving heavy vehicle combinations at the correct approach speed is vital as it reduces the chance of missing a gear change, selecting the wrong gear, or failing to get up a hill due to lack of power.

Brakes and the roadworthiness of vehicle.

Always conduct daily pre-start vehicle and trailer checks and perform a more thorough weekly vehicle combination maintenance inspection. If in doubt, contact your nearest Rentco service depot.

Tips for driving up a steep hill

  • Before you set off, familiarise yourself with the route and be aware of any steep hills along that route and understand your vehicle’s towing capabilities.
  • Watch out for and obey road signs. If you need to stop and check your vehicle and load before going up a hill, do so in a safe or dedicated location.
  • Know your gear box so that you understand which gear to use and exactly when to use it. The aim is to select the right gear for the engine to operate efficiently.
  • Moderate your speed and change gear early, so you are travelling safely before you start climbing the hill.
  • Use the engine torque efficiently and avoid changing gear while climbing the hill.

Tips for driving down a steep hill

  • Adjust your speed and select the correct low gear before starting the descent. Remember that the gear required to go up the hill is usually the same gear required when you are driving down.
  • Never just rely on the brakes as they can overheat and fail if used incorrectly. Use the auxiliary brakes to help control the vehicle speed if required.
  • If you find you’re in the wrong gear, stop the vehicle immediately and select the right gear before moving on.
  • Never attempt to descend a hill in neutral gear or with the clutch depressed.
  • Remember the weight and mass of the vehicle will propel you forward, selecting a low gear and using the engine to slow the vehicle is preferable to using your brakes to control the speed of your vehicle.
  • Inform yourself about the location of arrester beds on the route. They are designed to safely decelerate a vehicle which is out of control.