How to tackle steep slopes when driving an MT car

You will never be stranded in the mountains
by Paulo Rafael Subido | Jan 18, 2018

Mountain retreats like Baguio City and Tagaytay have steep hills. Away from the main highway, you will encounter residential driveways and commercial establishments that have steep and daunting access roads. When driving into or out of these places, not all of these locations have room for your car to build up speed and momentum, so getting stuck and stranded is a real possibility. But fret not, we are here to make sure that doesn't happen to you.

Continue reading below ↓

The following tip is ideally meant for those who still drive a manual-transmission vehicle. Surely there are still a few of you guys left! It is also especially helpful if your car doesn’t pack all that much horsepower and torque. Engines with smaller displacements need to be wrung out more, you see.

Here’s a little history that explains why this topic is close to my heart: My house in Baguio has a very steep driveway, and without fail, visitors from the lowlands have had a difficult time getting out of it. Dad would always teach the guests who failed at their first attempt how to do it properly—using the tips enumerated below—and would praise those who actually listened to his instructions. But then there were also stubborn drivers who insisted on doing things their way.

Eventually, after countless failed attempts and the acrid smell of a burnt clutch filling the air, dad would command in his booming voice: “Give the keys to Paulo. He will get your car out.” These drivers couldn’t believe that my dad was ordering them to trust a scrawny bespectacled teenager, but they handed the keys over to me anyway. Our driveway already defeated them and flattened their egos. What kind of humiliation could possibly come next?

Continue reading below ↓

I would get these cars to the top of the driveway effortlessly, of course. My services were required so often, I eventually learned how to tell if a car wasn’t in good running condition, and adjusted my driving accordingly. Looking back, those were always proud moments for me especially as I wasn’t even anywhere near legal driving age yet. My dad trusted me to always get any car over that steep hill. I miss him terribly.

Continue reading below ↓

This is the view looking down. There are much steeper roads out there, but my dad always told our guests: “If you can make it out of my driveway, you can drive anywhere in Baguio.” Our family friends from the lowlands still remember their first visit to the Subido residence, and the sense of pride that came with being able to power out of it.

Here’s how it is done:

1. Make sure the car is ready for the climb. Baguio and Tagaytay are cold places. If the car has been sitting for a few hours, warming up the engine to operating temperature is a must. A cold engine can’t generate the power required. This also explains why my habit of warming up my car before driving off will never die.

2. Utilize every bit of space. We have a garage that cars can back into to gain precious momentum. Think of it as a small runway. Cars with smaller engines require more space to build up the necessary speed, so I would use every inch of that tiny garage.

Continue reading below ↓

3. Adjust to the conditions. Sometimes the garage that I use to make buwelo has a car parked in it. To compensate for this, I’d have to take the revs much higher upon takeoff.

4. Raise the revs. Some people aren’t comfortable with hearing engines at the upper reaches of the tachometer. As long as you don’t pin the motor at the redline, the engine will be okay. Depending on how steep the slope is, I suggest launching the car between 4,000rpm-4,500rpm. Anywhere below 3,000rpm just won’t cut it.

5. Release the clutch smoothly. Do not ride it (clutch drive) on the way up. Also, avoid burning rubber upon takeoff. It looks spectacular,but it actually slows you down. Once moving, only depress the clutch if you are sure that the engine will stall and you won’t make it up the hill. Playing with the clutch to raise the revs again will help, but this requires experience to master. Playing with the clutch pedal to get you to the top while the engine is struggling can burn the clutch out. You've been warned. 

Continue reading below ↓

6. If you don’t make it up the hill and the engine stalls…Don’t panic. Be ready to step on the brakes—hard. You don’t want to roll backward and lose control. Raise the handbrake and then start the engine right away. Why?Because the hydrovac of the brake master cylinder doesn't function when the engine is off, thus, getting the same amount of braking power will require an extreme amount of pedal force.

Once the engine is running again, it is also a good idea to shift into reverse and utilize the engine-braking effect as you return to your starting position. Back up very, very slowly.

7. Analyze what just happened before attempting to tackle the hill again. Is the engine cold? Did you maximize the space? Did you give the engine enough revs? Were you riding the clutch on your way up? Is the ground wet and slippery? Is your car in bad shape? All of these factors can come into play.

Continue reading below ↓

Experienced drivers don’t need these tips, but if you are a new owner who is proudly driving a manual transmission car, I hope my advice is helpful. Check out the video below for further explanation.

Also Read
Recommended Videos
PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
  • Quiz Results

  • TGP Rating:

    Starts at ₱

    TGP Rating:
    Starts at ₱