Downshifting and Braking Procedure for RVs on Downgrades
Question: It seems that RVers need to downshift and not ride the brakes on downgrades. What exactly does than mean and do you have any pointers for a newbie?
Answer: Generally when going down steep or long downgrades you tend to coast... your foot is off the gas pedal. With no fuel going to the engine, the drive train supplies some resistance to the gravity pulling the RV downhill. Some engines, especially diesel engines with compression brakes, supply considerable resistance.
For every gear you downshift you increase the amount of resistance even more. It's possible, depending on the amount of engine braking, the grade and length of the hill, to negotiate a downhill grade without using your brakes. That would be the ideal. But there will be times when you will have to use your brakes.
* It is generally accepted among truckers that you use the same gear going down that you used going up.
* Don't worry about too much tailgaters or other obnoxious drivers but be courteous. Pull over whenever safe and let traffic behind you go around. Some states have laws that require you do so.
When it is necessary to use your brakes you would still want to downshift in order to let your engine do as much of the braking as possible so you don't overheat the motorhome, truck and/or trailer brakes. Going at slower speeds is always safer but keeping the RV under control is the important issue.
Some RVers try to maintain a proper speed going downhill by keeping constant pressure on the brakes, oftentimes called riding the brakes.
At the least, riding the brakes will cause excessive brake wear. It gets dangerous when riding the brakes too long heats the brakes to the point where they lose friction and stopping power. This condition is called brake fade. At it's most extreme, riding the brakes can cause the brakes to catch fire.
The proper braking procedure is to apply the brakes firmly, bringing your RV down to a lower speed and then get off the brakes completely and let the engine hold you back.
For example, if the speed limit or road conditions require a maximum speed of 50 mph you may want to brake down to 40 mph. Then let the RV coast until you are back up to 50 mph again. Then repeat... brake to 40 mph.
If you find yourself using the brakes too much it may be necessary to downshift another gear and take the hill at a slower speed but still using the same breaking technique. Be sure you brake to a slower speed before you downshift. Trying to downshift at too high a speed can damage your automatic transmission.
Remember, the faster you are going the more braking it takes to slow your RV down. Use common sense and drive as slow as necessary to keep the RV under control.
You may also want to read:
RV Tow Vehicle Basics... weight ratings, tow packages & hitches
RV Travel Trailer Hitch System Ratings
Why You Should Know Your RV Travel Trailer Weight
How to weigh your Travel Trailer or Fifth Wheel
RV Fifth Wheel & Travel Trailer Towing Safety Tips