Munich (Pressweb) - Altitude! Gradient! Weather! Driving into the mountains may conceal its own specific perils in the wintertime – but challenges can be child's play with the right equipment and the correct driving technique. TÜV SÜD has tips on mastering winter mountains.
The thrill of tranquillity: From the serenity of a peaceful mountain hut to non-stop partying on the piste, there are plenty of reasons to drive into the mountains. But it's important to adapt to the circumstances. While autumn may still linger in the lowlands, snow and ice may already have the mountains in their grip – and that means adopting a different driving style. Average speed is slashed, and more advanced road skills are vital.
Profile and traction: Suitable tyres are the be-all and end-all of winter driving in the mountains. Only winter tyres will do, and they must have adequate tread depth. "Tyres with tread depth of less than four millimetres are no longer considered winter tyres under Austrian road regulations, and in any case, any lower depth is completely inadvisable wherever drivers plan to go", warns Eberhard Lang from TÜV SÜD. Snow chains are – at least occasionally – required on certain routes, with warning signage to that effect, and it is definitely sensible to take them along. Drivers who do not own snow chains can hire them from car clubs. Quick-mount chains are advisable, "especially for rear-wheel-drive cars", recommends expert Lang, explaining "It's very difficult to attach snow chains on cars with tight wheel arches."
Slow and cautious: Mountain passes and high-altitude roads are not racetracks. Motorists that cut curves or can hear their tyres squeal are driving too fast. Depending on the gradient involved, braking distances can be up to twice as long as on flat roads, even without snow and ice. If other drivers are jostling impatiently, it's best to pull over at the next passing point and let them go ahead.
Gears and brakes: Brake systems are subjected to enormous strain on mountain gradients. Even in winter, making the most of the engine's own braking effect helps to prevent the overheating that may cause brakes to fail altogether. The recommendation is to choose the same gear as you would to drive up the mountain. Drivers of automatic cars should manually go down one or two gear ratios. TÜV SÜD recommends the sport mode for most automatic cars; it operates in a much higher rev range and thus offers improved braking. "Short, sharp braking is better than continuous light braking", advises TÜV SÜD's Eberhard Lang, explaining that this increases the cooling effect on the brake discs and drums under the strain of winter roads.
Forward and back: Even in good weather, ice and snow may make individual roads or sections of route in the mountains tricky to drive. You may leave the green valley behind, only to confront a thick blanket of snow a thousand metres higher up. A few tricks can help to master even the most ticklish driving problems; cars stuck in snow can often be freed by rocking the car backwards and forwards, and front-wheel-drive cars can climb steep short gradients in reverse gear if driving normally fails.
Gas and brake: Everything in moderation is the key here! Too slow a speed when driving up gradients involves the danger of losing momentum and getting stuck at the first snowy patch. On the other hand, hairpin bends must not be approached too fast. Front and rear-wheel drives require different driving techniques; front-wheel-drive cars need a little acceleration to come out of a bend or hairpin, while rear-wheel drives must hold off until the road is straight again.
Oil and fuel: Mountain routes increase consumption of petrol or diesel – so filling up in good time is advisable given that fuelling stations in the mountains are few and far between. Coasting downhill may cause oil consumption to soar, so an oil check is also a good idea. "But only on a flat road", warns Eberhard Lang. Wait a few minutes until the oil has flowed back into the sump before taking out the dipstick, otherwise it will appear that the engine has too little oil.
Law and order: Contrary to popular belief, there are no traffic laws that allow right of way to drivers ascending a mountain. In fact, drivers on winter roads are recommended to keep a special eye out for cars coasting downhill as they have longer braking distances.
Cold and high: In the mountains, cold is not the only factor that may cause difficulties in starting the engine. Many engines have problems with the thinner air at high altitudes – although thanks to advancing engine technology, they have become rare. Some cars, however, need a different technique for starting the engine. "The operating manual will tell you whether the accelerator should be half, or even fully, depressed in conditions such as high altitudes or severe cold", explains the TÜV SÜD expert. And preparing the car for severe winter weather is naturally essential – paying particular attention to anti-freeze for the radiator and windscreen washer system.