Towing on Extreme Grades
The Sterling above is parked outside the
Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,013 ft with a 7% grade coming East from Dillon
is a favorite run for truck manufactures and journalists testing trucks.
from folks that drive on 14% grades to get to their mountain ranches. Up
and down steep grades are stressful on brakes, transmissions and nerves.
All new diesel pickup trucks have grade shifting automatic transmissions
and exhaust brakes. Grade shifting transmissions while in “tow haul”
mode will automatically downshift if you are going down hill, when you
apply the trucks brakes. Downshifting going down hill is what we do with
manual transmissions. The goal is to save your truck and trailer brakes.
Diesel powered trucks with auto transmissions are built to grade shift
better than most gas powered trucks. And diesels with exhaust brakes
(closes off the exhaust pipe creating back pressure) can slow your rig
down without using the brakes as much.
sold trucks in the nineties, you couldn’t sell an automatic transmission
to someone that lived in the mountains. They wanted to control the truck
by down shifting the manual transmissions coming down hill. The newer
automatic transmissions can be operated manually also to slow you down.
up the mountain you down shift also to keep your trucks engine running
at the best RPM for power. Diesels need to run 1800-2500 RPM for their
power band and gas engines, 5000-6000 RPM for power. Another reason for
using automatic transmissions, is they will find the power band
automatically. And going down hill, automatic transmissions won’t
downshift, if it will over rap the engine (higher RPM than the engine
should run at.) RPM is revolution per minute as seen on your tachometer
taken a 3 horse trailer up Pikes Peak (14,110 ft) with a ½ ton
Quadrasteer GMC and many times I go over Trail Ridge (12,000 ft) towing
a trailer. These roads have 12% and higher grades. You need to watch
your trucks gauges, not letting the engine or transmission temperature
go into the red. Using your transmission to control speed will save your
truck and trailer brakes to when you have to use them.
Constantly using your brakes can overheat them; wear out the brake shoes
and drums, leaving you looking for a “truck runaway ramp.” When I tow
trailers thru the Rockies in the winter and there is some ice or snow on
the road, I use my trailer brake controller separately. Using the
trailer brakes to slow me down on the curves to not start a skid, but I
don’t use the brakes hard or long (3 to 4 sec.).
Learning to manually use your trailer brake controller is important on
grades. When Ford introduced the industry first integrated trailer brake
controller in 2005 on Super Duties, it would automatically reduce the
gain setting when driving under 15 mph. They didn’t think we needed
trailer brakes at slow speeds. On 14% grades, your top speed might be 10
miles per hour. In that case you would have to manually run the brake
controller along with the foot brake coming down hill. Ford changed this
speed gain setting on their integrated trailer brake controller in 2008
to work at all speeds.
Coming down Trail Ridge on Opening
Day in May
PickupTrucks.com and I did a heavy duty shoot out this summer at the GM
proving grounds near Detroit. We towed 10,000 lb trailers with ¾ ton gas
and diesel trucks and 12,000 lb trailers with the one ton diesels. We
did this on 7% and 16% grades. On the 7% grades, most of the gas powered
trucks could get to 3rd gear, the diesels made it to 4 gear.
The grades where less than a mile long. The 16% grades, left most trucks
in 1rst gear. This tells you how hard a 16% grade is on a truck towing a
trailer. At this rate it would take 2 miles of road to get to 2nd
gear. One of the diesel one tons, on the 3rd run up the 16%
grade, overheated the automatic transmission.
Interstates don’t go over 6% grade, but in Colorado we have 7% on
Interstate 70 from Dillon to the Eisenhower tunnel.
these high grades, running the engines at higher RPM’s also uses more
fuel. But if high grade roads are what you have to deal with, and you
own a diesel truck, I’d recommend getting an aftermarket exhaust brake
if your truck didn’t come with one. With a gas engine, learn how to
manually shift your transmission for engine braking whether you have a
manual or automatic transmission.