We don’t need to tell you that driving a motorhome is different from driving a passenger car. Moving through residential areas requires extra alertness. And on the highway, your increased braking distance makes it essential for you to look further ahead. But driving in the mountains requires different additional driving skills altogether.
As an experienced motorhome driver, you will already have mastered certain skills: gauging length and width of the motorhome vis-à-vis the surroundings, using mirrors more often, being aware of the blind spot and paying extra attention when you reverse and park with a missing or unusable interior mirror.
But what if you take your motorhome into the mountains for the very first time? Our first recommendation: forget about “eco driving” or “energy-efficient driving” for a while. The heart of this driving style is driving economically and environmentally consciously, by having the motorhome roll out, shifting up quickly and driving in high gear with low revs. This works fine under normal circumstances, but is unsuitable and sometimes even dangerous when driving uphill. And that doesn’t even yet factor in the specific characteristics of a motorhome. Additionally, it’s bad for the engine to deliver top performance with a low revolution speed. “Eco driving” aims at some 1500 to 2000 revolutions per minute in fifth or sixth gear. Contrastingly, when driving uphill you easily hit 3000 revs or more in the second or third gear. So, keep an eye on the rev counter and listen to the engine. This is essential for both your immediate safety and for the lifespan of your motorhome’s engine.
Driving downhill may present some extra challenges to seasoned lowland drivers. When you let your vehicle roll out while in high gear, speed increases quickly, which requires you to use the foot brake often. This may heat up the brake discs to extreme temperatures, which you will soon smell and may even cause the brake pads to burn. Our advice: switch to a low gear and use engine braking to slow down your motorhome. Try to minimalise the use of the foot brake. If you still have to brake, brake briefly and forcefully. This way the brakes will have time in between braking to cool down again. If you drive an automatic, switch to manual, so you can shift gears yourself, and shift down to allow for engine braking. The moment the rev count goes up, use the foot brake additionally.
Navigating hairpin bends is another unavoidable trick you need to master when driving in the mountains. Keep looking ahead, not to be surprised by oncoming traffic. Stay on your own side of the road at all times and keep your speed low, because your braking distance will be even longer when driving downhill.
Descending traffic gives way to uphill traffic. Though not set in stone, this rule is certainly commonly observed. While driving, keep track of tracts of roadside that would fit your motorhome. When necessary, you can reverse back there. At the same time, look ahead to identify places where you can pass oncoming traffic. Remember that emergency services always have right of way (just like the postal service in Switzerland). Furthermore, always drive calmly and make sure you’re not in a hurry. Start off on time and plan short stages, because driving a motorhome through the mountains is a slow joy. Never let traffic behind you get into your head. If necessary, move aside and let them overtake. This way, you keep yourself calm and other road users happy.
Finally, driving a motorhome in the mountains remains a matter of experience. Once you’ve overcome your initial hesitation, you’ll see for yourself that it’s no longer an uphill battle, but tons of fun!