Learner drivers often get very nervous when faced with the challenge of moving off safely and under control on a hill. Even a slight roll backwards can invoke a mild panic in the learner which can lead to exaggerated stamping on the brake pedal and further anxiety about the hill start. Following the tips below will help improve your hill start technique on the steepest of hills and in any traffic conditions.
Hill start mastery starts with the ability to confidently engage and disengage the handbrake. To engage the handbrake it is best practice to use your thumb to hold in the handbrake’s button before you pull up the handbrake itself. A brisk pull upwards is better than a slow one as it is easier to get the handbrake up to it’s maximum height using this technique. As soon as the handbrake is all the way up, release the button before you let go of the handbrake.
If you do this movement correctly the operation will be almost silent. If you do not hold the button in long enough, you will hear the sound of the handbrake’s ratchet mechanism as you engage it. This causes unnecessary wear & tear of the handbrake and can weaken it over time.
On to the hill start. When moving off on level ground, you will be accustomed to setting the gas so the engine produces a ‘lively even hum’. When moving off for an uphill start, you should set the gas so that then engine produces a different sound. Just beyond the point of a lively even hum, a little more gas will make the engine produce the sound of a low growl. Once you hear this sound, bring the clutch up until you feel it reach biting point.
To remove any chance of rolling backwards, make sure your car’s bonnet has started to raise up. At this point the car is trying to move forward and the only thing stopping it is the handbrake. So, after doing your normal safety checks (and signal), you can confidently release the handbrake without rolling back.
The best technique for releasing the handbrake is a little counterintuitive. Pressing in the button, give the handbrake a slight tug upwards before lowering it all the way down. Keep the button pressed in until the handbrake is all the way down. With the handbrake all the way down, gently press down on the gas pedal while slowly easing off the clutch. This will result in a smooth, controlled hill start with absolutely no roll back.