Help me drive up a hill safely.
June 10, 2007 2:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm driving an automatic car for the first time. How should I safely move off when stationary in heavy traffic pointing up a steep hill?

In this previous Ask thread about manual vs. automatic driving a number of posters commented that hill starts are difficult in a manual transmission car if there is someone close behind you. By implication, they seem to suggest that it's easy in an automatic car.

I learned to drive in a manual a long time ago, and have driven stick the whole time until recently. I've never had a problem doing a safe hill start because you coordinate the clutch and handbrake to move off with no rolling back at all. In fact you'll fail the UK driving test if you can't do this safely.

But how can I do it safely in the Canadian automatic I find myself driving now? There is no handbrake at all, so that's no help. Inevitably I find myself rolling back at least a little as I switch my foot from the brake pedal to the gas pedal. In light of the previous thread, I figure I must be doing it wrong. What am I missing?
posted by thparkth to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You have two feet. Use them. Keep your left foot on the brake and give power to the accelerator then remove your foot from the brake. Better yet get a car with the "hill holder" function.
posted by JayRwv at 2:09 PM on June 10, 2007

oops. left out using the right foot for the gas pedal.
posted by JayRwv at 2:09 PM on June 10, 2007

Hm. I use my right foot only and have never had a problem with this. The slow idling speed has always counteracted any rolling backwards. There is nothing you're missing here -- maybe something needs tuning up with the car?
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:13 PM on June 10, 2007

For any hill other than a really, really steep hill, I've always just transitioned my right foot from the break to the accelerator in an automatic.
posted by 517 at 2:20 PM on June 10, 2007

For a very steep hill, you just have to be very fast switching from brake to gas. There are a couple of very steep hills with traffic lights at the top in my town and when I find myself stopped on one, I always psych myself up a little while waiting for the light to change so I can get my foot on the gas quick enough. Of course, this is only a problem if some silly person has pulled up very close behind you, but people seem to do that a lot for some reason.

(If the hill was so steep that I thought I would roll back regardless, I would probably stick my head out the window and yell at the person behind me to back up so I wouldn't bump them.)
posted by frobozz at 2:35 PM on June 10, 2007

It's the same thing there is just no clutch which means there is no need for the handbreak which gives you that extra half second to engage the clutch.

I don't understand how you could have driven a manual and done this without problem if you haven't been able to figure out you can just quickly let your foot off the break and put it onto the gas pedal.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:40 PM on June 10, 2007

Yeah, unless it's, like, a sheer vertical incline, I've always found that the idle of my car nicely counteracts any rollback I might have while I move my foot from the brake to the gas.
posted by kbanas at 2:45 PM on June 10, 2007

If the car is in drive it shouldnt roll back (or this has always been my experience, but I've never encountered an automatic without a hand brake).
posted by chrisbucks at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2007

On some hills, I have employed the "left foot on brake, right foot on gas, give it a little juice, then take left foot off brake" method. It works pretty well.
posted by muddgirl at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2007

Even on fairly steep hills our truck (automatic) idles fast enough that it rolls forward or stays in place--your car can probably be adjusted to idle faster, which would seem to be the default setting for automatics.
posted by anaelith at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2007

I've always noticed my car back up just a slight bit as I go from brake to gas, similar to the shift when I put the car and park and then let go the brake, but it's never been a problem. Just do it quickly.
posted by olinerd at 3:18 PM on June 10, 2007

I don't think I have EVER had to use two feet to start uphill in an automatic. And I live in Montana; you know, it means "mountainous."

If I think there is any danger of rolling back, I guess I just get my foot to the gas pedal faster, being careful not to gun it and hit someone in front of me.

If your particular car does indeed roll back, then the above advice about using both feet is all you need.

But wait there's more... I HAVE had to use 2 feet when my car was not tuned and tended to stall at idle. But that had nothing to do with hills. I had to keep my right foot on the gas any time I stopped, to keep it revving just above normal idle. My left foot had to be on the brake pedal pretty firmly. Is there something wrong with your car?
posted by The Deej at 3:41 PM on June 10, 2007

Seconding muddgirl's method. There was one specific hill in Hollywood where this was such a problem that it became frightening. I just switched pedals normally (as others have suggested) the first time, and the car gained so much backwards momentum during that time that easing in the gas made the tires lose traction (i.e., spin out). So the car began to slip even further. Not fun at all.

I used muddgirl's method (make sure to ease the gas gently *before* you release the break fully) the second time, and it worked like a charm! This method works because you never allow the car to begin rolling backwards in the first place. I'm sure you could use the e-brake instead of the brake pedal, if you wanted to.
posted by blackbeardrrr at 3:48 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how you could have driven a manual and done this without problem if you haven't been able to figure out you can just quickly let your foot off the break and put it onto the gas pedal.

Well, I face this problem every other day. In most metro cities in India, the rush-hour traffic is so bad that traffic jams all the way back on to the rising-end of a bridge.

The way to deal with it, what we call here, is "half-clutch". It means exactly what it says. You engage the clutch half-way, just about the mid-way point from completely releasing the clutch (which will engage the gears and vehicle moves forward) and pressing the clutch completely (which will disengage the gears and vehicle starts rolling backwards). In a four-wheeler you won't even need brakes to stop yr vehicle on a steep using this method. On a two-wheeler I use the half-clutch along with brakes and one foot on the road on particularly steep hills.

OP, like you I too faced similar problems when I had to drive an automatic. So I just translated the half-clutch technique to "half-gas". As others have said, in most-places the engine idling in drive mode, is enough to keep your car in place. But on very steep hills where that is not sufficient, you can keep yr vehicle in Drive and press the gas pedal with a v.fine touch of yr feet, just enough to keep it revving so that it stands in place. Mind you, you have to be really fine, and delicate with your feet. No brakes required at all. It's not v.easy, but with enough practice you'll eventually get it. I actually enjoyed this method.

And yes, as the OP noted, even in India, many traffic officers will fail you the driving license test if you haven't mastered the half-clutch technique.
posted by forwebsites at 11:52 PM on June 10, 2007


The correct answer is to use 2 feet, it's what we do here. It's mountainous enough here that you generally can't see 300 yards ahead of you.

Also, for the hand-brake-technique in a standard, that's also technically not a good way to do it, unless you're towing. The appropriate method involves understanding that your clutch has 2 levels of engagement prior to being all the way out, and know how they feel and sound, and how the car behaves. A *good* standard driver around here can start up a hill (we've got some crazy intersections here, probably pushing 30 or more degrees) without using the brake and w/o drifting backwards...but then we're a bunch of yokels with nothing better to do. ;-)

Oh, and for the record, my mom drives with both feet. When she was being taught to drive in 19xx, that's what they taught. It's only scary as she gets older...
posted by TomMelee at 5:45 AM on June 11, 2007

Oops...wanted to add...issues with the half-gas method:
You're wasting gas...
You're putting undue strain on your transmission (potentially)
and if someone hits you, you're going to fly into the intersection and/or the car in front of you. Use your brakes when stopped.
posted by TomMelee at 5:47 AM on June 11, 2007

Oh, I've also used forwebsites "half-gas" method, but geewillikers, it can be scary depending on the situation, and it's almost always dangerous. Like TomMelee points out, if you're startled and stomp on the pedal accidentally, you'll be out in traffic. (But yes, it is more fun than two-footing it).
posted by muddgirl at 7:00 AM on June 11, 2007

Two-footing in an auto? ... I can honestly say I find the concept shocking. Just ... no. No. Especially with someone used to driving a manual, there are just too many things that can go wrong with muscle memory (eg, how far your foot travels, what happens in an emergency, etc).

For steep hills, I tend to either do the previously mentioned fine touch on the accelerator, or a very quick foot shuffle (almost like a heel and toe) from brake to accelerator. It takes some practice, but both are possible techniques. And neither screws with your muscle memory, since to an extent, they are both techniques use in manual driving. I tend to prefer heeltoe, as it is easier for me to react quickly than to balance the car on the particular slope I hit about 30secs after I leave the driveway in the morning.

If you are rear ended in such a situation, unless it's by something signficantly larger than you, brakes are less help than the inertia of the slope you're on. If you are hit by something that significantly larger, brakes won't help anyway. Best trick is keeping an eye on your rearview mirror.
posted by ysabet at 10:21 PM on June 11, 2007

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