How to hill start while towing a horse trailer

  • Q: I struggle to do smooth hill starts when I am towing my trailer. Can you give me some tips?

    Motoring journalist John Henderson replies: There is a technique that makes it easier if your tow car has a rev counter (see, you always wondered what it was for).

    Practise hill starts without a horse on board, but tomake it more realistic, add weight, such as straw bales.

    The idea is not to juggle two pedals at once as you start off. Find out the engine speed at which it develops torque peak, which should be in the handbook.

    Torque is the engine’s pulling power, given as lb, ft or Nm (Newton meters). As an example, let’s assume your engine’s torque peak is at 2,000rpm (revolutions per minute or revs).

    Find a gentle hill and stop with the handbrake on and the clutch down. Bring your throttle foot down until the engine is running at around 2,000rpm.

    Slowly bring the clutch foot up until the revs drop, then release the handbrake while moving only the clutch to keep the engine around 2,000rpm as the car pulls away.

    Only start moving the throttle when the clutch is almost fully out.

    If you haven’t got a rev counter you’ll have to judge your engine’s torque peak by finding the right engine sound through trial and error, but the basic technique still works.

    Automatic vehicles generally sort themselves out on hill starts and will not roll back if the handbrake is released too soon, though be careful not to stall if the hill is very steep.

    As a last resort, on extremely steep hills or if your trailer is very heavy, some off-roaders can be started off in the low-ratio gearbox, changing to high when you’re on the move.

    However, this usually only applies to manual vehicles and the technique varies, so check your handbook before trying this.

    The usual method is called double de-clutching and is how all gear changing was once done, but this needs a lot of practise because it’s quite hard to do smoothly, even in a solo car.

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