How to perform a hill start
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What is a hill start?
You perform a hill start anytime you move off a gradient or slope. This could be uphill or downhill, on roads with a steep incline or surfaces with a slight rise. Essentially, you perform a hill start when you move off on a road that isn’t level.
What type of skills do you need to perform a hill start safely?
Maintaining control of your vehicle when moving off a hill is important, especially if there are parked cars and pedestrians nearby. To safely complete the manoeuver, you need good coordination between the gears, pedals and handbrake.
You also need good observational skills as well. For example, if you focus all your attention on not rolling back, you could move off into the path of another road user and cause a serious accident.
When might you have to perform a hill start?
You’re not alone if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a hill start is moving off from the side of the road up a steep hill. Although this happens occasionally, it’s not the only situation when you’ll need to perform this manoeuvre. Here are a few others;
- When leaving a sloped driveway
- Moving off at a sloped junction
- Moving off in traffic on a hill
How to perform a hill start in a manual car: Going uphill
- Clutch down
- Select first gear
- Set the gas
- Slowly raise the clutch
- Release the handbrake
- Keep your feet still
Push the clutch pedal as far as it will go to engage the clutch. If you cannot push the clutch pedal down completely, you won’t be able to put the car in gear, and this could lead to stalling when you move off.
If you cannot reach the pedal, you can adjust your seat by pulling it closer to the steering wheel.
Select first gear
With the clutch pedal pushed right down, move the gear stick to the left and then up. This will select first gear. If the clutch pedal isn’t down, you may hear a strange noise when you try to change gear.
Set the gas
Push the accelerator down about the width of a pound coin and hold it there. When you push the accelerator, the rev counter will move, so keep an eye on this dial and aim for around 1,500 revs per minute.
You might need more gas if you’re going up a steep hill, so in that situation aim for around 2,000 revs per minute
Slowly raise the clutch pedal
Once you’re in gear and you’ve set the gas, slowly raise the clutch pedal till you reach the biting point. If you raise the clutch pedal too quickly, you could end up stalling the vehicle and rolling back down the hill.
You’ll know you’ve reached the biting point when the sound of the engine changes and the rev counter drops to around 1,000 revs per minute.
Release the handbrake
Check all around to ensure it’s safe, then release the handbrake to move off. Keep your feet still as you do and resist the urge to release the clutch pedal. If you take your foot off the clutch pedal too quickly, you could end up stalling. Good clutch control is essential when performing a hill start.
If the handbrake is released when you’re not at your biting point, the vehicle could roll back and endanger pedestrians, parked vehicles or other road users nearby.
Keep the clutch pedal low
Your vehicle will need to work harder if you’re going up a steep hill. Keep the clutch pedal low, remain in first gear and gently push down on the accelerator till your vehicle picks up speed. Slowly release the clutch pedal as you move up the hill towards level ground.
If you’ve stopped for a few seconds on a hill, you can keep your vehicle stationary without using the handbrake. To do so, get to the biting point, set the gas and keep your feet still. As long as you keep both pedals still, gravity will cancel out the force of the engine, and your vehicle will remain stationary. The technique can also help prevent stalling, as you’ve already prepared the car to move.
Although useful in certain situations, this technique puts pressure on the clutch plates, leading to additional wear and tear. We recommend using the handbrake to secure the car if you’ll be waiting for more than a few seconds.
How to perform a hill start in a manual car: Going downhill
- Clutch down
- Select gear
- Press and hold the footbrake
- Release the handbrake
- Slowly release the footbrake
Whether you’re going uphill or downhill, you’ll need to press the clutch pedal right down before you can put the car in gear.
On steep hills, you can select second gear instead of first, as your vehicle will pick up speed as you move off downhill. If the hill isn’t that steep, you can select first gear as you normally would.
Press and hold the footbrake
Once you’re in gear, you need to press and hold down the brake pedal. It’s important to push the brake pedal right down, as this will stop the car from rolling downhill when you release the handbrake.
Release the handbrake
With the brake pedal pushed down, look around your vehicle to ensure it’s safe, then release the handbrake.
Slowly release the footbrake
When you’re sure it’s safe, slowly release the footbrake, and your vehicle will start to move. Keep the brake pedal low to control your speed when driving downhill.
How to perform a hill start in an automatic car: Going uphill
Press the footbrake
The process is a little different when moving off uphill in an automatic car. To start with, push the brake pedal down as far as it will go.
Put the car in drive
Next, select ‘drive’. You engage this gear on most automatic cars by pulling the gearstick towards you. Once you’re in gear, observe all around your vehicle before moving on to the next step.
Release the parking brake
Release the parking brake when you’ve checked your mirrors and blind spots. You need to make sure it’s safe before you eventually move off.
Slowly release the footbrake
Then, slowly release the brake pedal, and you should feel the ‘creep’ feature engage, and your vehicle starts to move.
Moving off in an automatic car that doesn’t have the creep feature
If your vehicle doesn’t have a ‘creep’ mode, you can use left foot brake control to stop your vehicle from rolling back. To do so, push the brake pedal down with your left foot and use your right foot to set the gas before you move off. Once you feel the engine engage, slowly release the brake pedal and gently push down on the accelerator if you need extra power.
What is hill-start assist?
If you regularly drive in an area with lots of hills, investing in a vehicle with hill-start assist is probably a good idea. The safety feature prevents you from rolling backwards by automatically detecting when you’re on a hill and then holding your vehicle stationary for a few seconds as you move your foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator.
The feature works like a mini-handbrake. However, you do not have to pull any levers or press any buttons once you’ve activated the setting. Perfect for when you’re inevitably stuck in traffic while travelling uphill.
Hill starts on your driving test
You may have to perform a hill start on your driving test. Depending on the location of your test centre, you may have to do so several times. You must maintain control of your vehicle when moving off on a hill, and only move off when you’re sure it’s safe.
Why is it important?
If you’re driving a manual car, you’ll need good coordination between the accelerator, brake and clutch pedal when moving off on a hill. You could endanger other road users or damage property if you lose control of your vehicle and it rolls back.
What does the driving examiner expect from you?
- Good all-around observation before moving off.
- Excellent coordination, so you’re able to move off without rolling backwards.
- Control of the vehicle when moving off downhill.
- Stalling when trying to move off.
- Allowing the vehicle to roll back when moving off uphill.
- Failing to apply the handbrake or only pulling the handbrake up halfway.
- Moving off uphill without setting the gas.
- Coming up off the clutch too soon.
- Losing control of the vehicle when moving off downhill.
- Always use the POM routine when preparing the vehicle to move off on a hill or slope.
- If you have stopped on a hill, make sure you apply the handbrake, as this will help you move off without rolling backwards.
- Pull the handbrake up as far as possible to secure the vehicle. You’ll know it’s in position when you hear a clicking sound and the lever feels fixed in place,
- Set the gas first, and then find your biting point. Keep your both feet still once you’ve reached this point.
- Complete the 6-point check once you’ve prepared the car to move. Once you’re sure it’s safe to make progress, release the handbrake and allow your vehicle to move off.
- Keep the clutch pedal low as you move off, and press down gently on the accelerator. Release the clutch pedal slowly after 2 or 3 seconds, once your vehicle starts to move.
- Following this routine will stop your vehicle from rolling backwards or stalling as you move off.
- Use the footbrake to stop the vehicle if you stall. Once the vehicle is stationary, apply the handbrake and start the POM routine again.
Look behind for any parked vehicles, pedestrians or buildings before you move off on a hill. You will fail your driving test if your vehicle rolls back and endangers another road user or property.
- If your driving examiner has to stop the vehicle from rolling back, it’s safe to assume that your test has come to an end.
Frequently asked questions about hill starts
If your vehicle rolls back, you can fail your driving test, but there’s no guarantee you will. For example, if you stop the vehicle from rolling back in good time and there are no pedestrians or vehicles behind you, you won’t pick up a serious or dangerous fault. On the other hand, if you roll back and there’s a vehicle or pedestrian right behind you, your test will end.
Moving off a hill when a parked vehicle is in front is safe, but you must keep the clutch pedal low to avoid getting too close to the parked vehicle. If you raise the clutch pedal too quickly, your vehicle could stall or pick up speed if the hill isn’t that steep. A low clutch will help you manage your speed and maintain control, but don’t forget to add extra gas if you’re going up a steep hill.
Yes, moving off is safe if there’s a parked vehicle in front. However, you must use brake control to manage your speed. Keep the clutch pedal down and release the brake pedal slowly to move off. Then, steer briskly to move out from behind the parked car.
No, it’s impossible to stall an automatic car on a hill if your vehicle has a built-in ‘creep’ mode. You can test whether your vehicle has this functionality by releasing the footbrake while you’re in ‘drive’. If you have the feature, your vehicle will automatically start to move once you’re in gear and the footbrake is released.
It’s always best to secure the car with the handbrake when moving off on a hill. The handbrake prevents the vehicle from rolling back while you wait. It also allows you to position your feet on the correct pedals, which should help you move off smoothly when you spot an opportunity.