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Ask a Trooper: Need to downshift depends on transmission

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Q: While driving a sport-utility vehicle downhill in Duluth when there is snow and ice, should one put the transmission in a lower gear? Also, if a person has front-wheel drive, what gear should the transmission be in going downhill?

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A: The State Patrol doesn't normally get involved with responses to questions like this (officially), but I can tell you that before giving this answer, I spoke with some drivers who drive in Duluth all the time. I learned that some people do shift down when going downhill there, no matter what type of vehicle they are driving. I don't think that on ice it would make a difference.

Some drivers never downshift unless they are driving a truck with a load; then you may be required to shift down in certain circumstances and on some hills no matter what city you are driving in. It is very common to shift down when driving in some mountain ranges because then you won't wear out your brakes. That probably would not apply in Duluth. Also, in some areas for trucks there may be regulations against "Jake" braking.

I think the driver needs to know their own vehicle and if they have any questions about this they should contact the automobile dealership about their vehicle recommendations, as it would depend on what type of transmission they have. It is possible that the manufacture's book that comes with your vehicle shows something about this subject and you should at least check it. If the roads are sanded, driving in the normal gear should work just fine. If it's icy, I wouldn't drive on those hills until they were sanded or treated with chemicals, no matter what type of vehicle I was driving.

Sgt. Curt S. Mowers is a regional public information officer for the Minnesota State Patrol.

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