Driving up a very steep mountain road with a manual transmission

Preface: I grew up in the suburbs where I learned to drive on a stick. However, I went to college and live in New York City (going on 15 years now), so my experience as a driver is rather limited. Now on to the problem.

I am currently on vacation with friends in Costa Rica. We rented a beautiful house in a small beach town. However, the owners did not advertise that the house is built into the side of a hill. The house is only reachable via a VERY, VERY steep driveway (70-80 per cent incline) which contains several sharp switchbacks. The car we rented is a manual Daihatsu Terios. I’m the only one who knows how to drive stick, thus I am tasked with the problem of getting us up this hill alive.

Opon our arrival at the house it took me five attempts to get to the top of the hill. The engine would stall out every time before I even got around the first curve. I finally made it up by picking up enough speed that I was in second gear by the time I hit the driveway and then advanced into third gear.

Since then, however, I have been unable to get the car up the driveway, almost to the point of disaster. Yesterday the car stalled out halfway up the hill and I could not get it to move forward. It took the help of two locals to do it; one of whom, a mechanic, said the problem was two-fold: The car, advertised as a four-wheel drive, was something less than that; second, the A/C was on. He managed to get the car up the hill in first gear. Is that what I should be doing? Can anyone out there give me some advice on how to get up this hill? I’m tempted to just leave the car at the bottom and hoof it.

Leave it in first gear and rev the engine very high RPM(stay below redline) and turn off AC.

If there is a low range (likely not) use that.

Are you slipping at all or just stalling?

Just stalling. It’s a bit nervewracking. Should I have my emergency break on as I’m ascending, just in case I stall?

No, keep the revs up in first gear. Putting on the emergency brake while trying to go forward does no good.

Maybe you could exchange the manual for an automatic. If not, remain in 1st gear and don’t over rev the engine. And descend the hill in 1st gear also.

How many friends do you have? Perhaps it would help to take multiple runs up the hill with only one or two passengers each time.

Definitely turn off the air conditioning.

My first reaction was to say that you should be in first gear all the way, since that’s the lowest forward gear ratio. However, it sounds like you might be building more speed than possible in first gear on the flatter sections and using that momentum to help get up the steeper sections. If so, then that could be the better way after all, although I’m pretty sure you don’t need to go past second gear for that.

In some cars, reverse is the lowest gear of all, but I suspect you’re not terribly interested in trying to navigate switchbacks on a mountain road going backward!

Don't use the brake when going up, it will only make it more difficult.  Just stay in first and below the red line RPM.  You don't really need to shift at all while going up and you don't need to go fast up the hill, but keep it fast enough that it will not stall. 

BTW on the way down, keep in in first gear to help slow the car down and not overheat the brakes. 

My daughter has a house with a drive like that. I really hate driving up that drive.

Theres a fine line on rpms. High Rs can result in breaking traction and breaking traction on a hill like this means starting over

Know the gear you can climb the hill in. Get there upon approach and stay there. Possibly second gear if not first. The air conditioner does rob you of power…turn it off. Rent a 4x4 and you can take a nice easy cruise up the drive

Back top or gravel?

The reason for climbing the hill in first gear at high engine RPM is because the engine will make maximum power somewhere near redline, not at low engine speed. Keeping the air off lets you use that small part of engine power output that would run the air conditioner for forward vehicle motion.

First gear multiplies engine torque output as seen by the drive wheels more than the higher speed transmission gears.

There is a certain science to it…to many rpms could cause you to break traction and breaking traction on a hills is a bad thing. you want the highest gear possible that gives you enough power yet not so much speed that its unsafe.

Yes, there is a science to it if your car has an engine with a lot of low end torque, but the OP’s car (a Daihatsu) doesn’t apply. With small engines with four valves per cylinder, you usually get the most torque at the high end, usually right below the red-line on the tachometer, or if you don’t have a tach, right below where the rev limiter kicks in.

It does apply and yes there are variables involved

Me: “…if your car has an engine with a lot of low end torque, but the OP’s car (a Daihatsu) doesn’t apply.”

You: “It does apply…”

You really think the OP’s Daihatsu has a lot of low end torque? All I can say is “wow.”

Peacefrog the car is AWD they rented/stated. It is not breaking traction.

If it were breaking traction the car would spin the tires before stalling.

Park it at the bottom of the driveway and walk up . . . or suffer the humiliation of taking the car back to the rental 'cause you can’t drive an automatic and get a vehicle with an A/T. IMO it’s not worth the risk of an accident on a nice vacation to go through this. This is NOT the time to practice your stick shift driving skills . . . enjoy your vacation!