Help! House on the 3rd steepest city street in the COUNTRY - 34% grade - AWD? hp.? performance tires

Please help! I cannot find an answer for this online despite researching this for months. I live at the top of one of the top 5 steepest city streets in the ENTIRE country with a brutal 34% grade. Yes, it’s a fact! It is paved with slightly brushed concrete (yes, like a sidewalk, not asphalt.) Several vehicles have blown transmissions or been stuck up here recently. Both newer and older vehicles often freeze when trying to reverse up the incline or drive up head first if the vehicle stops partway (1998 Mercedes E320, brand new Nissan Rogue.) A 2011 Toyota RAV4 V6 w/264 hp in AWD mode tires spun when it was forced to stop halfway and resume.

My life is ruined because I have to park at the bottom and walk up with groceries, etc. My knee blew out in November :frowning: I was going to buy the new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, but the more I learn it seems 4WD is totally wrong for "pavement’ and this particular situation. Next, I planned to buy a new AWD vehicle but again, given that the road is paved, NOT gravel or dirt, it appears to be useless for DRY paved conditions; instead, AWD just adds extra weight and is an unnecessary expense. All my research suggests AWD is useless here unless it’s WET and even then it could backfire on a grade like this and not help at all because the road is paved. EVERYTHING I’ve read about steep grades is ALWAYS about snow and ice, which we’ll never have here in San Francisco. I think I need TRACTION and POWER. I thought a high horsepower vehicle with performance summer tires might do the trick but there’s no way to know for sure. The fact that even the RAV4 V6 struggled from a full stop halfway up the grade has me totally perplexed. I thought it would be a sure thing.

Does anybody have a REAL answer for this specific problem? Over the past 8 months I’ve heard all kinds of BS from people who don’t really know what they’re talking about. I’m desperate. I have a budget up to about $40K and need a new car that can do this hill multiple times a day with no fear. What do I need? High horsepower? Premium performance summer tires for DRY conditions for traction? AWD or not? As can be seen in the picture, it is a pretty straight shot up, but then one does need to maneuver up there to get in and out of the driveway, which is also tilted perpendicular to the main road. I’ve seen grown men with their faces plastered in fear get caught up here. Please help me. I would prefer a small to compact car, hatchback or small/crossover SUV. It’s hard to park in the city with a large vehicle.

Not an expert, but I’d think you need a very low gear ratio, such as a real off-road SUV or pickup has. Technically, that is a Low Range Transfer Case.

ONline, I found this ( Which has a low range gearbox? Just about every four-wheel drive vehicle offered with an off-road package. The low-gear range is designed to provide high torque in low-speed off-road situations, such as climbing up steep hills, crawling over rocks or going through deep mud. You will find that feature on a long list of SUVs that can be equipped for off-road duty, including the Chevrolet Tahoe, Land Rover Range Rover, Jeep Compass, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner and Toyota FJ Cruiser, to name some, as well as most pickup trucks.

BUT, I’d check to be sure that the low range gearbox works ok on solid pavement.


Unfortunately the low-range typically only works in 4wd, not good for paved roads.

texases: thanks, I suspected that.


Are your tires spinning? If they’re not spinning, then traction is not an issue.

I suspect technique might be a problem. Any modern car should be able to handle that grade if driven correctly. If you’re driving an automatic, don’t put it in D, put it in L, or 1 (whichever one you have). That will lock the transmission in the lowest gear and prevent shifting which would interfere with your momentum.

If I were recommending a small car that could do that grade very easily, well, a Subaru WRX would certainly fit the bill. It’s designed to go fast on grades like that on dirt roads. That someone was nice enough to pave your hill will make it a relaxing little jaunt for that car. :wink:

My main recommendation would be to test drive a number of cars. Do an extended test drive and actually bring it home and see how it does on the hill. Get the one you like best.

As an aside, you might want to edit out some of the locating information in there – there are only 3 houses at the top of that hill and we now know you live in one of them. No one here is a serial killer (that we know of :wink: ) but as the forum can be read by anyone, you’ve now told the internet at large where you live, which isn’t always the best idea.

Also as an aside, nice house - - I know this because the Google street view car made it up your street. They use Subarus in California - and they’re Subarus loaded down with a big bulky 360 degree camera setup on the roof.

Unfortunately, low-range is not designed for use on paved surfaces and can actually cause serious damage. This is a very difficult and unusual problem. I’m interested to hear from tire experts about traction.

“Any modern car should be able to handle that grade if driven correctly”

I doubt it, this is extremely steep. My rental car had trouble with some of San Francisco’s hills a while ago, and they’re not near 34%.

It must be a rear wheel drive or a vehicle that if 4wd, is mainly driven from the rear, period. Look under the hood, generally, if the engine is side-to-side, it won’t work very well. It must be front-to-back. Front wheel drive, when climbing the hill shifts much of its weight to the back wheels (especially tall mini-SUV types) and OFF of the drive wheels because you are tilted backwards at such a steep incline. In the dry, that is not so bad, in the wet, no good.

As @shadowfax says, most modern cars (with more than the smallest engine offered) should climb that grade in the lowest gear, no matter the transmission. You won’t climb fast, but you don’t want to. Test drive it and see. If a new car breaks on the test drive, that’s not really your problem, now is it?

I don’t know how to edit out the locating info in the picture. It’s not my photo. I got it from a blogger who compiled a list of the steepest streets in San Francisco. I hate to delete the photo because it really adds to the discussion. When I click that photo I don’t get all that detail. :-/

I am thinking of an AWD Volvo S60. Any thoughts on that? I don’t know how the engine sits. Mustangman is right. One lady who got stuck up here because she got into a situation where her older Mercedes could not reverse up the incline, only got out when we placed several 100lb bags of rock in her trunk on the right side. That gave her enough weight for AAA to reverse her out of the brick wall she rolled into when she couldn’t back up.

I agree RWD is the best way to in this case. A rear engine Porsche - ever see a 911 have a go at the hill? I’d take a run at it in my '04 T-bird - RWD and limited slip rear end. The limited slip rear end might be a big help.

I second the RWD. The driveway, though not as long, was at least as steep going to my grandfather’s house. The driveway was brick. My dad would ascend the driveway in low gear in the 1939 Chevrolet that he owned with no problem. That Chevrolet engine was rated at 85 hp.
I think the Dodge Charger used by police departments is a RWD. It should handle this hill.

Thanks for the tips! No one had suggested RWD until now. I’m looking at my options right now but what about going back down??? I have to do that too. :wink: Isn’t it awfully hard on the brakes? I currently drive a manual and would obviously go down steep grades in 1st gear but I’ll probably get an automatic now. Should I lock into 1st going down too?

RWD vehicle would work best in this situation.

AWD that’s mainly FWD should work if you can lock the differential. I thought the RAV-4 had that feature.

The Jeep 4wd is like the 4wd in my 4runner. It can be driven on dry pavement. But NOT in 4wd low.

What is the hill like when it’s raining. Tires can make a huge difference. Not sure about summer performance tires. They usually have less tread…and more surface area…That’s not ideal for hill climbing…even on pavement.

Why are people backing up the hill? Tell them to stop doing that. It’s a bad idea for a number of reasons.

@texases There are a number of similarly-sloped grades in the LA and San Francisco area. I find it hard to believe that most cars can’t drive on them. For myself, I lived at the top of a mountain in the Rockies for a number of years with unpaved roads that were almost as steep as this hill, and my underpowered 1981 Dodge van managed to get up those roads, even though I was 8,000 feet up and the engine was even less powerful than normal.

A 30% grade is about a 17 degree angle. Yes, it’s steeper than most roads, but it should not pose a problem for a modern car that does not suck. Hell, I bet my 7 year old front wheel drive Acura (and for that matter my 24 year old front wheel drive CRX) could get up that 34% hill just fine. Like @Mustangman said, they wouldn’t get up the hill fast, but going fast on that hill would be a bad idea anyway.

Anyway, @BlackMountainDreamer I hesitate to recommend Volvos in most cases because they tend to be… Shall we say, maintenance intensive, and costly while they’re at it. There are lots of other cars out there that would perform as well or better while being more reliable at the same time. The Lexus IS250 comes to mind - you can get those for under 40 grand if you don’t add too many option packages.

Given the difficulties the OP and his neighbors have had, it doesn’t seem to be that easy. I’ll take the poster’s word on this.

Perhaps, but I’ll maintain that it is probably technique or poor-condition vehicles more than anything. Especially since there’s been so much talk about backing up the hill.

You could park at the bottom and buy an ATV for getting up and down from there.

The only advice I will offer is that you need to stay on top of the tire and brake wear. Going up is one thing; stopping several tons of iron is another and especially on wet pavement. I won’t even mention ice or snow as that’s enough reason to walk or stay home.

I like grades as much as anyone but in a situation like this I’m afraid I’d be moving to an area that is bit more horizontal.

The reason people back up the hill is because once they are up here (headfirst) they naturally turn into our driveway headfirst. The driveway, which is tilted with the grade, is perpendicular to the hill. Because of my neighbor’s fence and a concrete planter that divides the driveway from the front walkway to the front door, it is often necessary to reverse up the hill in order to turn around and go back down. There often isn’t enough room to simply reverse down from the driveway. We have had late model cars fail up here that do not “suck.” This includes a brand new Nissan Rogue and the 2011 RAV4 V6 AWD. Two Mercedes ran into trouble here as well.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been driving a manual transmission for over 30 years. I drove classic cars for ages. I reversed a FWD 114hp Nissan Cube up here by barreling up at top speed in reverse but ran into trouble when, unavoidably, I had to apply the brakes to turn into the driveway. You can’t charge up at full speed and then make a sharp 90 degree turn without braking. I did it. It can be done, but I have no desire for thrills like that multiple times a day - taking children to school, running errands, etc.

The following cars all froze with vehicle instability warning lights on when trying to move from a full stop in forward or reverse on the incline: 2011 Toyota RAV4 in AWD mode, 1998 Mercedes E320, another Mercedes (model unknown) 2014 Nissan Rogue. . .

Wait a second. By “froze” you mean they stopped moving and warning lights illuminated? That’s interesting. Have you tried turning stability assist off? I wonder if the sensors aren’t freaking out because they’re not expecting the vehicle to be tilted like that.