I have been seeing and fielding questions about how to get to the site safely. I am the Transportation co-lead. I have over 20 years of experience as a professional driver and 5 years working in an automotive maintenance shop. Take this advice at your own risk, the list is based on my personal experience. If I think it is a potential “Trip Ender” it is in bold.
Please be safe on the journey.
The new site has a number of transportation concerns:
- It is a long way away.
- There are really serious hills through the mountains no matter which way you go.
- You are driving on gravel Forest Service Roads.
- You are probably bringing a bunch of stuff.
So let’s discuss the vehicle first:
Is it new or old?
- You will have fewer problems in a 2019 F350 than you will in that cool 1976 Westfalia that you rescued from your neighbour.
Is it well maintained?
- This one is easy. A regularly maintained vehicle is less likely to surprise you on the trip. Check the oil, coolant, transmission fluid if possible, washer fluid, wipers, power steering fluid, brake fluid and lights before you go. Check the tire pressure. This should be done in the morning when the tires are cold. Set them to what the owners manual advises. Low tire pressures cause blowouts during sustained high speed driving especially under heavy loads. Don’t forget the spare, do this before you pile stuff on it. If the tire is stored under the vehicle, is the lowering mechanism functional?
Has it been sitting for a long time?
- I am not taking my camping SUV this year because it has been parked for 3 years and I didn’t have time to put some miles on it before this trip to make sure it is still a reliable vehicle.
When was its last safety inspection?
- It is getting late in the game for this, but if the answer is “I don’t know”, consider getting it done. Find a reputable shop, tell them where you are going and how the vehicle will be loaded and pay for the inspection.
- A free inspection is not a safety inspection. The purpose of a free inspection is for the shop to find easy, quick, saleable, profitable work. It costs the shop about $45 to put the car in the air and do the “Free” inspection, they would like some return on their investment.
- A PVI (Provincial Vehicle Inspection) takes about 1 hour to do on a small car, and only inspects that the car meets the bare minimum of safety. Nobody is doing one for free. Expect to pay $150 – $200 (more for large vehicles) for a good safety inspection that has your best interests in mind.
Does it ever leave the city?
- Imagine that 5 days a week you go for a 30 minute jog, you feel good about yourself and you don’t have any concerns about your fitness. Suddenly there is a knock at the door, somebody shoves a 30 kg pack into your arms and demands that you run a marathon in under 4 hours through the mountains. This is what you are doing to your vehicle. Be gentle.
Will you be towing?
- Leave more following distance. A good rule of thumb is 1 second for every 3 meters or 10 feet of total combined vehicle length. Round up, 3.5 meters of trailer equals 2 seconds of additional following distance.
- Make sure that all the lights work on the trailer.
- Use the Tow/Haul mode or shut off the overdrive as per manufacturer’s instructions.
- Is your hitch rated for your trailer weight?
- Does the trailer have brakes? Are they functional? Does the tow vehicle need a brake controller?
What are the trailer wheels and wheel bearings like?
- There is a reason you see so many trailers with one tire stopped on the road near Chilliwack.
- Check the wheel bearings, lube and adjust if needed.
- Check tire pressure on the trailer tires, do it cold.
- Check the age of the trailer tires while you are at it and inspect for dry rot.
What is your Gross Vehicle Weight?
- That is the weight of you, fuel, gear and the vehicle. It is surprisingly low on some vehicles.
- A 7 passenger minivan with 7 large passengers and a small amount of gear will be very close to its GVW.
- Overloaded vehicles break down on climbs and experience brake failures on descents.
What is your Combined Gross Vehicle Weight?
- This is the weight of you, fuel, gear, the vehicle and the trailer.
- This will also be in the owner’s manual and can vary tremendously based on option packages.
- Make sure you are not overloaded.
- The police can and will make you go through the scale and the fines for overweight are substantial.
When were the brakes last flushed?
- Brake flushes are not just a scam.
- Brake fluid absorbs water, which has very little effect on the car putting around Vancouver, but becomes very serious on long descents.
- As the brakes get hot on a long drop, water in the brake system can boil, resulting in very poor braking and runaway vehicles.
Next up, the hills. There is no way to escape climbing to this site:
Highway 5 The Coquihalla is steep and harsh:
- if you want to stress test your vehicles this is the place to go. Automotive manufacturers use a loop of Hope-Kamloops-Hope as a torture test for brakes and drive lines.
- If you have a newer or very well maintained vehicle and a reasonable load this is the way to go. It’s fast and direct.
- Be careful on the descents. Poor speed control is the number 1 cause of accidents on this route. Downshift, keep the speed low at the summit and remember that Runaway Lanes are there for everyone, not just big trucks.
Highway 3 The Crowsnest Highway is narrow and twisty:
- You climb just as much, but the climbs are not as steep or long and the pace is more sedate.
- This is likely the route the DPW will be using.
- Expect slow travelling and possible congestion.
- Take it easy climbing and descending the hills.
If the vehicle is running a bit hot at the top of the hill or you want to stop and take pictures, leave the vehicle running.
- When you shut off the engine you shut off the cooling system as well. This can cause a condition called after boil, which can burst the cooling system. 15 litres of coolant on the ground is worse for the environment than a bit of idling.
Gravel Forest Service Roads (About 10 km each way)
- Visibility can be poor due to dust.
- Ruts and cattle guards can blowout tires and break suspension components.
- There are two cattle guards on this route hit them at a slow steady pace.
- Go slow.
- Be patient.
- Add following distance.
Lastly, all that cool stuff you are bringing:
- Keep the heavy items down low.
- Make sure the load is secure and balanced.
- Be mindful of tongue weight on trailers.
- Balance the load left/right and front/back.
Pickups, roof racks and trailers
- Secure the load really well. Straps should be taut
- Drive for about 10 minutes then check again. Tighten as needed and ensure the load has not shifted
- Every time you stop, check the load.
This is by no means a complete list, but it will get you started. Don’t drive when you are exhausted. Have a plan to get home safely. Have a great time and get there and back safely.
DPW Transport Co-lead