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Colorado Scenic Drive: Part VII

Mountain driving safety hints
High-elevation health tips

Here you learn mountain safe driving and health tips for your Colorado scenic drive.

Choosing a rental car

If renting, chose a major car rental company.

You are more likely to receive a car in the good condition you need for mountain driving from a well-known company.

Moreover, you will also find service more readily available when you get away from Denver or Colorado Springs.

Any car breaking down can be a hassle, but that becomes worse driving in western Colorado with the only rental location of your company for a needed replacement in Denver.

Hotwire and Priceline's "name your own price" option use only top companies.

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Avoid subcompacts. Compacts work fine on the suggested route (see Part I), but you may travel slower than the speed limit up some steep hills.

Driving safely in Colorado

Colorado’s highway engineers really mean it when they post “slow down to . . .” warnings on mountain curves.

Even major U.S. highways in Colorado often lack guardrails to protect you if you are driving too fast around curves.

Take several gallons of water with you in case of engine overheating, but don't attempt to add water until your engine has cooled. Otherwise, your face and eyes may get burned from a blast of steam when you try to open the radiator cap.

In order to enjoy the scenery more, you may wish to drive slower than other traffic. That’s fine, but stay to the right and use pullouts to let others pass.

Braking issues

Go down steep or long hills in a lower gear (if permitted by your owner's manual). You really shouldn’t ride the brakes continuously at all.

Nevertheless, be sure your brakes are in good condition to help you stop. Most serious brake problems in Colorado involve large trucks with air brakes, but you'll also need to put attention on your brakes.

Have your brakes (including your parking brake) and tire pressures checked prior to your trip. If renting, choose a major company, which is more likely to offer newer cars in good condition.

Also, check your owners manual for instructions of what to do if your brakes fail. Should you pump them or just apply steady and firm pressure?

While driving, periodically test your brakes by pumping them several times as you start downhill. Do this before you gain much speed.

When in the mountains, watch for signs alerting you to upcoming “runaway truck lanes.”  Keep these in mind in case your brakes fail.

These sandy lanes go uphill from main highways and allow out of control vehicles without working brakes to stop safely usually in piles of sand. Colorado provides many of these on its mountain highways.

If your brakes fail while driving downhill, try the following. We DON'T guarantee these, but they may save your life.

  • Make sure everyone's safety belts are buckled,
  • Do not turn off your motor—you want your power steering to work,
  • Pump your regular brakes or apply very firm pressure depending on the instructions in your owner's manual,
  • Shift into lower gear (if your owner's manual recommends),
  • Try your emergency (parking) brake (Give it some time to work),
  • Use “runaway truck lanes” (see above),
  • Scrape against a rail or the side of a hill to slow down if not going very fast, and—IF all else fails and you can do so safely—All of these are your decisions!—BidOnTravel is not responsible!—
  • Crash into something soft before you gain too much speed, such as a pile of road sand or a group of very small trees.
Shocked by the last suggestion? Well, you can't afford to get into a situation where you start going so fast that you lose control and no longer have any options.

Staying healthy at high elevations

Your suggested Colorado scenic route frequently tops 10,000 feet. In one case, in Rocky Mountain National Park, you ascend over 12,000 feet. (You look down on most Rocky Mountain peaks.) If you take the Pikes Peak rail tour or drive, you ascend to over 14,000 feet!

Significantly moderate your exercise until used to these elevations, even in "mile-high" Denver. It's best to find out you failed your heart "stress test" in a medical clinic—not miles from the nearest hospital.

Avoid alcohol.

Drink a lot of extra water.

Get plenty of rest—You'll need to be sharp for mountain driving.

Moreover, seek your doctor’s approval prior to your trip if you have a heart, respiratory, or other medical condition, such as pregnancy.

Go to Part I: Colorado scenic drive: Introduction

Go to Part VI: Colorado scenic drive: Overnight stops

Part I, Introduction
Part II, Denver to Glenwood Springs via Rocky Mountain National Park
Part III, Glenwood Springs to Ouray at the base of the San Juan's
Part IV, San Juan range circle tour
Part V, Ouray to Colorado Springs and Denver
Part VI, Overnight stops and accommodation suggestions
Part VII, Mountain driving and high-elevation health tips

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