A beginners' guide on how to perform a hill start

No matter how flat it is where you live, the UK's terrain means hill starts are an inevitable part of day-to-day driving in the UK. 

Whether you are a learner or an experienced driver, we’ve outlined how to master hill starts in manual and automatic. 

Hill starts are included in your driving test. 

Hill starts photo 
In this article:

What is a hill start?

 A hill start is where you move off on a gradient. It doesn’t have to be an actual hill – it might just be a slight rise, a driveway that’s at an angle, or any surface that isn’t completely level.

If you’re starting your car or moving off while facing uphill, it’s important not to roll backwards while doing so. This requires steady clutch control to work against gravity pulling you back.

If you roll backwards significantly, this constitutes a lack of control, which can be dangerous both to you and other road users. This may be recorded as a fault in your test. This can seem daunting, but with practice, you will be able to perform a hill start easily. 
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How to perform a hill start in a manual car

Here we’ll look at how to start on an incline, whether you’re driving a car with manual or automatic transmission.

If you’re driving a manual car, performing a perfect hill start is all in the clutch control.

Before performing a hill start, your parking brake should be fully engaged. This is what stops you from rolling back.

You should press the clutch to the floor and put the car in first gear. Then press gently on the accelerator until you’re maintaining steady revs, and bring the clutch up to its biting point. When you’ve reached this point, the car will usually rise slightly, feeling like it’s ready to move.

You should remember your MSPSL routine here, and check it’s safe to go. When you’re confident it’s safe to move off, release the parking brake, and ease the clutch pedal up while keeping the revs steady. The car should start slowly moving forward. Gradually release the clutch and push down on the accelerator to propel the car forward.

You’ll find that you need more revs on steeper inclines to keep the car moving. Likewise, you may have to stay in lower gears for longer. This is because you need more power to go uphill, and should work up sufficient momentum before shifting up a gear.

Find out more about clutch control, including how to find the bite

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How to perform a hill start in an automatic car

Automatic cars can be seen to be more reliable than manual to perform hill starts because there's no clutch. Taking out clutch control from the process makes it a lot easier.

In addition, when the gearbox is in drive (D), the car will propel itself slowly forward automatically. Automatic cars can still roll back on a hill, if you’re in gear, you shouldn’t roll backwards when you take off the parking brake. If you do start rolling backwards, you can gently apply the accelerator to correct this.

In addition, most modern automatics will be fitted with hill start assist. This will ensure you won’t roll backwards.

To do so, perform your checks, and put the car in D. Press the accelerator gently, and release the parking brake when you feel that the car wants to move forward.

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What is Hill Start Assist?

Hill start assist is technology that makes performing hill starts easier and is available in manual and automatic cars.. There are sensors in the vehicle to detect when a vehicle is on an incline. When you are on a hill, the hill start assist maintains the brake pressure for a few seconds as you switch from the brakes to the gas pedal. 

If it takes you longer than a few seconds approximately (varying from manufacturer to manufacturer) to find the clutch biting point your vehicle will start to roll back, meaning you’ll have to reapply the parking brake and start again.

If you are looking to buy a car, it may be worth asking if the car is fitted with hill start assist technology. 

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How do I do a hill start without stalling?

When you are new to driving it is common to start your car and stall the engine. The same goes for hill starts. This can happen either because you don’t have enough revs to move off, or because you’re bringing up the clutch too quickly.

Make sure you’re pressing down hard enough on the accelerator to give you enough revs, and gently bring the clutch up to its biting point. Be sure that you feel that the car wants to go forward before releasing the parking brake.

If you do stall, don’t panic. Just calmly apply the brake, and pull up the parking brake to stop yourself from rolling back. Take a breath, and then try again. Getting the hang of this takes practice, but you’ll get there soon enough.

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How do I do a hill start facing downhill?

Hill starts facing downslope tend to be easier, because gravity is working with you rather than against you. You still need to be careful though, as you don’t want to move off too quickly.

With a downhill hill start, you need to be ready with the footbrake. After your usual checks, put the car in first gear. If the gradient is quite steep, you can even skip a gear and put it in second.

Keep the clutch depressed, and press down gently on the brake. This will stop the car from rolling forwards when you take off the parking brake. Check you’re safe to go, then release the parking brake. Bring up the clutch to its biting point.

When the car begins to move, take your foot off the brake and apply it gently to the accelerator. The downhill momentum means you should be able to move into second quite quickly, if you aren’t in it already. It’s best to stay in low gears when travelling downhill though, as you maintain better control of the vehicle.

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Will I need to perform a hill start in my driving test?

Yes. You’ll be asked to pull over and then pull away at least three times during your practical driving test. These include normal stops at the side of the road, pulling out from behind a parked vehicle and – yes – a hill start.

Your examiner will be looking for control of the vehicle at all times during the hill start. Don’t assume you’ve failed if you roll back a few centimetres during the hill start, as this may only constitute a minor fault. However, if you lack sufficient control that you could endanger another road user – or yourself – then it’s likely to constitute a fail.

For this reason, even if you live in a flat area, it’s important to practise hill starts regularly before taking your test. If you’re not entirely comfortable with them, ask your driving instructor to concentrate on these in advance of your test. Make sure you keep practising until you are.

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Test ready: how will I pass on hill starts

Hill starts are just one of the manoeuvres you need to pass your driving test.

We have outlined the key check points:

  • Use the MSM routine
  • Check your blind spot for traffic and pedestrians
  • Make balanced use of the accelerator, clutch, brakes and steering
  • Use the appropriate gear
  • Avoid rolling back
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