Driving the TCH
THE STARTER - Lord Seno (The Freeman) - August 26, 2019 - 12:00am

The Transcentral Highway, which transverses the mountains from Cebu City to Balamban Town in the West is becoming a favorite getaway for motoring aficionados. The 47 kilometer Highway Metro Manila is now easily swallowed up in just 4-5 hours, most of which are on highway roads.

While most of us lowlanders are fairly familiar with city roads and relatively flat provincial roads, the Transcentral Highway(TCH) can be a different challenge entirely. The steep inclines matched with some sharp and blind turns make the Highway a risky path for those who have less knowledge in mountain driving.

Being an avid mountain pass aficionado since the very first year the TCH was paved, I took the liberty of writing a short guide on how to tackle this Highway.  Here are some tips:

Prepare your car

Driving up mountains will put a heavy load on your car, especially if you plan to do spirited driving. Things to check first are the brakes components.  The brakes work extra hard when the car is maneuvering a steep downward incline, and these tend to overheat and lose braking power. Before you go up, make sure the brake fluid is still in good condition, no discoloration and is at the right volume level.  Check the brake rotors and the pads themselves to make sure they are in tip top shape. Better yet, have it serviced.

Other fluids to check-on are the coolant in the radiator, the engine oil and the power steering fluid. The fluids are essential to keep the car running in full order.

Next to check are the tires. Make sure you have enough tread thickness and inflated at the right tire pressures.  Tires that don’t have enough tread thickness are dangerous especially in the rain.

Its best to have it serviced first if you’re not that savvy on DIY.

Keep focused

Mountain roads are full of blind corners and sharp turns that will catch you off guard. The scenery can also distract you from driving.  If you keep your focus, this will allow you to prepare to make any evasive action in case there’s a car parked on the side of the road, an oncoming car overshoots a turn, a fallen boulder, etc.

Stay in your lane

The TCH is barely four lanes and really just two lanes in some sections. Staying in your lane is important.  It’s easy to overshoot sharp corners, so it’s essential to stay in your lane. You may also encounter a vehicle on your side of the road going downhill a lot of times.  Give way when this happens.

There are sections with double lines which only mean that overtaking is not allowed.  These were put there by road engineers who take into account the corresponding visibility, angle and grade of the roads and the succeeding turns to determine if it’s safe to overtake.

Managing Brakes and Gears

You have to remember that brakes are metal parts and it’s easy to cook them when you don’t know how to apply brakes in the mountains.  Overheating brakes tend to lose grip. This will eventually lead to brake failure.

The best way to manage your brakes is to aid it with downshifting or engine braking.  When going down a steep road, downshift to a lower gear, managing both the speed of the car and the braking force. Consistent but light touches on the brake pedal are better than jamming the brakes without the aid of the engine brake.

If you drive an automatic (A/T), switch to a lower gear other than “D” or drive.  Most modern A/T cars have auto downshifting features but it you drive a conventional A/T, switch to either 2 or L when going down.

Park safely

The view is amazing, especially in Gaas, Balamban, where on a good day, you can see Mount Kanlaon, in Negros. If you decide to do a stop-over, or buy sweet corn, pull over safely. Make sure your entire car is parked outside the white line of the edge of the road. Poorly parked cars in TCH are particularly annoying to other drivers, especially on sharp curves or steep grades, because there’s little room to maneuver.


The best thing about driving up the scenic mountain route is the tranquility.  The air is cleaner up there.  Its best to enjoy it by rolling down your windows, or better yet, folding the top down, if you have a Cabriolet.


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