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What is hill-start assist?

  • We explore hill-start assist systems
  • Do you need them?
  • Parkers explains all

Hill-start assist is a system which removes the potential peril of rolling back into the vehicle behind when driving away from a standstill on an incline.

How does it work?

Traditionally, as you are preparing to drive off on a gradient, you have to find the clutch biting-point and, upon feeling that, release the handbrake and drive forwards, up the incline.

If the clutch bite is judged incorrectly then there is a danger the driver would lurch forwards or, potentially more seriously, roll backwards into whatever was behind on the slope.

Hill-start assist works by sensing the car is on an incline and holding the brakes for a few seconds – even after the handbrake has been released – until the clutch's biting point has been found and the car begins to move forwards.

Generally, a hill start in a car with an automatic gearbox is easier because the vehicle controls the automatic clutch or torque converter. This allows the driver to move away at the optimum point simply by controlling the accelerator.

Do I need it?

It’s a feature few drivers need, but it's one that makes hill starts safer in general, as it reduces the risk of an accident.

As it’s a reasonably inexpensive technology, inevitably an increased number of new cars come fitted with hill-start assist.

Models fitted with electronic parking brakes ensure that all the driver has to do is begin the process of driving off on a hill is find the clutch's biting point and drive away. The brake and hill start assist automatically disengaging at the same time.

Some cars – Volkswagen Group vehicles in particular have a very effective system – feature an additional Auto Hold system for the brakes. By simply prodding firmly on the brake pedal when the driver comes to a standstill, the electronic parking brake – and consequently the hill-start assist – are automatically engaged.

Found on

Almost every manufacturer produces cars with hill-start assist, either as standard or as an extra-cost option.

Similar to

Electronic parking brake

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions