What Is Hill Descent Control and Do I Need It?

Slow and steady keeps you safe.

byTony Markovich|
Cars 101 photo

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›

Off-roading is somewhat contradictory in nature. You leave the pavement to escape the rules, laws, and restrictions applied to public roads, but once you’re in the dirt, it’s crucial to self-enforce an entirely different set of guidelines. You must always check puddles, know your approach and departure angles, and most importantly, take it easy.

There is a time and place for all-out who-gives-a-hoot off-road blasting. It’s called the Utah desert in a Ford F-150 Raptor. But in hilly or mountainous terrain, you need to slow down, watch where you’re going, and precisely avoid impediments that could damage your vehicle and leave you stranded (always bring a buddy!).

In the past, adventurers simply put their vehicles in low gear to carefully creep down rocky mountain paths, but today, many new SUVs have something called hill-descent control. It’s a useful feature that helps the driver easily get down rough trails. Because it’s not something everybody is familiar with, The Drive’s editors have put together a guide to explain everything about hill-descent control and how it works. 

You won’t need to take notes for this one, it’s pretty simple.

What Is Hill-Descent Control?

Hill-descent control is a driver-assistance feature that holds the vehicle at a specific speed without any inputs while you traverse down descents with rough ground. The simplest way to think about it is super-slow off-road cruise control.

The Gladiator is Jeep's only pickup truck., FCA

What’s the Point of Hill-Descent Control?

The primary purpose is safety. Without the need to worry about modulating the gas and brake pedals, you can focus on steering the vehicle to the safest spots. Additionally, it prevents the vehicle from picking up speed and hitting a dangerous obstacle.

How Does Hill-Descent Control Work?

Once the hill-descent control is active and engaged by the driver, the vehicle will use the ABS braking system, the traction control system, and/or advanced engine braking to keep the vehicle in check. The vehicle will not surpass a designated speed. 

When Should I Use Hill-Descent Control?

Hill-descent control was primarily created for, and is most often used for, going down a steep grade on rough terrain. This usually happens when you’re off-roading. You shouldn’t be using it while traveling down the highway.

Can You Adjust Hill-Descent Control Speed?

The entire point of hill-descent control on some models is to keep one constant, factory-tuned speed, but on others, you can adjust the speed of the descent by using the cruise control buttons.

Popular Trucks and SUVs With Hill-Descent Control

In 2021, it’s surprising when a truck or SUV doesn’t have hill-descent control, as it’s a common driver-assistance feature that comes standard or is available on most new utility vehicles. Here are a few examples.

The Jeep Gladiator is an extension of the Wrangler., FCA

FAQs About hill-descent Control

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: So How Do I Activate Hill-Descent Control? 

A: You should consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions about your car, but in general, you can usually turn Hill-Descent Control on with the press of a button or switch, physical or digital. In some cases, you might need to shift the transmission first. 

Q: Then How Do I Turn Off Hill-Descent Control? 

A: It changes from car to car, so read your owner’s manual for specific instructions. Generally, you can turn it off with the press of the button you used to turn it on.

Q: So What’s the Difference between Hill-Descent Control and Downhill Brake Control? 

A: Nothing. Downhill brake control is simply Hyundai’s marketing terminology for hill-descent control. Other names include Toyota’s Hill Control Assist, Porsche’s Hill Control, and Jaguar’s All Surface Progress Control.

Q: Alright, But What Is Hill-Start Assist? 

A: Hill-Start Assist is a modern feature available on new cars that prevents the vehicle from rolling back when starting your motion while on an incline.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

Featured Products

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com