By Russ and Tiña De Maris
For new RVers, backing up the RV may be one of the most fearful of all of the “new” things to learn. After driving a car, an RV can look fearfully large. Backing up a rig, even a trailer, is something that most RVers get the hang of with practice.
First, a word on safety: Whenever you’re backing up a rig, trailer or motorhome, you have a big area behind you where you simply can’t see. Before backing into a site, get out and look it over for obstacles (both at ground level and high up, like tree branches). If there are children anywhere in the area, ask someone to keep an eye open for you to keep kids from getting behind you ask you back up.
When backing a trailer, always back in so that the rear of the trailer swings into the site from the driver’s side. In other words, when backing, the driver’s rear corner of the tow vehicle is the one that will be closest to the trailer during a turn. Why this way? Backing from the driver’s side allows a clear view of the trailer; backing from the passenger side is what trucker’s call “backing from the blind side.” When doing a blind-side back up, it’s nearly impossible to see where the trailer is going.
When backing in with a turn, some RVers “draw a line” into the site, indicating the path the trailer should take into the site when backing. You can do this by laying out rocks, safety cones, or even a rope or laundry line marking out the curve the trailer should follow into the site. Trailer or motorhome, pre-spot a target as to where you want the rig’s tires to be when you hit “home.” Set out a stone or other marker that you can see from the driver’s seat. When your wheels hit the mark, stop–preventing yourself from overshooting the site.
If you use a spotter to help you back in, agree on hand-signs before you start backing. Yelling back and forth is a sure-fire way to get into a huge argument and getting nothing accomplished. Walkie-talkies can be helpful, but hand signs work when batteries fail.
The old rule for steering wheel use when backing in a trailer still works best: Put your hand at the bottom of the wheel and move your hand in the direction of where you want the rear of the trailer to go. Mind you, if you’re backing a fifth-wheel, you’ll find it takes a lot more turning of the wheel to “get there” than it does in backing a conventional travel trailer. Still, the hand on the bottom of the wheel is more natural–you don’t have to stop to think “opposite” of what you do when driving forward.
Some tricks to better backing are these: First, it’s easy to “over steer,” and likewise, to hold the steering wheel locked into a turn. This is something practice will help with. Second, take a tip from the 18-wheeler drivers: Don’t be afraid to stop, pull forward, and the back up again. It may take several back-and-forward maneuvers to get into a spot. Sure, we’ve seen RVers who can practically drop a rig on a dime in one move; but that’s more the exception than the rule.
Fifth wheelers, you’ll soon learn you have to pull a lot farther ahead than a conventional trailer if you have to back into a turn. The turning point on a fifth wheel, being above the axle, just makes it take more room to back the fiver back where you want it. Travel trailer folks, contrary to what it may seem, the longer the travel trailer, really the easier it is to back it up.
Take your rig, a spotter, and a bunch of safety cones out to a big, empty parking lot and practice, practice, practice. With time, you’ll get the bugs worked out of backing.
In case you missed our last part of making turns with your RV, you can re-turn to it here.