One of the most frequently asked questions I get from RVers is about
towing and backing. As a matter of fact, I get asked this so much that
I wrote an e-book on the topic, and we filmed a DVD, Towing and Backing.
I thought that it might be helpful to take an excerpt from my e-book
that would provide some information on backing a trailer. I had to
leave several sections out because this would be entirely too long for
the space we have here.
Backing Up, the Big Dilemma If you're going to tow a trailer the day will come when you have to
back it up. From the time we are children we're programmed to do
everything forward. You learn to crawl, walk and run going forwards not
backwards. For the most part when we drive a vehicle we are going
forward, and when we did learn to back a vehicle it was not that
difficult. It's like if some one tells you to turn left or turn right,
you know if you turn left the vehicle will go to the left. Even when
you're backing the vehicle, if you want it to back to the left you turn
the steering wheel to the left. It's almost natural; you look over your
shoulder, turn the steering wheel and back the direction you want to
go. Not so with a trailer.
First of all you can't look over your shoulder, all you will see is the
front of the trailer. Second of all, if you turn the steering wheel to
the left the trailer is going to go to the right. The
secret to backing a trailer is to learn a technique that does not
require you to go against your natural instincts. When you're not
confused about turning in the opposite direction you want to go it is
much easier to back a trailer.
I want to offer a couple of different options on how to back a trailer
and I feel confident that you'll find one that will work for you. But,
regardless of how good the method is for learning to back a trailer,
the only way you will become proficient at it is to practice, practice
and practice some more. It's like learning to ride a bicycle, almost everybody falls a few times but with practice you quickly get proficient at it.
Can I Learn to Back a Trailer? I am convinced that anybody can learn to back a trailer. I will admit
that some people just have a knack for it. It just seems to be easy.
But for other people it is much more difficult. I feel that it is all
about learning a technique that works for you. Take for example a
natural born artist. They can paint a beautiful picture as though it
were nothing. But somebody without that natural ability is embarrassed
to even try. Now what if we went to the store and bought a paint by the
numbers painting? If you follow the directions you end up with a
beautiful painting. You simply found a technique to accomplish
something you didnít think you could do.
Backing Techniques I personally have two techniques that I prefer. I call them assisted
and unassisted. The assisted technique should be used whenever
possible. This is the technique I used when I was the sale manager at
an RV dealership. I have total and complete faith in this technique
when it is followed properly. If you ever attended an RV show you know
what I mean. You are allocated a certain amount of space and in an
effort to show as many units as possible you had to back the trailers
in within inches of the walls, campers and other obstacles. I have
organized many RV shows and never so much as scratched a bumper.
Assisted Technique The assisted technique implies what it says, that you have a spotter to
assist you. It is quite simple. The golden rule is for the driver to do
exactly what the spotter tells you to. You may want to discuss who will
drive and who will spot, because with this technique the spotter is
responsible for putting the trailer where you want it.
The first step
is to establish hand signals that you both understand and agree on.
Once this is done do a thorough inspection of the area you are backing
into. It is important that you check the area immediately behind the
trailer because for this technique to work effectively the spotter has
to stand in front of the tow vehicle. Now you place an object (small
orange traffic cones work well) on both sides of the site where you
want the back of the trailer to stop at. The spotter will stand in
front of the tow vehicle, in clear view of the driver, and can slowly
walk from right to left checking blind spots and watching for the back
of the trailer to reach the cones. You need to stop occasionally and
look behind the trailer. Small children and pets can wander behind the
trailer without you seeing them. The reason this technique is so
effective is because neither the spotter nor the driver has to think
about doing the opposite when backing the trailer. The first step is
for the driver to roll the windows down and turn the radio off. The
driver leaves their hand on the top of the steering wheel like you're
accustomed to and because the spotter is in front of the vehicle they
simply tell the driver to turn the steering wheel in the direction they
want the back of the trailer to go. So, if the spotter wants the
trailer to go to the right they tell the driver to turn to the right.
The driver slowly turns and backs in the direction the spotter tells
them to. Nobody has to think about it the driver just does what the
spotter says to do. The key to driving is slowly turning and
backing in the direction the spotter tells you to. The two biggest
mistakes made are turning the steering wheel too much and holding it in
the turned position to long. If either of these mistakes occurs the
result is that it will require greater correction to get straightened
out, and if you continue to back while holding the wheel in that
position too long the tow vehicle and trailer can jackknife. It will
require some practice. The spotter will have to learn that once the
trailer is into the turn its time to go the opposite direction to bring
the tow vehicle and trailer back in line.
Do not be concerned if you have to stop, pull forward and start again.
This will happen more than once during the early stages. Try it, and
with practice I guarantee that before you know it you'll be backing
Unassisted Technique The assisted technique is the preferred method. I do not recommend
backing a trailer without a spotter. Young children and pets can wander
behind the trailer without you seeing them. However, you need to be
prepared in the event that you have to back a trailer without
assistance. If the backing maneuver is more than just backing in a
straight line, and a turn is required, try to always back from the left
side (drivers side). Backing from the left will allow you to see where
the trailer is going. Backing from the right side (passenger's side) is
your blind side and it is nearly impossible to tell where the trailer
Earlier we discussed that the reason it's difficult to back a trailer
is because it is the opposite of everything we have been taught.
Fortunately there is a way to back a trailer unassisted without having
to work against our natural instincts. This may sound a bit confusing
at first, but if you think about it, it makes sense and the good thing
is it works.
It is extremely important that you inspect the area behind and around
where you will be backing. Look for any obstacles that may be in the
way to include low hanging tree branches, picnic tables and utility
hook-ups. You need to stop occasionally and inspect the area
immediately behind the trailer. If children are present in the area ask
somebody to watch behind the trailer. It is a good idea to place some
orange traffic cones along the path you want the trailer to follow when
youíre backing. If you decide itís not necessary to mark a path you do
need to place some type of object in your view where you want the back
of the trailer to stop at.
In the assisted method we kept our hand on the top of the steering
wheel and did exactly what the spotter told us to do. In the unassisted
method we place our hand on the bottom of the steering wheel in the
center. Now if you want the back of the trailer to go to your left you
slowly turn the wheel to your left as you back. To go to your right
slowly turn the wheel to your right as you back. It's that easy. By
placing your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel you donít have to
confuse yourself with turning it in the opposite direction. Remember
the two biggest mistakes are turning the steering wheel too much and
holding it in the turned position too long. If either of these mistakes
happen it may be necessary to pull forward and start over. It may also
be necessary to stop, get out and check your progress, especially if
you're backing from the right. Take your trailer to a large open area
where you can practice and before long youíll be showing off at the
I hope this information is helpful to those of you that have experienced problems backing a trailer.