How To Back a Trailer

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May 1, 2011
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One of the most frequently asked questions we get is from customers who may not have much experience in backing up a trailer. Admittedly, this is a learned skill, kind of like riding a bike. Many campgrounds have ‘pull through’ campsites. If you don’t want to learn how to back a trailer, this is a good option, look for a site with a pull through, you don’t have to go backwards.

Backing a trailer is not difficult however, and with a few minutes of practice before you leave our lot, you can master this skill and be able to brag to your friends! You may even have a cheering section. We had a family from France vacationing in the US who picked up a trailer on Memorial Day Friday. This is a very busy day for us, and after all of our customers are gone, we often have a couple of cold ones with all of our staff. The visitors picked up late in the day, we gave them a bit of instruction, and then they wanted to practice in our lot before leaving. As the wife began to become more proficient at this new skill, our staff would erupt in loud cheering. Everybody had a good laugh, and then our new friends got on their way.

Probably the first decision is what position you prefer; facing forward and using your mirrors, or turning around to look out your back window. There is not a right or wrong answer to this question, just whatever is comfortable to you. To begin, give yourself a good chance to be successful. Pull your vehicle straight ahead so that the vehicle and the camper are lined up straight with each other. Try to pull ahead so that you are angled in the general direction you want to back the trailer. If you start with the camper crooked, you make the difficulty in backing up much greater. Next, make sure that you have a spotter behind the camper to help guide you and warn you of obstructions such as rocks, trees, posts, etc. One trick I always teach is to place your steering hand on the bottom of your steering wheel. If you want the end of the trailer to move to the left, simply move your steering hand to left. Begin backing up slowly, move your steering hand and begin to get a feel to how sharply or quickly the trailer reacts to your steering movement. The trailer will normally turn more sharply than the vehicle will.

If the trailer begins to turn sharply, more than you wish, this is a condition called ‘jackknifing’. Simply shift your vehicle back to forward, pull ahead and straighten out again. You cannot back through a jackknife position and get the trailer straightened out; you must stop and pull forward. If you continue to try backing up, you will most certainly do damage to both the camper and your vehicle. Just be patient, pull forward to straighten out, and try again. After a few attempts you will begin to get a feel for how the camper reacts to your steering. With a bit of practice, you will develop a new skill quickly. The main keys; begin with vehicle and camper straight, go slow, have patience. Kind of like riding a bike.

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