Backing a Trailer, Unassisted

In my last post I discussed a method for backing a trailer when there are two people working together. This is what I refer to as the assisted method. There was a request for more information on backing a trailer when you are by yourself, or what I refer to as the unassisted method. Keep in mind the assisted technique is the preferred method because it is safer and easier to do. But 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 a better view of where the trailer is going. Backing from the right side (passengers side) is your blind side and it is nearly impossible to tell where the trailer is going.

Backing a trailer kind of goes against our natural instincts; what I mean is when you turn the wheel left you expect the vehicle to go left. When you’re backing a trailer if you turn the wheel left the trailer goes to the right. 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. Caution: If children are present in the area ask somebody to watch behind the trailer while you back in.

It is a good idea to place some orange traffic cones along the path you want the trailer to follow, when you’re backing. If you decide it’s 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. By placing your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel you don’t 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 (your blind side). Another important aspect of backing a trailer is to learn when to begin turning the wheel in the opposite direction to put the trailer and tow vehicle back on a straight course. This requires practice, for some people, not so much; for others quite a bit. Take your trailer to a large open area where you can practice and before long you’ll be backing in at the campground like a seasoned veteran.

Happy RV Learning,

Mark Polk
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