Backing a Trailer, Unassisted

February 28, 2008 by Mark Polk · 11 Comments  
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Backing a trailer

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 Camping,

Mark Polk

RV Education 101

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11 Responses to “Backing a Trailer, Unassisted”

  1. Terry Moseley on March 2nd, 2008 3:19 pm

    Hi Mr Polk; I have never had a camper before and while I do want a trailer type, I am torn between getting either a 5er or a TT. Mainly, I am concerned with hookup ease of either. I drove 18 wheelers over the road for years, so am well aquaninted with the fifth wheel, but due to the amount of steps in a 5er am thinking more about the TT style. I will be alone all the time, so my question is how hard of a job is it to hook one of this type unit up?
    I read this blog all the time and have taken notes on a lot of the different things you have covered. Thank you for all your good information. Keep it coming.

    Thank you and God Bless ya

  2. Mark Polk on March 3rd, 2008 7:28 am

    Hi Terry,

    Physically a travel trailer would require more effort to hook up than a fifth wheel, in my opinion. You have to manually raise and lower the tongue jack unless you install a 12-volt electric jack, which is an option. And you have to install and remove the spring bars, or weight distributing bars. This could be difficult for somebody with physical limitations.

    Hitching a fifth wheel doesn’t require as much bending and lifting as a travel trailer does, but as you mentioned if steps are a problem, there are usually more on a fifth wheel.

    I guess it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other when it comes to which would work best for you.

  3. David Bushouse on March 9th, 2008 12:50 pm

    I camp alone with a 23′ TT. I am not strong, and one hand/arm has limited function. Cranking up & down just takes a small effort. I put the equalizer bars on when I hook up just after the ball is fastened, then I crank up the tongue support. They have no load on them at that time. The biggest problem is lining up to hitch, but with an Expedition I open the rear hatch, and with the back seats down, I can be fairly straight the first try. Maybe 3 – 10 times in and out to check the ball before it’s lined up. Of course, a campground neighbor might help at times.

    Check for an electric tongue jack. A friend found one from an RV repair shop that had a wrecked trailer for parts. I think about it, but just for the 90 seconds it takes to turn the crank.

  4. mary on March 17th, 2008 2:54 pm

    were getting our travel trailer in a couple of days.. when we go to park it theres about a 2 or 3 inch drop from the driveway to the yard where its going to be parked. should we put some blocks against the curb of the drivewayso the trailer doesnt take the drop so hard

  5. Jim on March 30th, 2008 7:38 pm

    Hi Mr.Polk; Thanks for the comments on backing. I am new to RVing and have a Dodge 2500 I use to tow a 30 foot 5th wheel. I continue to work at backing the unit. I have had a difficult time with my backing, but it is improving slowly. I think that backing to the driver side is a must for me. Jim

  6. Dino on May 5th, 2008 10:54 am

    My wife and I have a 28′ TT and I have an Ele jack installed and I wouldnt be without it since you have to take the jack up and down a couple of times its quicker than by hand. and I also bought a back up camera from wal-mart and camping world has the same one for 119.00 (wal-mart was 89.00) the camera bolts on the the top of the licence bracket and i installed the monitor above my sunvisor, sometimes it has some static but its the best for hooking up alone, i can backup just once and im ready to go

  7. third rates morgage on December 6th, 2008 2:37 pm

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  8. G.M. on December 6th, 2008 2:54 pm

    Great info…

    I use the same hand wheel process when I back up the 31 ft AS. Then we got smart and put the hitch on the front of the truck… works much better with more control… We use a set of hand held radios when working in two’s Otherwise its try and get the thing streight so you can see one side or the other track. Out of mirror … stop and check before hearing that crinkle sound from hitting somthing. Best to have a pre backing meeting so the signals are the same… using a TV camera on the rear might get the tow vehicle wrinkled. You need two of them though one for the back of the trailer and one on the back of the vehicle when you hook up… to see the ball/trailer.

  9. John Shelton on December 6th, 2008 4:43 pm

    Just an additional small tip that was not mentioned in this article. When I was a young and impressionable truck driver and was learning to back up, a wise old driver friend told me, “The biggest mistake that drivers make when backing up is to over correct when making steering corrections.” I found this item to be the most important single piece of information concerning backing a trailer that I ever received. It takes a bit of time and practice to get accustomed to the fact that there is a lag between the movement of the steering wheel and the movement of the vehicle.

  10. Brian Frazier on January 22nd, 2009 9:41 am

    Hi Mark,
    I hope you can help me figure out how to teach me to back up my new 5th trailer that I just bought on 1-17-09. It is 37ft long. I have backed boat trailers and other trailers for years and never had any problems until now. I have a pretty narrow driveway (600′ long). It took me and a friend one hour to back it in to the parking area next to my house. I had to have my friend do it because I just couldn’t get it right. Now I’m not wanting to even take it out anywhere.
    Is there any keys to learning how to backing up that you could give me. Thank you for your help… Brian

  11. flyttstädning stockholm on July 10th, 2012 3:44 pm

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