Here are some tips when backing up your travel trailer or fifth wheel into a camping spot or your own driveway.
1. Small turns
The smaller the trailer the least you want to be moving your steering wheel when backing up. You want to move your steering wheel in slight inches clockwise or counter clockwise. If you find yourself having to stop, pull your vehicle forward and begin your back up again. Pull it forward enough so that the rear of the unit is lined up heading in the right direction. Take your time, ignore on lookers and trust your spotter!
2. Use your mirrors
Looking out your back window only creates a bad habit that will eventually cost you. So, invest in some good extended or attachable mirrors if you don’t have them. The only time looking out the back window is necessary is when you are close to jackknifing and the side mirrors are facing too inwardly for your spotter to make eye connection.
3. You’re parking for two!
When faced with parking your trailer, don’t hesitate to come in from a different approach. It’s not simply how much room you have in the spot for your trailer, but also how much space you have in front for your own vehicle to complete the job! This is a big determinant of your approach to the spot as well.
4. Seeing advantage
When choosing your approach also consider which way provides with the best seeing advantage with respect to obstacles. You clearly want your biggest obstacle (e.g. trees, wall, another trailer!) to be on the driver’s side. You want to back in toward the obstacle assuming you have better clearance on the passenger side of the vehicle. Take the extra time if you need to drive somewhere to turn the trailer around and come in from a different approach.
5. Always, always use spotters!
Always use spotters or park at your own peril. Train the spotter well too. They must be aware of where your face and eyes appearing at all times in the mirror. Like the trucker’s bumper sticker “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.” Use hand signals. Horizontal index finger for left to right movement to control the direction of the rear of the trailer (not the front!) Continual movement of the hand waving back means to continue backing up, and no turning necessary until otherwise signalled. Again gradual turns of the steering wheel and back slowly so the spotter has time to direct the rear so you end up with perfect alignment of your unit. NOTE: If you don’t see your spotter, stop immediately! Oh, and having your spotter yell “stop!” is the most important training tip.
6. Tight spaces
When backing up many people try to straighten the vehicle and the trailer in perfect alignment before switching it into reverse. Sometimes you don’t have the room to do this. The best way to prepare a trailer for back up in a tight spot is to line the vehicle and trailer almost perpendicular to the spot you intend to back up into. “Almost” since you will need to pull enough forward past the parking spot at a point that is best to begin reversing the trailer. When backing up you will know right away that if you turn your wheel to the right the trailer will back up in the opposite direction. After you have chosen the proper direction to turn your wheel, you want to keep backing up until the rear of the trailer is heading in a perfect straight line into your spot. Once that happens you want to immediately swing your steering wheel the opposite way or if you are about to jackknife. (Jackknife just means your bumper or the rear of your vehicle is coming in contact with some part of the front of the trailer.) When you decide to turn the opposite way, some folks call it “chasing the wheel” where it looks and feels like you are backing up in semi-circle rather than a straight line. Eventually the semi circle forms a straight line as you to turn your steering wheel less and less. However, if your approach is off and clearly you can’t correct, don’t hesitate to stop, pull your trailer forward and try to get the rear of the trailer facing the straightest direction into the spot, hit reverse and try it again.
7. Steering trick
Some people get really confused about which way to turn the steering wheel because you are always turning the wheel in the opposite direction. One way to avoid confusion is to hold on to the bottom of your steering wheel rather than the top. When swing your hand to the right, all you need to know is that is the direction the rear will be going. Simple?