Whether we tow a fifth wheel or a travel trailer, we all need to back it into a confined space sooner or later. Some folks find backing a trailer intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. Learn a few simple techniques and you will be handling your trailer like a pro. Take your trailer to a quiet parking lot and practice these ideas.
Use a couple of traffic cones or plastic beverage bottles to help mark out spaces.
Simplify the task by thinking of it in four stages: initial positioning, starting the turn, following, and fine-tuning. Ending up where you want to be is easier if you start in the right place, somewhat forward of the driveway or parking area. Your best starting point will vary depending on trailer length and type. You will only find it through practice.
Tip: Hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, now start the turn. We tend to place our hands at the top of the steering wheel, but if you learn instead to grip the wheel at the bottom when backing, you can avoid the confusion of reverse action. With your hand at the bottom of the wheel, move it left to steer the trailer to the left, and move right to steer it right. Simple. So crank it hard in the direction you want to start the turn and with the tow vehicle in reverse, slowly start your turn.
Once the turn is well established and the trailer is pointed into the target area, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction so that your front wheels are now aligned with the arc formed by the trailer and vehicle. You want the vehicle to follow the trailer in. Again the degree of turn and the timing will vary with trailer length and type. Don’t wait too long or you can jack-knife and might need to start over.
As you continue backing up, keep an eye on the alignment of the trailer to the parking area. Keeping your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, make small adjustments left or right as needed. A co-pilot providing hand signals or coaching you via two-way radio can be a big help. You may need to get out and check yourself, especially if you are solo or your vision is obscured. Better to get out and look than to damage your trailer on an obstruction or overhead branch. If you start to get off track, pull forward and adjust. Don’t try to over-correct with large turns. As you continue backing, straighten out your vehicle to align it with the trailer, then just ease on in.
Remember, this will all get easier with practice, practice, practice.