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How to Back Up a Trailer

Here’s something you might not know about backing a trailer: Whether it is an RV, utility, ATV, horse or boat trailer, a longer, multi-axle trailer is easier to back up than a shorter, single-axle trailer. Why? Short trailers react to steering input much more quickly, and so it’s easier to get them crossed up when backing.

Backing a trailer has a bit of a learning curve. You get good at it the same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice. Practice. Practice. A good way to build your skills before you get to the campground, stables or launch ramp is to practice in an empty parking lot.

The best way to try to back down a ramp or into a camping spot is to begin with the vehicle and trailer aligned perfectly. It’s more difficult to back up when you’re starting from an angle. Eventually you will be able to do that, but for now, align the truck and trailer and take it slowly.

Once you’re in reverse, the first thing you’ll notice is that getting a trailer to go left means steering to the right. That’s because you’re changing the trailer’s direction with the back of the truck. One neat trick is to steer from the bottom of the steering wheel. Then turning the wheel to the right makes the trailer go right and vice versa. As you get better you’ll develop a feel for which method you prefer.

To help guide you, use your sideview mirrors, which, as you recall, are still adjusted so you can see your trailer tires. If you find yourself weaving an S pattern all the way down the ramp, stop. Then pull forward until the truck and trailer are aligned and begin backing up again. This method is often much easier than trying to correct steering mistakes while still backing.

When you are just learning to back a trailer, it’s a good idea to use a spotter. Your spotter can tell you if you’re about to hit something or when to stop once the trailer is far enough in the water. Even after you become proficient at backing a trailer, a spotter is a good idea in crowded areas and when you have a blind spot while backing.

Clearly, no guide can make you proficient at backing a trailer. As mentioned, it takes practice, but it doesn’t take years to learn. After one summer, you should find your rhythm and be able to back your trailer straight in first time every time.

 

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