'Round The Campfire

How to Back Up Your RV Trailer

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Truck pulling a Travel Trailer
Follow our tips to back up an RV trailer like a pro.

Learning how to back up an RV trailer is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for any RVer. That's because so many things can go wrong while you're backing up. You can end up hitting other vehicles, fire hydrants, walls, rocks, trees and even people. Indeed, the very thought of backing up an RV trailer can be enough to set even a seasoned RVer on edge.

Why is it Difficult to Back Up a RV Trailer?

Before we learn how to back up an RV trailer, we need to first understand what makes this task such a challenge.

First challenge is reduced visibility. You cannot look over your shoulder to see where you are going as all you'll see is the front of the trailer. You have to use your mirrors. Secondly, when backing up a trailer everything is opposite. You have to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction that you want to go which goes against your natural instincts.

Thirdly RV trailers are equipped with what is called a ball hitch. A ball hitch is a ball-and-socket joint that helps the trailer turn along with the towing vehicle used like your car, truck or SUV. The design of the ball hitch was done so that you don't have to occupy so many lanes while you're turning your towing vehicle. The downside of the design of the ball hitch comes when it's time to back up your trailer. As you back up your towing vehicle, the ball hitch gives the otherwise straight line you're trying to do while backing up a place to break. When that happens, your trailer ends up acting like it has a mind of its own. In some cases, the presence of the ball hitch may even cause your trailer not to move while you're backing up your towing vehicle. This can lead to your towing vehicle and your trailer to get stuck into an L or V shape. This predicament is called a jackknife.

Steps to Back Up a Trailer

With a bit of practice and patience, backing up a trailer can become an easy task while you're RVing. Here are the steps on how to properly back up your trailer the next time you're out on a camping trip with your family.

Step 1 Scooping

Once you have found the site assigned to you in the RV park or campground, drive a little past the spot slightly dipping into the space and out again as you pass. This technique is called scooping, and will give you a better angle to start off as you back up your trailer into your RV site. Here's a short video on scooping:

Step 2 Inspect the Site

Get out of your vehicle and inspect the site where you are going to back your trailer into. Many RV parks and campgrounds have landscaped sites to make it more appealing. Unfortunately, these can also become an obstruction for you while you're backing up your RV trailer. See which ones you can move aside while you're backing up so that you can have as much room as possible. Once you have parked your trailer, put these items back where you found them.

Step 3 Turn from the Bottom of the Steering Wheel

As you back up the RV trailer, keep your hand at the bottom - not the top - of your steering wheel. Maneuvering your towing vehicle with your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel will prevent you from making any exaggerated turns that can cause your vehicle and trailer to get locked into a jackknife position and is more intuitive, moving your hands left on the wheel turns the trailer left when reversing, moving your hands right on the wheel turns the trailer right when reversing.

Tips to Back Up an RV Trailer

1.  Where Possible Back from the Driver's side.

Whether you're backing up your trailer into a site, or just doing a stopover somewhere on your way to your RV park or campground, always make it a point to back from the left side, the driver's side. This will give you a better view of the rear of your trailer than if you're backing up on the right side, the passenger's side.

2.  Use Your Side Mirrors.

Side mirrors can help you a whole lot while backing up your trailer or any type of RV. Even if your RV is equipped with a rearview camera, the range it gives you doesn't give you the full picture of what's going on around you. Your side mirrors can give you a view of the sides and rear bumper of both your towing vehicle and trailer, helping you avoid the possibility of your towing vehicle and trailer's hitting anything on the side.

3.  Invest in Convex Side Mirrors.

Convex side mirrors are designed to expand your view and minimize blind spots. You can find a range of convex mirrors in car accessory shops and RV supply stores that you can stick on the side mirror of your towing vehicle.

4.  Don't Rush It.

One of the most common mistakes RVers commit while backing up is to try to do it quickly. Although it's quite understandable that you'd want to back up into your site right away so that you won't cause any inconvenience to other RVers, trying to rush this only increases your chances of hitting something or someone. Take your time while you're backing up. If you're in doubt, stop, get out and take a look. Also move forward if you need to try again. Don't get rattled if you see another RVer on the road. You'll be surprised on how patient and understanding they can be, especially when the RV site you've been given is quite narrow and tight.

5.  Ask for Help!

Even with all of the technology and gears that you can get your hands on to help you back up your RV trailer, nothing still beats having someone standing outside to help you out. Make sure the spotter is in front of the vehicle so you can easily seem them. You must both first agree on the hand signals that will be used. Otherwise, you might end up getting even more confused than helped. Here's a couple of videos on the hand signals to learn:

In addition, switch off your radio and open your window so you can hear them just in case they are unable to communicate by hand signals.

6.  Highlight the Target

Place large orange cones along the path, on the driver's side and follow the path of the cones using the mirrors. Also place a cone on both sides of the site where you want the trailer to stop. This is especially helpful if you don't have a spotter.

As with any driving skill, the only way to master the art of backing up a trailer or any type of RV is to keep practicing it. This, along with a bit of patience, backing up an RV trailer will become an easy task to do.

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