How to Back Up Your Trailer

by Lori Straus

Backing up a trailer is not for the faint of heart. But whether you’re towing your Skidoo or a full-sized RV behind you, you can’t avoid it. We’ll explain the basics here of how to back up your trailer, but if you’ve never done it before, have someone experienced help you.

Be Prepared

First, change your mindset from backing up your car to backing up your trailer. Prepare yourself for that: If you’re used to thinking that you turn your wheels to the right so the front end of your car goes left, you need to add one detail: that your trailer will go right.

Second, get out and look for obstacles along the path you plan to take—both on the ground and overhead. You don’t want to gouge a crooked line into the roof of your gorgeous RV because you didn’t see that low-hanging branch.

Third, roll down your windows and angle your mirrors so you can see the sides of your trailer when it’s directly behind you. A back-up camera on your trailer and/or back-up mirrors attached to your side mirrors will help, too.

Spotters can help you avoid obstacles, but give them clear directions, e.g., “Make sure I don’t come within three feet of that ditch.” Avoid vague requests like, “Can you stand there and guide me?”

Maneuvering Your TrailerRed car and retro trailer, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada - May 10, 2018: Car camping with antique tiny trailer.

The easiest plan of attack is to place your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel: if you move your hand to the right (turning the wheel counterclockwise), you’ll move the trailer’s back end to the right. Move your hand to the left (clockwise) and you can move the trailer’s back end to the left.

Let’s say your camping spot is on your left. Once you’ve pulled up to it, place your steering hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and move it to the left (turning the steering wheel clockwise). Looking out your left window, and with help from your spotter, slowly back up, carefully watching how your trailer eases into the direction you want it to go in.

Whenever your trailer begins to go in the wrong direction, pull forward and then try again. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking to back in when others are watching, but just think of how embarrassing it’ll be if you jackknife or hit an obstacle because you went too fast.

Practice Makes (Close to) Perfect

With malls open seven days a week, it’s hard to find a large, empty spot to practice in. (And maybe practicing in a public space like that will make you feel like you’re 16 again.) However, finding somewhere to practice where you can make errors (e.g., turning too much or not enough) will help you gain confidence for when it really counts.

In the end, whatever your situation, ignore the clock. Take your time, back up and pull forward as you need to, and if possible, have someone more experienced help you on your first tries. You want to enjoy your vacation or weekend getaway, not deal with a jackknifed or damaged trailer.