Trailer Tip #2
How To Back Up A Trailer:
Backing A Trailer
It’s easy going forward with a trailer since the trailer just follows along. It can be almost as easy to back up a trailer with a little practice and some patience. At $20,000 to $40,000 more to buy a van that is the price you pay if you decide you don’t want to learn it.
The first step for anyone learning to back a trailer is to learn to back in a straight line. When you go forward, you steer by moving the top of the steering wheel towards the direction you want to go. When you go backwards, you steer by moving the bottom of the steering wheel towards the direction you want to go.
Practice backing in a straight line at a time and place where you will have no obstructions, people, or traffic to worry about. Move very slowly.
The pivot point
The key to why a trailer can seem to have a mind of its own when backing is the location of the pivot point. Look at your tow vehicle and trailer from the side. Which is longer the tow vehicle or the trailer? It is easier to back a trailer using a vehicle with a short wheelbase. That way it takes a lot of distance and movement from the tow vehicle to move the trailer a smaller distance.
When you back a trailer, you are doing two things. The first is you are moving the pivot point to align the trailer to the direction you want it to travel. Second you are pushing the trailer back along the path you want it to go. This can be a bit tricky. That path you take will not be the most direct but will require planning the track back as you move the pivot point towards the desired orientation.
When backing in a tight turn, the driver must be careful not to bind the hitch. This happens when the angle between the trailer and the tow vehicle becomes so acute that they touch at some point other than at the hitch itself. A rear-mounted spare tire may start to push on a propane bottle. The bumper may push on sway control devices.
The forces involved in pushing a trailer around can be quite large. A turn so tight as to have the tow vehicle and trailer touching at other than the hitch point can easily create damage to the front of the trailer or the back of the tow vehicle or anything in between.
Tow vehicle wheelbase considerations
A short wheelbase vehicle as, for instance, a Jeep Liberty, could pivot a single axle trailer without binding the hitch. A Suburban, with its longer wheelbase, could not do this and can make getting into real tight spots a bit more difficult.
Longer trailers are easier to back because they respond to changes in orientation slower. Moving the hitch of a short trailer sideways will change its orientation much more than moving the hitch of a longer trailer sideways the same distance. When more change is required, you have more opportunity to see what is happening and make corrections
Additional Back Up Tips
* It’s easier to back up a trailer if steer with your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. This way you don’t have to turn the wheel in the opposite direction you want the trailer to go.
*Small movements on the steering wheel can cause large movements of the trailer
* While backing a trailer, if you can see more of the side of the trailer than the front you are in danger of jackknifing.
*When space gets tight and crowded and the need for maneuvering high, getting out for a walk around to site the situation can also help relieve stress.
*If you are attempting to back into a driveway and vehicles are behind you: first take a breath and second take your time. You will get it right the first time and you will give them a chance to get your phone number for a future appointment.