Posted by: Realist | September 3, 2008

Trailer Backing Practice

I taught my wife and her friend how to back a trailer this weekend. They did great, considering that backing a trailer is not intuitive. I hitched up a 4×8 utility trailer, put the truck tailgate down, and had them look over their shoulder so they could see the effect of their steering on the trailer. I don’t believe in memorizing clever rules (like putting your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel), because they only work half the time. Rather, I like thinking of a trailer like a big wheelbarrow, and simply steering the back of the truck to where the wheelbarrow handles should go. I don’t even mess with “turn the steering wheel left or right” since we all know how to drive. Rather, I say move the back of the truck left or right.

Both women figured out pretty quickly that you have to steer the opposite direction initially to turn the trailer. And both initially had trouble steering too much and over-correcting. The little 4×8 trailer can be quite wiggly since it’s so short in length. The rest was practicing getting the finesse down and slooooowing down. (Why do people want to rush backing up?)

They started out just backing in a straight line down the driveway. Then they backed around the driveway circle. Again, both did great. Finally, they backed the trailer into a parking space that is perpendicular to the driveway. I’d say it took about an hour and a half of practice to get this far for 2 people.

I also taught them that if the trailer and truck get too out of alignment, it’s easier to pull forward, get both lined up, then start reversing again. (It’s not a failure to pull forward!)

I didn’t teach them what I call the “double turn”, which is when even after pulling forward to straighten out the truck and trailer, you’re pointing both in the wrong direction. That’s when you turn the truck first hard one way (to get the trailer lined up), then hard the other way (to get the truck lined up). That’ll be the next lesson. I’m not even sure I can describe it, to be honest. Somewhere somebody must have coined a term for this maneuver.

Also for the next lesson we will be using the side mirrors and the real horse trailer. It’s hard backing up the utility trailer using the side mirrors since it’s only 4 foot wide and not visible in the mirrors. I put an 8-foot long piece of wood across the trailer to make it wide enough to be visible in the side mirrors so my wife can practice before our next session.

Fun stuff!



  1. I need practice like that, especially with what you named the double turn for those times that there isn’t enough room to pull forward.

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