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How to reverse a trailer

Practical Motoring logo Practical Motoring 1/09/2018 Robert Pepper
a truck is parked on the side of a road © Provided by Practical Motoring

Some people make reversing a trailer look easy. Is it? Here's everything you need to know about reversing a trailer.

IT CAN BE HARD ENOUGH to reverse a car, let alone one with a trailer on the back. There's no substitute for a proper training course, but you can teach yourself with these tips. 

All you'll need to start is a couple of hours, a towcar and a trailer, one at least as wide as the towcar. Surprisingly, larger trailers are easier to reverse than normal ones.  So once you have your car and trailer find a deserted stretch of road, maybe an industrial estate on a weekend, and then: 

  1. Tow your trailer in and drive it dead straight for about 50 metres, so it's directly behind the car.
  2. Stop. Look at your wingmirrors. Note how much trailer appears in each wingmirror. This is your reference vision - what the trailer looks like when it's straight behind the car.
  3. Place the car into reverse. Keeping the steering wheel dead straight, very slowly reverse.
  4. Because the trailer is unstable it won't track directly behind the towcar. You'll know this because you'll start to see more trailer appear in one of the wingmirrors, and less in the other.
  5. When that happens, turn the steering wheel 90 degrees away from the wingmirror with more trailer in it. So, if there's more trailer in the left wingmirror then turn the steering wheel anti-clockwise. 
  6. Continue reversing, slowly, with that 90 degree steering wheel turn.
  7. When the trailer reference vision changes and is almost back where it should be, centre the steering wheel.

You're now backing a trailer, which is mostly about making these small corrections.  To turn a trailer, you make an exaggerated correction the opposite way, then establish a new reference vision for the turning trailer. For example:

  1. You're going straight back
  2. To turn the trailer left, turn the car's steering wheel 90 degrees right (clockwise) and hold it.
  3. The trailer will swing left. There will be a lot of trailer visible in the left mirror, and none in the right mirror. This is your new reference vision.
  4. Now you 'follow it around' - applying steering corrections to keep the new reference vision. This will require turning the steering wheel some degrees left.

That's the basics, and what you now need to do is lots and lots of practice!

Trailer manoeuvring tips:

  • Plan ahead. Without a trailer, you can forge ahead into more or less any small space without a plan. With a trailer, you can easily get yourself into a situation where you can't go either forwards or backwards. Trailer manoeuvring requires a lot more planning, and takes up a lot of space.
  • Wait for the correction. In the example above, a key step was to input the correction and wait for it to take effect. It's not instant.  
  • If things get out of line, pull a long way forwards to straighten everything and try again.
  • It's easy to hit things with a trailer. Don't be afraid to get out and look.

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