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How to Reverse a Trailer

June 16, 2017

Learning how to reverse a trailer is one of those life skills that all-too-often gets put in the too hard basket, and left there.

So we teamed up with four-wheel driving expert and founder of TTG Trailers, Scott Ivey to show you it’s really not that hard to reverse a trailer — all it takes is some patience and a bit of practice.

Getting ready to reverse a trailer

Before you start reversing your trailer, there are a few things you can do in preparation to make the process easier.

Before you even consider reversing your trailer, you need to check that all mechanical and electrical connections are secure and functioning correctly. Electrical connections are vital: if your reverse lights aren't working people nearby won't know you are planning to reverse.

reverse lights how to reverse a trailer

Positioning your vehicle correctly before you start to reverse will make the whole manoeuvre so much easier. Try to keep your chosen parking space on the driver’s side of your vehicle. This gives you a much better view of the trailer, using the right-hand wing mirror and driver’s side window.

Next, adjust your mirrors so that you have a good view of both sides of your vehicle and your trailer as it moves into view. If you are towing a large trailer like a caravan or camper trailer, side mirror extenders are a great option.

If you are backing a trailer for the first time, take a mate with you and get them to act as a spotter. They can stand at the rear of the vehicle and direct you, helping you to correct and line things up perfectly. Even drivers who are experienced at reversing trailers will use a spotter to take some of the stress out of the situation.

Most importantly, practice! Before you reverse a trailer in built up areas, practice in an open parking space, or somewhere there is plenty of room to manoeuvre. Reversing in a built up area is always more stressful, so work up to reversing in busy areas.

The mechanics of reversing a trailer

Learning how to back a trailer is often difficult to get your head around at first. That’s because the trailer (frustratingly) moves the opposite way you expect it to go. The trailer’s hitch point acts as a pivot: any force applied by your vehicle at that point will cause it to pivot, sending the rear of the trailer in the opposite direction.

To reverse a trailer, you effectively have to turn the wheel of your vehicle the opposite direction you want the trailer to go, e.g. if you turn the wheel left, the trailer will go right; if you turn the trailer right, the trailer will go left.

Top tip: one way to get around this is to reposition your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. Now when you move you hand right, the trailer will go right, and vice versa.

reversing a trailer

Step by step: how to reverse a trailer

  1. Pull up with your parking space on the driver’s side, ensuring the trailer and your vehicle are completely straight before coming to smooth stop.

  2. Put your vehicle into reverse and start to slowly ease the trailer back keeping it straight at first.

  3. Keeping your eyes on your wing mirrors, start to rotate the wheel. In this example we are rotating the wheel to the left to move the trailer to the right.

  4. As the trailer starts to come into view, ease the wheel back towards the 12 o'clock position, allowing your vehicle to ‘follow’ the trailer. If you over-correct or push the trailer at too great an angle, stop, and straighten up. You can always do it again. Remember: just take it slow.

  5. As the trailer rolls into the space, come to a smooth stop. At this point you can always move forward a bit to straighten up and reverse back again to finish with your tow vehicle and trailer in one straight line.

  6. Hit the brakes, put your vehicle in park, and engage the handbrake. Done.

hitch point reversing a trailer

Things that can go wrong

Jackknifing – this is when the trailer kicks around as far as the hitch will allow. If your vehicle jackknifes you will not be able to reverse any further and will have to straighten up and start again. Use slow controlled movements to avoid this, as it can be dangerous to those around you and could cause damage to your trailer’s hitch point.

Reversing too far – it’s hard to see what’s going on all the way back there. Don’t be afraid to call on a friend for help, and feel free to jump out of your vehicle and check your progress. If you are reversing with a lot of traffic around you'll want to complete the action as quickly as possible, but don’t let other people’s impatience force you into making a mistake. This is where it’s important that you have practiced (a lot) before attempting reversing manoeuvres in a busy environment.

Some modern trailers and vehicles come with reversing cameras which really make the whole process much safer, and easier.

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