Monday, February 6, 2012
Practice Tips For Backing Up Your Trailer
Q: How do you learn to back up a travel trailer, so you can go places with the girls and be able to get the trailer into its camping spot?
A: The same way you learn any other skill--practice, practice, practice.
We know so many would-be Girl Campers who let themselves be intimidated by the idea of having to back up a trailer, and who seldom go anywhere as a result. Without Hubby or Boyfriend to do the maneuvering for them, they're too afraid to try it.
If this is you, then stop and think about something: Did you know how to back a car up safely and get it into a parking spot the first time you got behind the wheel? Betting not--you had to do some practicing first. Maybe quite a lot of practicing.
Learning to back your trailer is no different. You shouldn't expect to know how to do it simply because you'd like to!
So, here are a few tips to get you started on your course in Backer's Ed:
* Don't start by trying to back your trailer into your tricky driveway--the skills to do that are the very ones you need to develop first. Instead, find a large public parking lot or other piece of ground with plenty of empty room; this will be your initial practice area.
* Bring something to use as markers--whether it's a stack of orange highway cones, or even some disposable drink cups that you can fill with water (so they don't blow away) and that won't hurt your trailer if you run over them.
* It's also helpful to bring another person who can act as your spotter, calm your nerves, and give you feedback and encouragement.
* Begin by practicing your ability to back STRAIGHT. Until you can do that, making the minor adjustments it takes to STAY straight, attempting to back in an arc--which is necessary to get off the street and into a typical campsite--will frustrate you to no end.
* Start with your trailer lined up straight behind you; pull forward, if you must, in order to establish this straightness as a back-up starting point.
* Have your helper set up a straight line of markers on the driver's side, where you can clearly see them, about 2-3 feet or so away from the trailer's tires. Your mission will be to back along this marked line, making the minor steering adjustments needed to keep the trailer straight as it goes backward.
* If the trailer begins to veer in one direction or the other--which it most likely will until you get the feel for pushing a trailer backward as its hitch rests on the contact point of a 2-inch ball--simply stop, pull forward to straighten, and begin again.
* At first, you may have to do this every couple of feet: Stop, pull forward to straighten, and back up again. The more tries you make, the more inches you'll be able to add to each effort. Keep in mind that even the slightest turn of your steering wheel will magnify into a bigger turn by the time the moving energy of your rig gets the trailer moving.
* When you can back straight for a good 15 feet or so, set the markers a few feet farther out to the side, and begin to practice backing toward or away from the line of them. This is the introduction to learning how to maneuver around an arc and into a camping site.
* Make note of which way your trailer goes when you turn the wheel right or left. Tip: If you steer by holding the top of the wheel, turning it right will make the trailer go left, and vice versa. But if you steer by holding the bottom of the wheel, turning it right will make the trailer go right, and vice versa. Up to you as to which seems most comfortable to do--just be aware that the way you learn in practice is the same way you should steer when backing up 'for real.'
* Your helper/spotter should pay close attention and let you know if you're about to jackknife the trailer and hit it with your bumper. If this starts to happen, you're better off to pull forward into 'straight' and begin again than to try fixing things while still going backward.
* Take your time. It's just practice, remember? You'll need to do quite a bit of it before you will get the feel of how much steering-wheel action it takes to send your trailer in one direction or the other. (It's less than you may think!)
* Next--and this may need to be after you have lots and lots of practice at the other steps, over several sessions--have your helper set the markers on a large arc, and practice backing up while following the arc. This is the skill that will enable you to leave a street or lane, and back in an arc to get into your camping site. Start with a set of markers on your driver's side, backing an arc to the left.
* When you can manage that, set them on the passenger's side, and back an arc to the right. You'll have to use your passenger-side mirror, upping the degree of difficulty, but this is also necessary to learn, because you won't always have the chance to left-arc into a camping site. If you must pull forward and straighten up again and again, because the trailer has arced too hard, then do so, and don't make your steering action so drastic the next time you try it.
* Finally, using the skills you've developed, practice backing into one of the parking slots at the farthest, emptiest end of a parking lot. This will be the equivalent of backing into a campsite. The white or yellow lines on the asphalt will be no different than the lines you worked with using the markers. Give yourself plenty of time, take it slow, and you'll be able to do it, even if you have to make 20 attempts.
Get busy, get practicing, and we'll see you at a campground sooner rather than later!