How to Back Up a Trailer – Master The Art of Back-Up with Expert Tips

So, do you want to back up the trailer? Whether it’s taking a motorboat to the lake or dragging a trailer full of paving slabs to the backyard for beautification, you are preparing for an adventure to test your driving skills.

Although the vehicle size, steering ratio and trailer size are different, the proprietary technology required to backup the trailer still uses the same simple technology.

Ultimately, the goal is to prevent the trailer or vehicle from hitting anything and avoid a collision with the trailer and vehicle ending up in a V-shaped position that can cause damage. In other words, depending on the space and surrounding environment, the task at hand will also present different challenges. In this article, I will show you how to back up a trailer step by step.

No matter what task you perform, you can flexibly back up a trailer with little enlightenment. Highlighted below are also loads of useful knowledge and the task of backing up a trailer can be solved with a bit of guidance and a pocket full of patience? To help you back up your trailer like a professional, this guide will help you a lot. Ready?

What Is Backing Up a Trailer?

how to backup a trailer

Although a trailer will be pulled forward within over 90% of its life, when it is pushed backwards, this can cause problems and frustration for the less experienced towers. This skill becomes very valuable when launching a boat, storing something in a barn or garage, providing home improvement supplies, or placing pop-up campers in a state park. Even if you drive forward into the lane, you must back it up!

Read More: How Long Does It Take To Charge A Car Battery

How to Back Up a Trailer?

Here is how to back up the trailer:

  • Check the trailer’s hooks, chains, brakes and indicator lights.
  • Get in the car, step on the brakes, start the car, and reverse the gear lever. 
  • Observe your surroundings 
  • Do pay attention to obstacles and try to avoid fixating on them, because you will do what you don’t want to do; hit them? 
  • Step on the brake and release it slowly so that the idle lot starts to reverse.
  • Use the rearview mirror to maintain the vision of the intended destination. (In some cases, the driver will need to look through his or her shoulder.)
  • If necessary, reverse steer and continue to reverse until the trailer is in the desired position. 
  • Step on the brakes and move the vehicle to the parking position. If this is the final location, turn off the car, release the cargo and pull it away. 

Congratulations, You Did It!

It is essential to understand that the backup may be a failed task at some point and would need to be reset. If you find that your steering action is mainly composed of many irregular left and right combinations, it may be worthwhile to go back to the starting point and try again (this is no shame!). The goal is to guide the trailer through some smooth, continuous input.

How to Backup a Trailer Using Mirrors

The mirror is an essential part of the backup trailer procedure. The side mirrors can help you understand how the trailer moves the wheels. Unless you have a guide or a spare camera, they are also ways you can check to make sure you don’t bump into anything. On the other hand, the rearview mirror cannot show you everything; as many mirrors make objects appear to be farther than the actual objects, and their range of action is so broad. The critical thing is to turn around and observe the situation behind you while looking out of the window. It is also best to communicate with the guide or other people around you.

How to Backup a Semi-Trailer


When backing up a semi-trailer, as long as you turn the steering wheel, the trailer will swing faster. Long trailers are more comfortable to back up. Thus, it’s essential to spend some time. Make some small adjustments with the steering wheel, and don’t reverse it too quickly. Keep this principle in mind when towing your trailer, and be especially careful when towing unfamiliar trailers. Also, whether you are using a personal semi-trailer or a rented semi-trailer, please be sure to take good care of that expensive equipment. It is especially true when backing up. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to reach the loading dock or just parking the rig. Backup is an activity that has a considerable risk of damage and injury not only to semi-trailers but also to other vehicles, properties, and bystanders.

From experienced truck drivers to first-time truck drivers, there is a need to evaluate best practices for backing up semi-trailers regularly. Doing so can prevent costly errors, and the time and effort spent resolving them. To minimize the risk of damage or injury, please keep the following tips in mind every time you want to back up a semi-trailer.

Practice Frequently

If you are not familiar with truck driving, finding a large empty parking lot or other open space where you can practice backing up semi-trailers is the key. Not only will you become more aware of challenges, but you will also begin to develop the so-called “muscle memory”. Your arms, hands, legs and feet will “feel” how to manipulate the steering wheel and pedals to make the rig respond in a specific way.

Observe How Other Drivers are Backing Up 

The more you observe the other truck driver’s backup, the more you understand the process. This is factual no matter where they do it. However, it would even be more helpful if it is done in the spot you’ll be using. 

Use the Steering Wheel as a Visual Reminder

Most truck drivers are familiar with the technique of treating the top of the steering wheel as a tractor and the bottom as a semi-trailer. When you turn to the right, the top of the steering wheel is to the right, and the bottom is to the left, which means that the trailer will be moving to the left and vice versa.

Perfectly Scan the Area

Before you try to back up, stop and look around. What fixed objects do you need to pay attention to? During the entire operation, you also need to be aware of what moving objects (vehicles, people, etc.) you must consider.

Clear Areas of Movable Obstacles

If you feel that the movable obstacles such as forklift are too close to your approach path, please ask for them to be moved. It doesn’t matter if another driver has been passing them without issues. You are now in charge of the steering wheel, which means you are the boss.

Eliminate Interference and Distractions

Turn off the radio, keep the phone silent, etc. Anything that may take your attention away from your work (even if it is only for a second) will increase the risk of collision. 

Use “Landmarks” to Help you understand

Any visual indicator that remains stationary during the maneuver can be used to help you evaluate the approach angle. Things like paint lines or even cracks on the sidewalk can be used as a guide.

Declare your Intention

Make sure people in the area know what you are doing. Before starting the backup, turn on the hazard switch and tap the horn several times. Your intuition may be that if you are not sure whether you can achieve your goals, you can avoid being noticed by others, but despite this, you still need to remind people to stay clear.

Choose Observers Wisely

It is better to have another truck driver guide you to the site than someone who has never driven a large rig. The truck driver understands the function of the vehicle and what you see and feel in the driver’s seat.

How do I stop my Trailer from Swaying?

Although it is impossible to eliminate the swaying of the trailer, taking some precautions before an accident can help reduce this. Here are some ways to prevent the trailer from swaying:

Choose the Right Trailer

A suitable trailer can reduce a lot of shaking. Although choosing the right trailer depends on the type of trailer you use; its size, capacity and total towing load. Make sure that the means of transportation you plan to buy can tow the trailer well. Sometimes, the manufacturer will provide customers with specially designed towing kits, including trailer hitch receivers and other accessories.

Check this site to know how to choose the right trailer.

Stay Calm

When the trailer starts to sway, the best way is to keep driving slowly and going straight until the situation stabilizes. Getting scared when swaying will only make the situation worse. If you feel you are out of control due to swaying, apply the trailer’s brakes manually and calmly.

Don’t Overload the Trailer

Every vehicle and trailer has its weight limit. Exceeding these limits can cause many problems, including opportunities for swaying. Be careful when loading the trailer to reduce this as well. In all, always make sure that your towing vehicle can safely bear the weight of the trailer.

Avoid Driving in High Winds

If you want to get rid of the swaying of the trailer, do avoid driving in strong winds. Also, check the weather before setting off with the carrier. Avoiding strong winds can make your trip safer. If you find yourself in a windy area, reduce the speed of your vehicle to ensure safe driving.

Install a Traction Control System

Setting up a traction control system can help you restore control when you lose traction. With the help of the traction control system, you can reduce the force transmitted to the sliding wheels while keeping the vehicle stable.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are longer trailers easier to back up?

Longer trailers are more comfortable to back up due to their longer response time. Despite this, it’s not to ignore the place of regular practice.

When backing and turning a trailer, you should?

When backing and turning a trailer, the driver must start by turning in the opposite direction. After the trailer begins to turn, you should turn the wheels in the other order to follow the trailer.

Can you back up a trailer with sway bars?

The sway bars are designed to work when turning or not turning and moving forward, but it can’t turn when backing up( moving straight back is possible though). This can and is likely to damage them because the force exerted on them is different when moving in the opposite direction.

Can you reverse with a trailer?

Reversing is difficult with a car, let alone one with a trailer on the back. There is no substitute for a proper training course, but you can learn by yourself with practice and determination.

 If you don’t know how to reverse the trailer at all, relax. Reversing is a relatively simple task. It just depends on making a plan, understanding your surroundings and remaining calm on the task from start to finish. All you need to start is a couple of hours, a tow car and a trailer, at least as wide as the tow car.

How do you get a trailer out of a tight space?

To get the trailer out of a tight space, turn the steering wheel to the far left. Next, let the co-pilot go out and be six feet away from the front centre of the trailer.

At this point, drive forward (as slowly as possible) and keep the wheels spinning to the left. The front of the RV should (rarely/hopefully) miss the co-pilot. Then stop. By performing this simple exercise, you will know the actual distance required to clear the objects ahead (people/rocks/trees/cars). Most drivers can drive out with less than 6 feet clearance as well! 

What causes fishtailing when towing a trailer?

One of the worst things that can happen when towing a trailer is that the trailer may sway back and forth and eventually fall to the side, stopping your vehicle. For many trailer owners, fishtailing is a serious and common problem. It can make driving and transport trailers a sticky, anxiety-inducing thing, where you may lose control of the vehicle. When towing a trailer, fishtailing may be caused by many reasons, such as:

Strong winds

A strong blast of winds from the side can cause problems for any vehicle, and if large trailers are involved, it can become more dangerous, causing it to swing back and forth.

Compared with other vehicles, trailers (especially travel trailers) are more susceptible to crosswinds due to their high profile. Passing large cars can also produce strong wind gusts, which can cause your trailer to shake. Since strong winds are inevitable, the only way to prevent swinging is to prepare the trailer properly.

Inappropriate weight of the trailer and tongue

Another risk factor that can cause fishtailing is exceeding the weight limit of the vehicle or trailer. Placing too much weight (for example, overloading the rear of the trailer) can make it difficult for your car to pull the load. Also, too light tongue weight may overburden the back.

High-speed driving

High-speed driving is one of the leading causes of fishtailing. When you drive too fast, the trailer can become unstable, which can lead to fatal consequences.

At the time of driving along the road on irregularly high speed, even if there is a light breeze, a trailer towed with a hitch can fishtail.

What should be the loading weight of a trailer?

Lighter items should be placed close to the top and rear of the trailer. Your goods should be tightly packed and tied tightly to secure. Similarly, the weight of the open trailer should be packed in the front of the box, and the weight should not exceed 60% of the weight of the cargo.

When towing a trailer on a 65 mph posted highway if it is safe?

Usually unsafe.

How do you reverse two trailers?

To reverse two trailers, make a sharp turn to the left with the lead trailer. If there is enough space, continue to move until the rear trailer is as straight as it can be placed in front of the dock; then, swing to the right to straighten the lead trailer. Once the combination is in line with the base, you only need to insert it directly into the base backwards.

Which way do you turn when reversing?

When reversing, turning to the right (turning the front wheel to the left) while relaxing backwards will move the rear of the towing vehicle to the left and the rear of the trailer to the right. This eventually drags the towing vehicle and the trailer into a rightward arc as well.

Final Words 

In conclusion, backing up a trailer seems to be a difficult task for many inexperienced drivers.  It may cause you to bend over, break your nerves, and leave sweating bullets.

It is also less intuitive until you have done it enough times to make it second nature. For most people, this is not very fast, but with the steps highlighted above, backing up a trailer can be done effortlessly.

Alix Johnson Romi

Alix is the Co-founder of Easy Trip Guides. She started with Michael to share her love for the outdoors with people from all around the globe. She started as an outdoor lover while skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry of New Zealand with her future husband, Antonio. They shared a dream to see the world, so in 2013 they set off to cycle from California to Argentina. The freedom of the open ice route, living close to nature, and the total annihilation of her comfort zone fueled Alix's desire to keep exploring long after the bike trip was over. Her adventure addiction has taken her scuba diving with hammerhead sharks, hiking to the K2 base camp, kiteboarding in Sri Lanka, and kayaking in Antarctica. Through these experiences, she has developed a strong belief in the power of adventure to reconnect people to nature, provide meaningful jobs to impoverished communities and promote the conservation of wild places and animals. At Easy Trip Guides, she covers snowing, skating, snowboarding, and skiing as she loves to do these outdoor adventures a lot.

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