Back to Perfection
By Mark S. Nemeth  #45776

This article originally ran in the May/June 2001 issue of
Escapees magazine
Reprinted by permission

David Vollmers, SKP #49750, writes:

" I would appreciate any expert advice I can get on the best back up procedure. As you are aware, backing into a tight spot is a very intimidating task for a new Rver …. ".

Thanks, David, for voicing such a universal concern! I am going to take a shot at answering your request by providing some general tips to make that backing job a little easier. Since I'm a 5ver owner and all my experience is with trailers of various sizes and types, I'm going to have to stick to territory that I know. We're talking backing trailers here… not Motorhomes. Perhaps one of our members who has mastered the art of motorhome maneuvering will pass on some tips of their own in a future issue.

First of all, if you are a brand new trailer or 5th wheel owner, don't despair! The length of that new rig behind your tow vehicle can be very intimidating, but with practice and patience, you will soon be an old pro at backing into even the tightest spot. If you are a complete novice at backing any kind of trailer, perhaps the best way to begin is to locate a large paved parking lot near where you live. Schools, churches and some Monday through Friday businesses have large lots that will make great practice areas when they are empty. School lots are good for weekend practice sessions and many church lots are empty several days during the week. Find a likely place to practice and tow your RV there. Spend some time learning how your rig maneuvers and how quickly it turns and recovers when backing. Get accustomed to using your mirrors when backing and start working out some signals and methods with your spotter, if you have one. Practice getting it "between the lines" by using a marked parking space. Some hours spent in an empty parking lot learning the ropes will save a lot of agony and embarrassment in the campground!

Here are some tips:

When preparing to back up, place your right hand on the bottom of the steering wheel (6 O-Clock position). Now, simply move your hand in the direction that you want the rear of the trailer to go! Try it! If you use this hand position, it will all but eliminate turning the wheels the wrong way while backing up.

When you are approaching any kind of back-in situation, the job will be a lot easier if you set yourself up to back to the driver's side. You will be able to see the rig and the site much better in your driver's side mirrors and can also glance back over your shoulder and see the rear of the rig. If you need to drive a loop around the campground to be able to approach the spot on your left side, then do so!

It's a lot easier to back up in a nearly straight line, adding small corrections. Avoid trying to back into a spot by starting with a sharp 90 degree turn. If possible, pull into the space across the road to get a straighter shot. If there is room, swing wide and pull well up ahead to get a straighter shot.

Once you get lined up as best as you can, make small corrections as you back up. Avoid making sharp turns of the wheel to correct your path. If you get all catty-wampus, simply pull forward and start again. Above all, never get in a hurry… just take your time and relax! If you aren't sure, stop and get out of the tow vehicle and walk back there and look! No one is timing you and no one will deduct 10 points off your scorecard for taking too much time. Most serious mistakes are made when you get in a hurry!

If you can't get a nice straight approach set up, then backing a gradual arc is still easier than trying to make a sharp turn while backing. Again, the whole process is so much easier when backing to the driver's side! Be sure to pull far enough past the entrance to the parking spot to allow your trailer time to begin to turn. I always pull about ten feet further past the spot than I think I need to. It works for me!

If you travel with a companion and use them as a spotter, then it's imperative that you work out some specific signals and procedures in advance. The spotter must stay in a position that is visible to the driver at all times. The driver must never try to second-guess the spotter… if the spotter says STOP, then the driver had better stop, and right now! One common practice is to equip the spotter with a whistle….. when the spotter blows the whistle, the driver stops whatever they are doing IMMEDIATELY and then the driver and spotter regroup and begin again. Some driver/spotter teams use small hand held radios for communication and others use specific hand signals, but no matter what method you use, it is necessary that you establish some signals and methods beforehand. We've all been entertained by the harried couple shouting derogatory comments at each other while trying to get their RV into a campsite. Remember to be calm and take your time…. Rving is supposed to be relaxing!

The spotter and/or the driver need to remember to look up! It's easy to become so preoccupied with obstacles on the ground that you forget to check overhead for tree limbs and wires. Always watch for leaning trees… you may miss the base of the trunk just fine, but if that tree is leaning toward your trailer, it will take a bite out of your rig high up on the roofline!

There will always be a tough spot to get into… one that forces you to back to the passenger side or one that requires a tight turn while backing. It just happens. Take plenty of time to survey the route you will have to take. A rope laid on the ground may help give you some reference points to follow. If you find that the trailer is turning too tightly; stop, straighten the tow vehicle wheels, pull forward a few feet then resume backing up. This will make the turn more gradual and will keep you from having to make huge corrections as you back up.

Always pay attention to what's alongside the tow vehicle when backing. Some obstacles may be low enough that you cannot see them from the driver's seat and in the process of maneuvering the trailer into position, you may inadvertently hit something with the tow vehicle. Spotters should also be aware that it is necessary to keep an eye out for the towing vehicle and not just concentrate on the trailer.

No matter how many years you practice and how many impossible spots you manage to wedge your rig into, you will never become completely immune to what I call the "Audience Factor". Simply put, when you manage to shoehorn your rig into a spot between 6 trees, a fire ring, and a picnic table with 6 inches to spare on each side, and nail it on the first try, there will be nobody around to witness it. However, when it takes 15 tries to get into a wide, easily accessible site that you should have been able to do with your eyes closed, you can bet that there will be a large, appreciative audience there to enjoy it! The only thing to do is to smile and acknowledge that RVers have no special protection from Murphy's Law. Besides, once you get set up, you can sit under the awning and watch the next folks back in!

This page last updated on April 22, 2002