How to reverse a trailer

By: Scott Heiman, Photography by: Scott Heiman

Reversing your trailer into a tight spot can be tricky. Here are some expert tips.

How to reverse a trailer
If you come to an understanding on hand signals and what they mean before you travel, you and your travel buddy will have a common language that will get you in — and out — of all sorts of tight spots

Manoeuvring a tow vehicle is not simple. After all, turning the steering wheel has the exact opposite effect on your vehicle than it does on your towed van.

So, consider these few simple techniques to achieve understanding between driver and guide before you leave home — to save both of you some frustration later.


Think about how your rig will respond to the driver when reverse gear is engaged. Specifically, have you thought about what happens when the driver moves the steering wheel left and right when towing a trailer? The following dot points describe the effect – but in four different ways. If you’re anything like us, when you try to visualise what’s going on, one description will make more sense to you than another. So pick one and practice it.

1. If you turn the steering wheel clockwise, your trailer will go to the left. If you turn the steering wheel anti-clockwise, your trailer will go to the right.

2. The trailer will move in the opposite direction to the steering wheel. So if you’re turning the wheel to the right, the trailer will go to the left.

3. If you see the trailer in your right-hand mirror, turn the wheel right hand down to straighten it up again. If you see the trailer in your left-hand mirror, turn the wheel left hand down to correct it.

4. Start with the vehicle’s wheels straight and your thumbs adjacent to each other at the bottom of the steering wheel. Left hand up — trailer goes left. Right hand up — trailer goes right.

Now that the driver knows what will happen when the steering wheel turns, confirm with your travel partner (aka parking guide) as to what they actually mean when the say, "Left!" Do they mean turn the wheel left (which will send the trailer to the right) or do they mean turn the trailer left? Because they should be telling you what to do with the trailer, not how to drive.

If you come to an understanding on hand signals and what they mean before you travel, you and your travel buddy will have a common language that will get you in — and out — of all sorts of tight spots.


Once you’ve agreed where you want to place your rig, both guide and driver need to check the area to get familiar with the terrain and any obstacles, as well as to identify potential risks from small children, pets or pedestrians.

The guide then needs to make sure they stand in the right place. When reversing, it’s good practice for the guide to stand where they can see the left-hand side of the vehicle, as this is the driver’s blind spot. In all cases (whether reversing or negotiating an obstacle), the guide should be positioned so that they are easily seen and are safe from vehicles, including yours. This means don’t stand behind the rig, stand to the side.

Then there’s some key things for the driver to remember:

• Regardless of whether you have a guide or not, get out of the vehicle and check the area.

• Get back in the vehicle and roll down your windows and turn off your radio/stereo so you can hear your guide.

• Select the lowest reverse gear available.

• Keep your foot off the throttle. You’ll rarely need to use it to start your rig reversing.

• Move very slowly and keep your right foot covering the brake pedal in case you need to stop quickly.


• Before reversing an unfamiliar vehicle or towing, practice reversing in a safe area to get a feel for the vehicle. This is also a great time to practice guiding.

• Straight line is the easiest and safest way to reverse and should be done wherever possible. This will give the driver a clear view in both mirrors of the space being reversed into, will make it easier to see the guide and will help everyone have a better view of potential obstacles and other risks.

• Drivers may not be able to see the rear of their trailer, especially if reversing to the left. If possible, reverse to the right instead.

• Extra care should be taken when reversing at night or when vision is limited by weather conditions. Reverse lights, brake lights and indicators can be used to illuminate the rear of the vehicle.

• Avoid long-distance reversing. Drive around and get closer to where you need to be before engaging reverse.

• If you have reversed a distance of two vehicle lengths, stop, get out and visually recheck the areas behind, above, below and around the entire rig.

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Check out the full feature in issue #84 January 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.