Reversing a trailer can be absolute chaos if you’re not used to it. Nothing seems to make sense, everything moves in the wrong direction and no matter how slowly you go, it seems like the trailer shoots off with a mind of its own.
Well, like everything else difficult in life, all it takes is a little practice and a few pointers from the pros.
So, to make sure you’re not jamming up the boat ramp or campsite this long weekend, we have a few tips to help turn you from a trailer tragic into a parking pro.
Make sure the trailer brake is off
Depending on the weight of the trailer, it may or may not have a braking system. In general, trailers weighing more than 750kg will require brakes. Common braking systems for trailers include mechanical and hydraulic override brakes. These systems are activated via compression when the trailer pushes against the back of the vehicle during braking.
So, as you might expect, reversing a trailer with this kind of braking system still active will cause all kinds of problems. To disengage the brakes, it’s simply a matter of flicking over the metal spacer that stops the brake system from compressing.
Line things up
Before trying to reverse, you want to get the trailer lined up with what you’re reversing towards, whether that’s a boat ramp, campsite or shed. If the trailer is already lined up, you’ll only have to make minor adjustments as you reverse and this makes the whole process much easier.
Communicate with your assistant
Having an assistant helping to guide the trailer from outside the car is extremely helpful, even for experienced drivers. This is especially the case if you’re reversing through a narrow gap or you need to get the back of the trailer as close to another object as possible.
Make sure your assistant is standing where you can see them. For obvious safety reasons, the assistant should never stand behind the trailer or between the car and the trailer.
Before you start reversing, you should also agree on your signals. This will ease communication and help to avoid frustration.
Check your line of sight
Before you start reversing, it’s important to check your line of sight on all sides of the trailer. Make sure you can see both sides of the trailer in your side mirrors. Decide whether you want to use your rear-view mirror or whether you want to physically turn around and look through the rear window or out the driver’s side window. You’ll want to get used to using all these lines of sight because any one of them could provide the best view, depending on the angle of the trailer.
Controlling the trailer
Now, if you’re not used to reversing a trailer, this is where it gets tricky. The trailer will turn the opposite direction to the way you turn the wheel. Turning the wheel to the right (or clockwise) will make the trailer turn to the left.
You should always start with very small turns when you start directing the trailer. Throwing the steering wheel full lock will cause the trailer to turn sharply and be much harder to correct.
You also need to bear in mind that different sized trailers will respond differently. A smaller trailer will turn more sharply than a larger trailer. Consequently, smaller trailers are harder to handle and can jack-knife more easily. Basically, the longer the distance between the trailer coupling and the trailer axle, the less dramatic the change in direction.
Don’t be afraid to restart
Sometimes, the easiest course of action is to pull the trailer forwards, line it up again and start over. There’s no shame in this. Experienced drivers know that a quick forward direction realignment can be much easier than fixing the problem in reverse.
Remember, when reversing trailers, close enough is not good enough. If your trailer isn’t properly aligned you can cause damage to your trailer, your car, whatever you’re towing, surrounding property and even pose a safety risk to those around you.