Learning how to reverse a trailer or caravan for the first time is a bit like playing your first game of golf—it’s harder than it looks, what seems right inevitably turns out to be wrong, and the last thing you want is people watching. But hey, nobody was magically able to reverse a trailer or caravan without practice, just like nobody hit a hole-in-one on their first try. Even the slickest trailer reversing pros have tied themselves in plenty of knots to get to the point where they can confidently back into spaces without jack-knifing or hitting an obstacle.
But having said all that, it doesn’t hurt to be given a few pointers when starting out. So here are a few basic principles on how to reverse a trailer that should help you quickly get the hang of it and hopefully avoid any major disasters along with way.
Making sure you’re in a good starting position will give you the best chance of backing into the space without encountering any problems. If possible, position your car and trailer directly in line with the space you’re wanting to reverse into. This won’t always be possible, but when it is, it will make the task much easier to begin with.
The best way to tell if your vehicle and trailer or caravan are in a straight line is by looking in both rear view mirrors and noting how much trailer is visible in each. If there is more in one and less in the other, you’ll need to straighten the vehicle’s wheels and move forward until the trailer straightens out too.
Before you begin to reverse, it’s always a good idea to double check that the area is clear. Take note of any obstacles that aren’t necessarily directly in your way, but may become a problem if the trailer gets a little wayward.
Use a Spotter
Spotters are invaluable when reversing a trailer or caravan. Visibility is always an issue, so it’s important to have another set of eyes that can help guide you.
It’s also a good idea to work out with your spotter the language of the directions they’ll be using. It’s easy to get frustrated with a spotter if the directions aren’t clear, leading to hand signals becoming rude hand gestures. Instead, make sure your spotter’s commands are clear and simple. This will help with your confidence, knowing that “full left” means you need to apply full left on the steering wheel rather than wondering if it’s the trailer that needs to go left and therefore maybe you need to apply a right turn to the steering wheel. When things are backwards, directions need to be extra clear.
Additionally to verbal commands, you can use visible hand gestures to signal things like distance to obstacles, or distance to final destination. Signalling a closing gap by having your spotter slowly bringing his or her hands together is a great way to help you know when to stop. The standard “a little more…a little more…STOP!” commands are often insufficient and can easily lead to a minor accident, or at the very least a shaken up esky after a sudden stomp of the brakes.
Trailers Go the Opposite Direction in Reverse
This is the most important thing, and is what ties drivers in knots when reversing with a camper trailer. It’s very easy to end up facing the wrong direction until you can grasp the concept that left hand down on the steering wheel means the caravan is going to swing right, and vice versa.
Where it gets even trickier is at a certain point, to continue turning in the direction you want to turn, you have to straighten the wheels up, otherwise the trailer will jack-knife. This can cause damage to both your car and whatever it is you’re towing if you don’t stop in time—another reason why a spotter is so handy. At the very least, though, it means having to straighten up and start over again.
Reverse to the Right When Possible
If you have the option of reversing to either the right or the left, it’s always preferable in Australia to go right because the driver position is on this side. This will give you a clearer view of the edges of the caravan or trailer through the right mirror and also the window that you can lean out of for a better look.
Take it Slow
The worst thing you can do is rush it. As frustration sets in and if you feel as though you’re being watched, it’s very easy to panic and then begin to rush. If you’re inexperienced with reversing a trailer or caravan, there is little chance you’ll safely tow into the exact spot if you’re panicking or rushing it. Take a breath and just realise that sometimes it takes a few attempts.
We all know how the saying goes, and it exists because it’s true. The only way to learn how to reverse with a trailer is by doing it plenty of times. When first starting, it’s a good idea to go to an empty car park or other open space and learn the basics before you start trying to navigate obstacles. The more you practice, the less risk of embarrassing yourself in front of amused caravan park onlookers.
Of course, hitting the road with a caravan or trailer requires a capable automobile such as the Skoda Octavia wagon. So, if you’re in the market for a suitable tow vehicle, then get in touch with us at Perth City Skoda to book a test drive. The great outdoors await!