If you’re anything like me, you’re a gal that loves to go camping and most likely has had a fair amount of experience towing a camper in all sorts of terrain. I certainly don’t let my hubby do all the driving, and neither should you, as any opportunity to get behind the wheel and experience first-hand a new set of conditions will further promote your ability as an off-road driver. But most likely when it comes to reversing your trailer, your fella is the expert and frankly, you just suck. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m generally always the one behind the wheel and this is simply because I’m far better at following instructions (left hand down, right hand down etc.) than I am at giving directions; this works to avoid any embarrassment in front of the onlookers. However, I’ve never really become any better at backing the camper or any trailer for that matter based on directions alone (right, left, straight) despite all this experience, as I simply do not understand the basic principles. So, with a nod to ‘perfect practice makes perfect’, here are a few basic rules to remember that should see you, and me, setting up like a pro.
This is the biggest part of reversing a trailer that I struggle to grasp. But this doesn’t mean I’m a poor backer; I can parallel park my Patrol like a boss. However, attach something to the back of it and I’ll have it jack-knifed the moment you turn your back. The key reason many people find this so difficult is that turning the wheel one way results in the camper trailer moving in the opposite direction; logic goes out the window. The trick is to start with the vehicle’s wheels straight and hold your steering wheel from the bottom with your thumbs adjacent to each other. Left hand goes up – trailer goes left. Right hand goes up – trailer goes right. The direction that the wheel is turned now matches the camper’s direction of travel; and once again order is restored.
Usually, most guys take the lead when reversing the camper onto your site, and us ladies are left to give the directions. Now, if you haven’t established short and straight to the point instructions and hand signals, this is where marital bliss flies out the window and the arguments start. But if you want to become a better backer, then your partner needs to become an effective communicator and you both need to understand what the instructions mean. Have your assistant stand on your blind side in a position where you can see and hear them by winding down your windows and adjust the mirrors to show both sides of the trailer. Additionally, a handheld CB can be useful when you pull in late and don’t want to disturb your neighbours or to avoid miscommunication.
Reversing is easier when the driver side of the vehicle is on the inside of the reversing arc (the right side). This allows you to see the full length of the camper trailer while you’re backing up and your assistant can cover the blind side. Forget using your rear-vison mirror because you can’t see much of the trailer. Stick to the side mirrors, particularly the right-side mirror as the left-hand side won’t show much until you straighten up, and don’t look over your shoulder as this will confuse your sense of direction even more.
With all your newfound enlightenment into the vagaries of reversing, it’s time to shift into gear. A slow and steady pace is the best way to ensure you only need to make small and few corrections to keep the trailer in line. With your hands at the bottom of the wheel, turn right (turning the front wheels of the vehicle left) as you ease backward. This will move the rear of the tow vehicle out to the left and the rear of the camper trailer out to the right, putting the vehicle and trailer into a rightward arc. Straighten up the steering wheel just to the point where the vehicle and trailer will remain in a constant arc as if reversing in a circle and easing it into the spot that you wish to park. Straighten the wheels more until both vehicle and camper are in line with each other and continue to reverse straight back with minor adjustments as needed. If you see the trailer in your right-hand mirror, move your left hand up to correct it and vice versa for the other.
Don’t get despondent if you don’t get it right the first time. Simply drive forward and start again, the principles remain the same. You’ll also find that reversing smaller trailers or ones with a shorter drawbar and inherently hard to back and require smaller, less drastic adjustments to keep them in tow. Conversely, a larger camper or one with an extended draw bar is easier as the distance between the coupling and axle is longer and any change in direction you make is less dramatic. There goes that logic again.
Of course, none of this is going to make much sense unless you get out and practice, ideally in a big open space and at a time when there isn’t any pressure to get it right. Various driving schools provide courses on how to reverse whilst towing a camper trailer or caravan and I would highly recommend you (and your beloved) undertake one for the sake of future marital harmony. When you both learn the same set of basic rules together, as diver and co-pilot, assisting each other becomes a piece of cake. Not only will you manage it first time round, but you’ll do it without the arguments and be the envy of every other camper around you who hasn’t yet learned to work as a team. So get out there ladies, and learn how to drive your camper trailer in ALL directions and you too will feel like the king…err…queen of the road.
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