While most people adapt to driving a motorhome or pulling a camping trailer fairly quickly, there is one aspect of RVing that can give even the most confident drivers sweaty palms: the dreaded backing up. The good news is that shifting the transmission into Reverse doesn’t have to be anxiety-provoking. Here are some tips that should help you flatten out what could otherwise be a steep learning curve.
For starters, the difficulty of backing up an RV is relative. Reversing in a motorhome is rather straightforward, essentially like backing up an oversized family car.
With trailers, the task is more complicated and counterintuitive, with shorter trailers actually being harder to back up because they respond much more quickly to steering inputs than longer units do.
A simple thing such as where you place your hands on the steering wheel can make a big difference. It’s best to grip the bottom of the steering wheel, which makes it possible to simply move your hands in the direction you want the trailer to go.
Before you start rolling, get out to look at the space, noting potential hazards like low-hanging branches, short wooden posts or large rocks. Also be mindful of the nose of your car or truck so that you don’t hit anything up front while your attention is focused on the rear.
Experienced RVers will tell you that nothing is more helpful in these situations than a good spotter. Make sure you can see that person in your outside mirror and open the windows so that you can hear the spotter yell “Stop!” Having an agreed-upon set of hand signals (or a set of walkie-talkies) will help dial down everyone’s frustration level.
Before embarking on your first trip in your new RV, you should practice, practice, practice! Ideally, you would practice backing up in a no-pressure situation such as a large open parking lot—at least until you get a feel for how the trailer responds to your steering.
Be sure to rehearse turning while backing as well. Whenever possible, try to pull up with the space you want to back into on the driver’s side so you can watch the trailer’s progress in your outside mirror as you back around the turn. Be careful not to turn too sharply, though, as you can get jackknifed with the front of the trailer dangerously close to the tow vehicle’s rear bumper.
When it’s showtime in the campground du jour, go slow and don’t lose your cool. Expect that it’s going to be frustrating at first. Nobody, but nobody, does it perfectly on the first go-round.
Finally, remember your ultimate fallback: Any time you get out of position, pulling forward and starting over again is going to be your best bet. Give it a couple of tries, and you’ll get it eventually.