RV Tip Video: Travel Trailer & 5th Wheel Backing-Up Tips

November 17, 2013

In this informative RV how-to video, KOA resident expert Mark Polk offers some helpful tips on how to back a travel trailer or 5th wheel trailer into a site at the campground when there is a driver and a spotter.

Happy RV learning,

Mark J. Polk

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  • Scot McKay

    The most basic tip was left out. When backing up the trailer, put your hand on the *bottom* of the steering wheel and move your hand the way you want the trailer to turn.

    Another thing that wasn’t addressed was backing up a trailer in the dark. A key there is to keep an eye on the driver’s side marker lights of the trailer. If your truck is centered and you can see it the rear (red) marker light, the trailer is headed to the right. If you can’t see the front (amber) one, the trailer is headed to the left. This, of course, assumes that you don’t have wide-mount outside mirrors.

    Also be sure to check overhead tree branch clearance beforehand. It’s easy to forget to look up.

    • Mark Polk / RV Education 101

      HI Scott, The method I discussed in the video is the easiest method I have ever used to back trailers when there are 2 people. We used this method when I worked for a dealership and we could place RVs within inches of each other or other obstacles when setting up at RV shows.

      This method only works when there are two people and the spotter needs to be at the front of the vehicle where they can communicate with the driver. The key is, if the spotter wants the trailer to go to the spotter’s right (which in essence would be the drivers left) the spotter simply tells the driver to turn the wheel to the right. Whatever direction the spotter wants the rear of the
      trailer to go is the direction the spotter tells the driver to turn the steering wheel. That is why this method is so easy. The spotter doesn’t need to think about it. To go to the spotter’s right the driver turns right, to go to the spotter’s left turn the driver turns left. It takes a little practice, but before long you will be backing with ease.

      • Scot McKay

        Oh, I’m not challenging your basic premise. But it sure is a good habit to get into to simply put your hand at 6:00 on the wheel. That way you never get crossed-up, spotter or not.

  • Len Arminio

    My wife and I use the “Ground control to Major Tom” method. She mans the tow vehicle and I guide her in using FRS (or sometimes HAM) radios. She uses the hands at the bottom of the steering wheel method and we have worked out a system with instructions like “Left 1/4″… “straighten wheel” “Right 1/2″. It takes some practice but after about 8 years of this, we’ve got it down pretty well without too much angst. At the KOA Montreal West this summer, she actually got an ovation from fellow campers when she got backed in perfectly on the first try.

  • Mark Polk / RV Education 101

    Hi Everybody it’s Mark Polk of RV Education 101. Since the backing tips video was released I have received a couple emails and there seems to be some confusion. The method I discussed in the video is the easiest method I have ever used to back trailers when there are 2 people. We used this method when I worked for a dealership and we could place RVs within inches of each other or other obstacles when setting up at RV shows.

    This method only works when there are two people and the spotter needs to be at the front of the vehicle where they can communicate with the driver. The key is, if the spotter wants the trailer to go to the spotter’s right (which in essence would be the drivers left) the spotter simply tells the driver to turn the wheel to the right. Whatever direction the spotter wants the rear of the
    trailer to go is the direction the spotter tells the driver to turn the steering wheel. That is why this method is so easy. The spotter doesn’t need to think about it. To go to the spotter’s right the driver turns right, to go to the spotter’s left turn the driver turns left. It takes a little practice, but before long you will be backing with ease.

    • Greengas

      Hi

      Just a couple of questions. First, how far in front of the parking space should you be when you start backing up? Second, you mention that the wheels are the pivot point, does that mean you don’t start your turn until the pivot point reaches the front of the parking space? Last. I understand about having the spotter stand in front, but then how does the spotter see the other side of the trailer to make sure you are not about to crunch what is on the other side? Oh, my wife and I use our cell phones to communicate, that way, for me at least, it is totally hands free :-)

      • Mark Polk / RV Education 101

        There are several variables involved with the distance needed in front of a
        parking space prior to backing, but the short answer is ideally you want both
        the tow vehicle and trailer to be in a straight line in front of the space to
        make a successful backing maneuver, but we all know this is not always
        possible.

        There are variables involved with your second question too. Like how long
        the trailer is, how much you turn the steering wheel, if it’s a conventional
        trailer or a 5th wheel trailer, how far the trailer is away from any obstacles
        and what your tail-swing is to name a few. A shorter trailer reacts quicker when
        turning than a larger trailer, but the pivot point is the point where the
        trailer will actually turn.

        Because of time constraints the video I posted was very brief. In our
        training videos all of these topics are covered, but to answer your last
        question I always recommend the spotter walk back and forth in front of the
        vehicle to watch both sides, and to stop periodically to check the sides and
        back of the trailer. You never know where small children, pets and obstacles
        might be. With the windows down and the radio off it is pretty easy to
        communicate with the driver. We also instruct folks to remember the word GOAL.
        When in doubt Get Out And Look.

        I think most folks adapt to a method of backing that works best for them.
        This is a backing method that has served me well over the years and can be
        helpful to those with little or no trailer backing experience.

  • Scott Thomas

    Thanks for sharing this! Useful to people who really need these ideas.

  • psmulvaney

    Thanks everyone for joining in the discussion. Am glad this information is helpful or useful. We’re always interested in hearing more from our campers and if you have any ideas for our Kompass email or blog – we’d love to hear about them! Please send any suggestions to me at psmulvaney@koa.net.
    Happy Camping!
    Polly Mulvaney, Director of Content Marketing at KOA

  • Mike

    My wife and I use the “Sit on the picnic table while I back in”. Really for us it is best that she will just relax and I will move the trailer in. I will watch the tires on the driver side using either the edge of the parking spot, a line or some type of reference point. As mentioned earlier the best thing is Practice.