How to Reverse a Caravan - updated October 2019
Reversing a caravan is easy, but needs practice. This article will guide you through basic caravan reversing, but there is no substitute for finding a large, safe open space and doing it yourself.
Reversing a caravan is tricky at first, because its overhung tow hitch causes the caravan to turn in the opposite direction to the rotation of the steering wheel whilst reversing. The key to successful trailer reversing is to train your brain (and your hands) to do the right thing at the right time.
The best way to start is practice reversing in a straight line whilst watching the caravan via the wing mirror. Once that is grasped do the same, ideally reversing whilst attempting to follow a slight curve.
- Do everything slowly because a caravan amplifies every movement of the steering wheel.
- Use the steering wheel gently and only slightly for straight line reversing and more freely for reversing in a curved path.
- If possible have someone stand well behind the rear of the caravan (but not in its path) such that are always visible to the driver through one or other wing mirror. Communication is best done via CB radio, mobile phone or hand signals or whatever you like - as long as both know what they mean
- Unless the helper has expertise in reversing it is best for them to limit comment to letting the driver know what is happening, to advise distances and to when to stop if necessary (e.g. so as not reverse into a brick wall, or up a kerb etc). In essence to tell the driver what is happening and let the driver decide how to react.
- A very common initial problem when learning to reverse in a curve is for the tow vehicle and trailer to end up at close to a right angle. If that happens the driver must stop and drive forward or the rig may be damaged.
- Whilst it better to first learn by towing a box trailer, long caravans are easier to reverse than short ones, because a longer distance between trailer axle(s) and hitch causes the trailer to turn more slowly.
- An alternative is to take a lesson or two at a driving school that includes caravan towing. Many do and are readily found via Googling.
- All this is much easier with a fifth wheel caravan, but requires a different and usually self-obvious technique.
The Jack-knife Point
This is the maximum angle of the trailer relative to the tow vehicle beyond which the trailer will quickly jack-knife if the steering wheel is not turned in the opposite direction. Once again, it is different for each trailer and tow vehicle combination and can only be determined by trial and error. To determine your trailer's jack-knife point:
- In a large safe area, and with a partner to assist, very slowly reverse your trailer with the steering wheel turned slightly whilst looking into the wing mirror on the same side the trailer is turning, (i.e. if turning right, look in the right mirror). Repeat the procedure with the trailer being driven in the opposite direction.
- Do this several times, each time turning the steering wheel a little further.
- After a time you will find that the tow vehicle and trailer become close to a right angle.
- You cannot turn more tightly than that - or the trailer's draw-bar will jam against the rear of your tow vehicle - and will damage both if you keep moving. Be aware that this point is not necessarily visible in either mirror.
All this may seem daunting at first, but with practice, you will be able to align your trailer to wherever it will fit. You are likely to also to reduce the severity and number of steering wheel movements, making reversing a lot smoother.
Reversing a trailer, however, is always more stressful (and riskier) than going forwards, so practice makes perfect. Take every opportunity to reverse your trailer where it is totally safe to do - you will progressively become proficient and relaxed about doing so.
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