The challenging art of reversing with a caravan or trailer
Tootling along the open road with your home trundling along behind you is something some people enjoy, the freedom to stop pretty much where you want, see new horizons, hook up to fresh waste pipes; the pleasure of having that empty road ahead of you – unlike the mirrors which are full of cars behind for some reason.
But it’s that whole behind thing that is the cloud on the horizon. The knowledge that you may be called upon to reverse into a bay, possibly a smaller space than you’re comfortable with, everywhere from a motorway services to a camping site. To let the sun shine through that cloud, here’s our handy guide to reversing a caravan or trailer with confidence.
The scenario is the common one of reversing onto your camping pitch. So you drive past the designated pitch until the caravan wheels are just past the outer edge. Check you can see down the side of the caravan your side and, if you have a passenger, ask them to hop out to give another pair of eyes. Wind your windows down so you can hear their cries of encouragement and shouts of alarm.
When ready, start slowly to reverse and remember that every steering input has to the reverse of where you’d normally turn. If you want the back of the caravan to go right you have to steer left – that way the back of the car and the front of the caravan will go left, forcing the back of the caravan to go right.
One full turn of lock should do it unless it’s really tight. Once you’ve got the caravan going backwards on roughly the right arc you need to start winding off lock otherwise you’ll end up jacknifing the whole lot. You’ll find it’s easy to over-magnify any movement, so keep the wheel movements small where possible.
You need to follow through all the wheels, the car wheels now following the caravan wheels. If it’s not going right it’s easier to pull forward and go again rather than trying to fix it in what is now a small space by winding on turns of lock. If you’re seeing too much side of the caravan say your side then simply follow it harder by adding more lock that way. As you catch up you’ll pass dead centre and can experiment with reversing straight, by using very small corrections to keep the back of the caravan heading in the right direction.
Of course, to get round all this you can buy something like a Land Rover or VW that comes with, respectively, Advanced Towing Assist and Trailer Assist. These systems will take care of the steering, you just have to manage the rest. The fact that manufacturers offer this, shows what a worrying experience it can be for many drivers.
If your vehicle doesn’t have such a system you can try a motor mover. This works directly on the caravan via remote control, so you unhitch your car with the caravan in roughly the right place and then work it into position via the motor mover. It’s cheating – but it works.