Backing a trailer is one of the most difficult skills a professional semi-truck driver practices throughout his or her entire career. Here’s a tip on how to backup a semi trailer the super easy way.
Driving an 18-wheeler for a living, you’ll have the “opportunity” to back your trailer into some really tight spots. Some places we deliver to or pickup from don’t even appear large enough to get a trailer in. I’ve had a lot of people ask how to backup a semi trailer and if there are any tips to make it easier.
Backing up is something we practice over & over, often several times a day. Its not an option, it’s part of the job.
Differences Between Backing a Semi & a Car
Going forward, the top of our steering wheel will always move in the direction we want to go. Of course, when driving a regular vehicle, the top of the steering wheel also moves in the direction your vehicle will go when backing up.
Semi trucks are articulated, meaning they pivot in the middle (or at the kingpin), so the tractor & trailer move together, sort of bending. This throws the whole mental picture out of whack as compared to driving a regular passenger type or non-articulated vehicle!
Time for a new way of thinking if you’re going to master backing an 18-wheeler. Get rid of whatever notions you have from driving a car – this is a different game altogether.
The Learning Curve of Trailer Backing
Until I began training for my commercial drivers license, I’d only backed smaller ATV or camp trailers. Like a lot of people, I had some difficulty and “chased” my trailer when backing up. I would over-correct & get confused as to which way to turn the wheel to make my trailer go where it was supposed to go. I’ll admit, at first I was probably intimidated backing up a vehicle over 70 feet long . Eventually, through many repetitions and a lot of practice I got the hang of it.
A few years later, I heard an awesome backing tip from a veteran driver which made complete sense, yet I hadn’t always been “educated” in ways that made complete sense. If I could remember his name, I’d love to give him credit for this tip.
Many drivers who’ve been doing this for a while already know this – but you’d be amazed at how many don’t and still struggle with backing. So, for students or those who may be struggling with the whole trailer-backing picture in their minds, or even trainers who may want a simple tip to pass on to those they’re teaching, here it is:
When Backing A Semi, Watch The Bottom Of The Steering Wheel
It really is that simple. When backing up a trailer, the trailer turns in the same direction as the direction the bottom of the steering wheel is turned. It’s exactly the opposite of when moving forward.
I’ve drawn a picture to help illustrate how this works:
While my artwork & handwriting aren’t the neatest, this “mental picture technique” of visualizing the trailer turning the same way as the bottom of the steering wheel works really well. Give it a try if you haven’t already.
Do you have tips or techniques you’d like to share with other drivers? Leave a comment below or head over to our member forums to chat there. TSG members have full access to anything on the site and can even share their own ratings and reviews!