Super Easy Trailer Backing Tip Super Easy Trailer Backing Tip
ViewsBacking 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... Super Easy Trailer Backing Tip
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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.

tight dock

Tight Dock!

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:

Semi Trailer Backing Tips Diagram

 

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!

About the Author

TSG is the merging of several of my passions. My name is Cole and I love helping folks, writing, driving, safety & a lot more. My background is diverse: having served in law enforcement, transportation safety & management, writing & web development. I've had my CDL since 2006 & have driven as a company driver, as an owner/operator, working various types of both local and over-the-road jobs.

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  • sandik

    When I went to Truck Driving School 8 years ago I struggled with the backing up as my instructor never spent time with myself and another female trainee so we approached a young teacher to come in on a Saturday and help us. He gave us the best advice.
    When looking out your window backing up just remember that to bring the trailer in tight to the side you are on turn the wheel right. If you need a bigger gap or aimed to passanger side turn left it makes it loose. We never missed with it and both passed out tests with a perfect backup.
    Right to bring it on tight
    Left to put more space.
    Right tight
    Left loose
    Works great!!

    • tsg

      Sandik, thank you for your comment. That’s an awesome way to remember it! We hear “righty tighty, lefty loosey” all the time. I never thought it could apply to trailer backing – but it makes sense.
      Thanks again for your input – be safe out there!