by Collyn Rivers
How to Reverse a Caravan – the basics
This How to Reverse a Caravan article will guide you through how to do it yourself. Learning how to reverse a caravan is not hard to do. Ongoing practice then assists.
How to Reverse a Caravan – if possible start with a box trailer
It is better to learn by towing a box trailer. It seems less daunting and costs less to fix if you damage it. To many first-time tow-drivers surprises, however, long caravans are easier to reverse than short ones. This is because a longer distance between trailer axle(s) and the tow hitch enables the trailer to respond more progressively.
Learning how to reverse a caravan only seems difficult at first. This is because, when reversing, the tow vehicle’s overhung hitch causes the caravan to turn in the opposite direction to that of the tow vehicle. Once that is realised (and its implications understood) all becomes clear. From thereon it just needs practising.
A good place to do so is a close-to-empty car park and well away from all other vehicles. Do everything slowly because a reversing caravan amplifies every movement of the steering wheel.
How to Reverse a Caravan – practice reversing in a straight line
Start by teaching yourself to practice in a straight line. This is likely to be harder to do than expected. Turn the steering wheel by only tiny amounts, while watching the caravan via the wing mirror. Once you have grasped that, do the same but in a slight curve. This will entail ongoing minor corrections because the turning circle self-tightens.
If possible have someone stand well behind the rear of the caravan (but not in its path). You need to able to see that person through your wing mirror. It also helps to be able to communicate via CB radio, mobile phone or hand signals – or whatever works for you.
Ask the helper to advise only what is happening that is out of your sight, e.g. distances, and when to stop if necessary – so as not reverse into a brick wall or up a kerb. It is then up you to work out what to do.
How to Reverse a Caravan – the jack-knife point
The most common initial problem is inadvertently reversing in a progressively tightening curve such that tow vehicle and trailer end up at close to a right angle. If that happens the driver must stop and drive forward, or the rig will be damaged.
This so-called jack-knife angle is different for each trailer and tow vehicle combination and can only be determined by trial and error. It is well worth checking this.
To determine your trailer’s jack-knife point find a large safe area. With a partner assisting, very slowly reverse your rig, turning the steering wheel slightly (such that the trailer turns toward your side). As you do so watch the trailer’s movement constantly via the wing mirror.
Do this a few times. Each time turn the steering wheel a little further. As you do this you will find that the tow vehicle and trailer become increasingly close to a right angle. You will also find there a safe limit to this. If you overdo the turn, the trailer’s draw-bar will jam against the rear of your tow vehicle. If you keep turning you may damage both the tow vehicle and caravan. If necessary, adjust your wing mirror so that the ground at the rear of your tow vehicle is visible.
How to reverse a caravan. A towing course is not essential but builds reversing confidence – Pic: Tow-Ed
How to Reverse a Caravan practice makes perfect
While learning how to reverse a caravan may seem daunting at first, with practice, you will be able to align your trailer to wherever it will fit. You are likely also to reduce the severity and number of steering wheel movements, making reversing quicker and smoother. After a time it becomes a natural action.
Take every opportunity to practice how to reverse a caravan where it is totally safe. You will progressively become proficient and relaxed about doing so. Alternatively, consider taking an initial lesson or three at a driving school that specialises in teaching caravan towing. All include learning how to reverse a caravan. They are readily found via Googling.
How to Reverse a Caravan reversing a fifth wheel caravan
Reversing a fifth-wheel caravan is as almost as easy as reversing a motorhome. If you are used to driving a long vehicle, it is a virtually self-obvious technique that can be acquired within minutes.