Updated 2020

How to Reverse a Caravan

Reversing a caravan is not hard to do. This article will guide you through how to reverse a caravan if used in conjunction with doing it yourself. 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 the surprise of many first-time tow drivers 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.

How to Reverse a Caravan – the basics

Learning how reverse a caravan 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 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 as the turning circle seems to somehow self-tighten.

If possible have someone stand well behind the rear of the caravan (but not in its path) such that they can be seen by the driver through one or other wing mirror. It 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 to 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

A 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 a few times, each time turning the steering wheel a little further. As you do this will find that the tow vehicle and trailer become increasingly close to a right angle. You will find that 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 (this point is not necessarily visible in either wing mirror).

 

How to reverse a caravan. A towing course is not essential but builds reversing confidence – Pic: Tow-Ed

Reversing practice makes perfect

While all this may seem daunting at first, 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 quicker and smoother. Reversing a trailer is nevertheless more stressful (and riskier) than going forwards, but 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. Consider alternatively taking an initial lesson or three at a driving school that specialises in teaching caravan towing. Many do. They are readily found via Googling.

Reversing a fifth-wheel caravan requires a different approach. It is a virtually self-obvious technique.