Which Way to Turn

Solving the Mystery of Backing Up

April 08,2010 -- by by Bob Pitney

Backing up a trailer can seem like an impossible task for some of us. The darn thing never seems to go where we want it. To make matters more confusing, we have been told countless times to turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction we want the trailer to turn which goes against our driving instincts. Try the following approach. It may just be the technique you need to answer the, “Which way do you turn the wheel” question.

First, the most helpful thing you can do to learn how to back up is practice. Find a parking lot not used much on weekends. A good place is usually a high school. An often-made suggestion is to use parking cones to mark a space in which you are to maneuver your trailer into. This is a good idea but in my view, not at first. The first thing you want to do is get a feel for how the tow vehicle and trailer react to each other when backing up without the added pressure of trying to hit a “target”.

Also, I must state the obvious here; Do your practice s-l-o-w-l-y. It will increase your time to react and boost your confidence.

For this method, I want you to imagine a clock. As you view your trailer looking over your right shoulder from the driver’s seat, imagine your trailer is a clock with the rear of the trailer being 12:00 and the front of the trailer being 6:00. Next, think of your steering wheel as a clock also with the top of the wheel being 12:00 and the bottom being 6:00. For this exercise you want the rear of the trailer to point to the 10:00 position on the clock. (A quick note: Do not try to use your mirrors. Turn yourself enough while seated in your car to look over your right shoulder at the trailer.) Starting from a straight position (trailer and car in line with each other) turn the steering wheel slightly, and start to back up. For many people, this is where to trouble begins; which way you turn the steering wheel at this point can become confusing. One solution I’ve heard is to place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. This may or may not work for you. The method I prefer is to turn the steering wheel the same direction I want the rear of the trailer to go. Sound confusing? Always heard you should turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction you want to go? Let me explain….

Remember our perspective for this example. This is most important. You are turned in the driver’s seat looking over your right shoulder, out the rear window of your tow vehicle at the trailer. You want the rear of the trailer (12:00) to turn to the 10:00 position on the imaginary clock. That means the rear of the trailer must move counter clockwise to point at 10:00. In order to do that, place your hand on the 12:00 position of the steering wheel and turn your steering wheel counter clockwise towards the 10:00 position. Hence, you turn the steering wheel the same direction you want the rear of the trailer to go. For this technique to work you must think of the trailer in terms of the clock example given. 12:00 is the rear of the trailer and 6:00 is the front of the trailer, no matter which way you are facing while seated in the drivers seat. If you want the rear of the trailer to go counter clockwise from 12:00 to 10:00, turn the steering wheel counter clockwise. Conversely, if you want the rear of the trailer to go clockwise from 12:00 to 2:00, turn the steering wheel clockwise. With a little bit of practice you will quickly get a feel for how much to turn the steering wheel to reach the clock position you desire.

Forget about the idea of turning the steering wheel the opposite direction. Think about the “clock” and what time you want the rear your trailer to point. Regardless of the “time” you want, whatever direction the trailer must move from the 12:00 position to reach that time is the same direction you must turn the steering wheel. Try it, it works.






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