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Truck Trailer 101

If you are a truck driver, whether it’s a pickup truck or semi-truck, you know all too well the struggle and frustration of having to back up a trailer. Not only is it challenging, it can become costly if you make a mistake. If you turn the wheel too much, it might jackknife too far the other direction and damage the vehicle as well as the trailer. If the trailer is too big, it may limit your visibility and cause you to have to severely adjust your turn. Whether it’s one problem or another, having to back up a trailer is an inevitable task for long distance travelers or people hauling large items and is a common cause of truck and property damage. I am here today with a list of helpful tips and tricks from fellow truck drivers on ways to ease the stress of this everyday challenge. By the end of this article, you will hopefully be an expert at backing up any type of trailer.

Pickup Truck Trailer Types and their Challenges

There is a variety of truck trailers out there each with their own challenges for backing up. For pickup trucks you have utility trailers for hauling everything from large equipment to building materials. There are also travel trailers used for hauling RV’s and campers as well as boats for days out camping or out on the lake. Last but not least, there are also dry bed trailers which people will use to haul anything they do not have space in their car for but would not put on a utility trailer such as clothes, furniture, and other loose items.

These trailers all vary in length and size which causes you to adjust your turn radius based on those factors. Visibility is also often limited when hauling boats, RV’s and large dry bed trailers. Only being able to see the sides of the trailer requires the driver to back up slowly and constantly readjust to ensure it is pulled in straight without hitting anything. In contrast, smaller trailers are going to be more reactive to your turning which causes the trailer to turn more behind your truck. Semi-Trucks also have their own variety of trailers and challenges they pose to backing up.

Semi-Truck Trailer Types and Their Challenges

There are a lot of different types of semi-truck trailers ranging from flatbed trailers, dry van trailers, and refrigerator trailers to extendable flatbed stretch trailers and other specialized trailers. They all serve the purpose of hauling something of considerable size and for that reason, most of these trailers end up being about the same size and length. Because of this, backing up any of these trailers typically presents similar challenges in regard to finding a way to back up without causing damage to the vehicle, loading dock, or property.

In most cases, semi-truck drivers have to do a maneuver known as “blind siding.” Simply put, a truck driver must back into their spot using just their side mirrors. Rather than being able to see behind you like with most pickup trailers, semi-truck drivers have to position their trailer without seeing the spot behind them or knowing exactly how far away they are from the spot. Many drivers, however, have developed ways to avoid the hazards of backing up any and all types of trailers.

Tips for Backing up a Trailer


1. Hold the steering wheel in the “6 o’clock” position

a. From this position it makes it easier to turn your trailer to the left or right by steering opposite the direction you want to go

2. Look over your shoulder if possible

a. If your reverse mirror is blocked it helps to roll down the window and utilize the side mirrors.

3. Imagine your trailer is being pushed by the vehicle

a. Use a wheelbarrow for comparison. Your trailer is not going to line up perfectly. Push to the left to go right and vice versa

4. Make slow wide turns

a. In order to steer big trailers, you need to appropriately steer the vehicle. Make wide turns to properly get your trailer out of the way and lined up behind you. The slower you go the better.

5. Do NOT jackknife the trailer

a. Jackknifing a trailer can damage both the vehicle and the

trailer. Correct any excessive turns by following the movement of

the trailer or pull forward to correct the turn.

When learning how to back up a trailer properly, it is helpful to start small and work your way up. Smaller trailers are often times harder to back up since they tend to swing more than longer trailers. Practicing on small trailers will help you to learn to control excessive turning. The larger the trailer gets, the more exaggerated your turns need to be in order for the trailer to appropriately respond

Financial Impact of Damaging a Trailer

Every year companies are forced to pay billions of dollars in repairs for damaged containers even when they were not at fault. A national survey performed by TCompanies found that 39% of carriers are asked to pay for container or trailer damages even when they were not at fault. Another 31% of companies surveyed said their damage claims were more than $500 in most cases. It is estimated the damages to trailers and containers surpasses $1.8 billion in repairs in the U.S. annually.

Every year, about 37.5 million containers and trailers are transported throughout the U.S. of which an estimated 25% are damaged. With crates getting exchanged around and moved so often, it becomes hard to assign blame so companies more times than not are left with no other choice than to pay the repairs fees. Following the tips and tricks mentioned above are excellent ways truck drivers can avoid becoming a part of the problem.

Key Elements

Learning to back up a trailer can prove difficult given the wide variety of them, however, following these few tips tricks will not only make you a pro at backing up trailers, they will save you and your company millions of dollars. Using AI and Behavioral Economics to promote positive driving behavior, SafeMode is a fleet mobility company which is working on an incentive-based system to change driver behavior to become safer and prevent damaging accidents such as the ones truckers face on a daily basis. The app provides feedback based on your driving and rewards you with cash when you practice safe driving habits. It will eventually create a profile for each driver that is entered into a database and used to program autonomous vehicles. The app would be encouraging to truckers who do not normally take the extra time to properly backup their trailer or have a high traffic incident rate. It would serve as a means of rewarding drivers for practicing safe driving habits and help companies to reduce their operating expenses substantially.


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