If there's one aspect of towing a caravan or trailer that many drivers find daunting, it's reversing. You have to deal with reduced visibility, the extra length of the trailer, and the way it moves in a different direction to the one you might expect.
Once you know the basic principles, though, it's not as tough as it seems. Like any other driving skill, the more you practise the better you will become. With some help from our colleagues at Practical Caravan – one of our partners in the Tow Car Awards – here's our guide to reversing a caravan or trailer.
Make sure you have a clear view
Let's assume you are reversing onto a pitch on a caravan site (although the same principles would apply with any reversing manoeuvre). Pull up so the wheels of the caravan are just past the edge of the pitch. If you have a passenger with you, it's worth asking them to get out of the car so you have an extra pair of eyes while reversing. Make sure they stand where you can see them. It helps to have agreed some hand signals in advance.
Make sure you have a clear view down the side of the caravan in your extension mirrors, and adjust them if necessary. If you have a helper, wind down your windows so you can hear any instructions or advice they will give.
Steering in the 'wrong' direction
What tends to flumox drivers is the need to steer in what seems like the wrong direction at the start of the turn. So if you want to reverse to the left, you actually need to move the steering wheel to the right to begin the manoeuvre.
Why? Because the back of the car needs to move to the right to push the front of the caravan to the right, so the back of the caravan swings to the left. So steering in what instinctively seems like the wrong direction actually sets the caravan on the correct arc.
If the turn is tight, apply full lock to turn the caravan hard. If you have more space, one full turn of the steering wheel should be enough.
Continuing the turn
So, the caravan is heading in the right direction. However, if you continue to steer to the right in the car you will eventually jackknife with the car at right angles to the caravan.
What needs to happen next is for the car to follow the caravan's course as you slowly edge back towards the pitch. Wind off the lock and gradually turn the wheel back the other way. The steering wheel should be in much the same position as it would be if you were reversing into the same space without a caravan.
Use small but decisive movements of the wheel to fine-tune your direction.
Take your time
Even with a lot of towing experience you may not end up with your caravan exactly where you intended. Don't worry – just pull forward a short distance and reverse again. It's easier to make these small corrections than it is to make a right-angled turn and hit the exact spot you were aiming for.
If you see the caravan looming large in one of your side mirror and you want to straighten up, just turn towards the side where you can see the caravan and it will straighten up. If you want to turn more sharply, steer away from the caravan. A quarter of a turn should be enough.
Different systems vary in their sophistication and exactly how they work, but what they have in common is that they steer the car for you as you reverse, so there's no need to turn the steering wheel in a counter-intuitive way to begin the manoeuvre. The driver sets the direction of the turn (using the mirror adjustment switch in the case of VW's Trailer Assist) and controls the speed of car.
These systems work well, but it still takes some judgement on the part of the driver to choose the right position from which to start the turn.
Another option is to have your caravan fitted with a motor mover. These allow you to move the caravan by remote control. Most motor movers use a small electric motor and rollers acting on the caravan's tyres. Simply unhitch the caravan from the car and let the mover do all the hard work.
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