Article - Backing Up While Turning
In the previous articles of this series, we explained why shorter trailers are harder to backup and what is going on when you backup straight. But, what if you want to make a 90 degree turn into your driveway? In this article, we extend straight line backing to backing up through a curve. As will be shown, backing up in a straight line is just a special case of backing up along any path.
To backup around a curve, you steer your trailer onto a curved path and then follow it along that path. If your trailer starts to deviate to one side of this path, you steer your truck farther out from the path to get outside of the trailer and divert it back towards the center of the path.
This is analogous to a sheepdog herding sheep. The sheepdog chases behind the flock to keep it moving along a path that is either straight, curved or otherwise. If the flock starts to wander out to one side of the path, the dog races farther out to that same side to chase the flock back towards the center of the path. As the flock returns to the path, the sheepdog returns to its position behind the flock.
Steering Your Trailer by Steering Your Truck
There are three possible conditions for steering your truck when backing up your trailer. In the first condition, your trailer is turning more quickly than your truck is turning. This is the condition that leads to a jackknife. In this condition, the angle at your trailer hitch is increasing as you backup. The more that your trailer’s turning exceeds your truck’s turning, the more quickly the trailer hitch angle will grow. If you do not adjust your truck’s steering as the hitch angle increases, your trailer’s turning will increasingly exceed your truck’s turning and the hitch angle will grow at an accelerating pace leading to a jackknife.
In the second condition, your truck is turning more quickly than your trailer is turning. This is the condition where you prevent jackknifing by turning quickly enough to overtake the trailer’s rotation. Both your truck and your trailer are turning as you backup, but your truck is turning more quickly and the angle at your trailer hitch is decreasing. Eventually, your truck will overtake your trailer and they will become aligned.
If your truck is turning much more quickly than the trailer, the trailer will have little time to turn before it is overtaken and its direction will not change much. But, if the truck is turning only slightly more quickly than the trailer, it will take a while for the truck to catch up with the trailer during which time the trailer can turn quite a bit.
However, there is a third condition that falls between the other two. This is the condition where your truck is turning at the same rate that your trailer is turning. In this final condition, as the trailer turns, your truck’s turning matches the trailer’s rotation, the angle at your trailer hitch does not change, and you could backup forever in a never-ending circle.
Backing Up Through A Curve
When backing up through a curve, your truck and trailer must form an angle to each other that matches the arc of that curve. Once that angle is formed, your truck must be steered to maintain this angle. These are skills that come by spending a lot of time behind the wheel while backing up.
But, if you are steering correctly around a curve, your truck and trailer will be turning at the same rate and they will follow your intended curved path. While watching in your side view mirrors, look to keep your trailer’s tires running parallel to the curb as you proceed around the curve. If your trailer gets a little too close or a little too far from the curb, adjust your steering to correct the trailer’s path relative to the curb.
If your trailer deviates towards the outside of the curve or if the curve becomes more sharp, you steer your truck to turn a bit less quickly and the trailer will head towards a more sharply turning path. If your trailer deviates towards the inside of the curve or if the curve becomes straighter, you steer your truck to turn a little more quickly and the trailer will head towards a straighter path. As the trailer is returned to the intended path, you steer back to again match the truck’s turning to the trailer’s turning.
In this way, backing up through a curve is just like backing up in a straight line except the intended path of your truck and trailer is curved. If the trailer begins to drift to either side of that path, you steer your truck to redirect the trailer back onto the path.
The technique is the same even if the curve of the road reverses. You steer your truck to cause the trailer to follow the curb and as the road straightens, your truck and trailer will become aligned. By continuing to backup as the curve of the road reverses, the trailer will cross over to the opposite side of the truck to follow the curve.
How Do I Learn To Do This?
Developing a feel for doing this can take a while. You need to spend a lot of time behind the wheel backing up in order to develop a sense of what is occurring. You must learn to recognize which side of the intended path the trailer is on. This is most difficult when the trailer is close to, but not quite on, the intended path. You must also learn which direction and how much to steer in order to direct your trailer back onto the intended path when it drifts off that path.
However, if you don’t have lots of time for practicing, TowGo LLC manufactures a Trailer Backup Navigation Aid that provides you with the feedback needed to perform the above maneuvers without years of experience. Its software displays the turning of the truck and trailer relative to each other. With this system, you can see when the truck and trailer are turning identically or if the truck is turning faster or slower than the trailer and by how much. A pointer indicates to which side the trailer’s path will divert. Additional on screen and audio indicators let you know how much the trailer will turn while the truck is steered to overtake the trailer so you never have to guess when or how much to turn the steering wheel.
The TowGo Trailer Backup Navigation Aid can easily be installed on almost any combination of tow vehicle and trailer and will have you successfully backing up your trailer in no time. For anyone who has ever struggled with backing up a trailer, this system is backup empowerment.
Dan Shepard is the Founder and CEO of TowGo, LLC, manufacturer of the Trailer Backup Navigation Aid, and is an expert on trailer backup technology.