David MottonSee other Advice articles filed in ‘General caravan advice’ written by David Motton
Tow Car Editor
What's the one aspect of towing a caravan that many drivers find most daunting? Reversing.
There's lots to contend with and it can feel like an alien experience at first.
You have to deal with reduced visibility and the extra length of the caravan, not to mention the way it moves in a different direction to the one you might expect.
However, once you know the basic principles of reversing, it's not as tough as it seems. Yes, really!
Just like any other driving skill, the more you do it, the better you will become. Here's the Practical Caravan guide to reversing a caravan.
Do you have a clear view?
Let's assume you are reversing onto a pitch on a campsite, as is quite common (although the same principles would apply with any reversing manoeuvre).
First, position yourself so that 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 tow car so you have an extra pair of eyes while reversing.
Tell your passenger to stand where you can see them. It helps to have agreed some hand signals and instructions in advance.
Make sure you have a clear view down the side of the caravan in your towing mirrors, and adjust them if necessary.
If you have an assistant, wind down your windows so you can hear any instructions or advice they give.
Steering in the 'wrong' direction
What tends to flummox people is the need to steer in what seems like the wrong direction at the start of the turn.
If you want to reverse to the left, you actually need to move the tow car's 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.
This is why steering in what instinctively seems like the wrong direction, actually sets the caravan on the correct arc.
This tip might help: some drivers find it useful to hold the wheel at the bottom – that way they move their hands in the direction they want the caravan to go.
If the turn is a bit of a tight one, 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. Hurrah.
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 behind you.
Use small but decisive movements of the wheel to fine-tune your direction.
Relax – 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 perform a right-angled turn and hit the precise point you were aiming for.
If you see the caravan looming large in one of your wing mirrors and you want to straighten up, just turn towards the side where you can see the caravan.
If you want to turn more sharply, steer away from the caravan. A quarter of a turn should be enough.
Tech to the rescue!
With some cars, it's possible to cheat a bit by using a trailer reversing aid. These go by various names – Land Rover's is called Advanced Tow Assist and Volkswagen's is called Trailer Assist, for example.
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 car's speed.
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.
Reversing a caravan isn't easy, but it should be within the capabilities of most drivers, with a little practice.
The more you reverse when hitched up to a caravan, the more confident you'll become.
And if you really can't get the hang of it, or you would simply prefer to make your life easy, you can invest in a motor mover.