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8 Tips to Backing Up Your Tractor Trailer The Right Way
June 24, 2024

8 Tips to Backing Up Your Tractor Trailer The Right Way

Backing up a tractor trailer is one of the hardest and most important tasks for new and experienced truckers. This task demands a lot of skill and patience, so truckers spend a lot of time practicing driving. Mastering how to back up a tractor truck involves understanding three different backing angles: straight back, 45-degree back, and 90-degree back. When you’re out on the road, you will face many situations where you need to back up safely and accurately, such as parking in tight spaces, docking at loading bays, or maneuvering in crowded areas. Each scenario requires precise control and knowledge of your vehicle’s movements.

Here are some detailed tips to help you back up your truck the right way.

9 ways to back up your tractor trailer

Backing up a tractor trailer is crucial for all truck drivers because it requires a good understanding of your vehicle, awareness of your surroundings, and precise control.  Given a tractor trailer's large size, even a small mistake can cause big problems, including damage to the vehicle, nearby property, or even injuries. To become good at backing up, you need to learn different techniques and approaches that work best in various situations. Each method has its own benefits and is suited to particular scenarios you might face on the road. These techniques are not just about knowing how to reverse but also about understanding how the trailer moves, the angles you need to use, and the timing required to do it right.

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  1. Explaining the 3 backing angles

When it comes to backing up a tractor trailer, mastering the three main backing angles—straight back, 45-degree back, and 90-degree back—is essential. Each angle serves specific purposes and requires distinct techniques. 

Angle 1: Straight back

The straight back method involves reversing the trailer in a direct, straight line. This method is particularly useful when you have a clear, unobstructed path directly behind you. It’s commonly used when backing into loading docks or parking spots.

  • Start by aligning the truck and trailer so they form a straight line.

  • Use your mirrors to monitor both sides of the trailer, ensuring it stays aligned.

  • Make small, gradual adjustments with the steering wheel to keep the trailer on a straight path.

  • Reverse slowly and steadily, avoiding sudden movements that could cause the trailer to veer off course.

  • Keep a consistent speed and stay focused on maintaining alignment until you reach your destination.

Angle 2: 45-degree back

The 45-degree back involves positioning the trailer at a 45-degree angle to move into a space. This angle is ideal for backing into spaces that are slightly angled or require the trailer to be positioned at an angle, such as angled parking spots or certain types of loading docks.

  • Begin by positioning the truck and trailer at a slight angle to the target space.

  • Start reversing and turn the steering wheel where the trailer wants to move.

  • As the trailer reaches a 45-degree angle to the space, begin to straighten the steering wheel.

  • Continue reversing, making minor adjustments to ensure the trailer moves smoothly into the space.

  • Use your mirrors to keep track of the trailer’s position and make sure it follows the intended path.

  • Ensure the trailer is correctly angled and aligned as you complete the maneuver.

Angle 3: 90-degree back

The 90-degree back is the most challenging of the three angles, requiring the trailer to turn at a right angle to back into a space. This method is used in tight spaces where you need to back into a dock or parking spot that is perpendicular to your starting position.

  • Position the truck and trailer perpendicular to the target space, leaving enough room for maneuvering.

  • Begin reversing and turn the steering wheel sharply in the direction of the space to initiate the 90-degree turn.

  • Closely watch the trailer’s movement in your mirrors to guide it accurately into the space.

  • As the trailer enters the space, gradually straighten the steering wheel to align the truck and trailer.

  • Continue reversing slowly, making necessary adjustments to ensure the trailer fits neatly into the space.

  • Focus on maintaining control and precision throughout the maneuver to avoid obstacles or misalignment.

  1. Practice makes perfect

This might seem obvious, but it’s very important. Practicing is the best way to get comfortable backing up a tractor trailer. Find an empty lot or a truck stop to practice if you can. Perfecting your technique in an empty space is much easier than trying to do it with people watching you, like shippers or receivers, backing into a tough dock. Spend time practicing different backing techniques without any pressure. This will help you build confidence and improve your skills. Try to do everything yourself, trusting your judgment and abilities. The more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become in real-life situations.

  1. Get out and look (GOAL)

A crucial step when backing up is to always "Get Out And Look" (GOAL). This is especially important in unfamiliar places. No matter how many times you need to get out and look, do it! It's much better to be safe than to accidentally back into someone or something because you didn’t take a few minutes to check. Part of your job is to avoid damaging your property or someone else’s.

Don’t let pride get in the way; get out and look as many times as necessary. Even if you have to do it ten times, it’s much better than causing an accident.

  1. Watch your steering wheel

One important tip to remember when backing up a tractor trailer is to watch your steering wheel. You probably learned this in CDL training, but it's good to remember. Here’s how it works: place your left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel. This position helps you control the trailer’s direction more easily. When you move the wheel to the left, the trailer moves left. When you move the wheel to the right, the trailer moves right. This is a simple way to understand the trailer's movement.

From this position, be careful not to oversteer. Small, steady adjustments will help you control the trailer more accurately. This simple trick can make a big difference and help you improve your tractor trailer backing up.

  1. Move slowly and carefully

Moving slowly is very important. Take your time and be extra cautious. Keep checking the position of both the tractor and trailer regularly. Moving slowly gives you the opportunity to assess the surrounding area and identify any potential obstacles or hazards. By proceeding at a gradual pace, you can spot obstacles early and navigate around them safely. Rushing through the backing process increases the risk of accidents and damage to your vehicle or surrounding property. So, always prioritize safety over speed and take your time to execute each maneuver carefully.

  1. Trust your instincts

Listen to your gut feeling. If something doesn't seem right, it's probably not. This applies to all areas of life, including backing up a tractor trailer. Don't hesitate to say "No" if you feel unsure about backing into a tight spot or if obstacles are in your way. Your safety and the safety of your truck are more important than anything else.

You know your vehicle better than anyone else, so trust your judgment. If there's debris or obstacles blocking your path, don't be afraid to ask for them to be moved before attempting to back in. It's better to take the extra time to ensure a safe maneuver than to risk damage to your truck or property.

Remember, becoming skilled at backing up a tractor trailer takes patience and practice. Nobody becomes an expert overnight. Have confidence in your abilities as a professional driver, and with time and practice, you'll become a pro at backing up in no time.

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  1. Use technology 

Access Google Maps using modern technology such as your smartphone or computer. Prior to your arrival at a destination, spend some time studying the area online. Use Google Maps to examine various routes and thoroughly analyze the entry and exit points. This proactive approach to planning will significantly reduce stress levels and enhance your preparedness before you even reach your destination.

You can also use the parking cameras installed in your tractor trailer to assess how much space is available for you to reverse and back up safely.

  1. Set up in the ’12 and 9′ position

To facilitate easier backing, adopt a "12 and 9" setup. Imagine you're backing up on a clock face. For instance, if your loading dock is positioned between two trailers at 6 o'clock, approach your tractor-trailer perpendicular to the dock.  As your drive tires align with the edge of the parking spot, turn the steering wheel to the right, aiming for noon. When you see your trailer wheels in the mirror, steer to the left toward 9 o'clock. Once your drive tires are straight at 9 o'clock, the trailer should be about 15 to 20 feet from the hole. Square up the trailer and then back straight into the spot. This method simplifies the backing process and ensures precise alignment with the target spot.

  1. Use a spotter

Place the spotter strategically outside the tractor-trailer so it provides real-time guidance to the driver using verbal or visual cues, such as hand signals. Through visual cues or two-way radio communication, the spotter helps navigate obstacles. This direct communication allows the spotter to alert the driver to potential blind spots or hazards. 

The main cause of most backing up accidents

The main reason why accidents often happen when tractor trailers are backing up is because drivers don't spend enough time doing it right. One big challenge is when they have to back up without being able to see well, especially on the driver's side. The mirrors don't always show where the trailer is or where it's going. It's like trying to park a car without seeing the parking spot properly—it's tough and can lead to accidents. 

So, taking the time to back up carefully is super important to avoid problems.

Be mindful and careful

So, when it comes to backing up a big truck, taking your time and being careful is super important. Remembering the different angles and using helpful tricks like having someone outside to guide you or using markers on the ground can make a big difference. You'll become a pro at backing up by practicing and staying focused on safety in no time!

Author: Road Legends

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