Truck Tips: How to back up a tractor-trailer (video)

by Jim Park

Backing a tractor-trailer accurately and safely is a skill that has to be learned and mastered. You will run into all kinds of different backing situations in your career, but this video demonstrates one of the most common — the straight-in maneuver.

Here’s a hint: it all starts with a good set up. Let’s give it a shot.

When backing into a dock among a row of trailers, drive perpendicular to the row of trailers until you come to the dock you are going to back into. As a reference, you should be about four to six feet, or a little less than two meters, out from the parked trailers. Stop when your drive axles are aligned with dock you will back into.

Get out of the truck and visually check that the drive axles are centered with the dock, and that there are no obstructions in your path. Make sure the two adjacent trailers are straight and not blocking your intended path.

Next, turn on the four-way flashers and turn the steering wheel all the way to the right, right to the stops. Check you right-hand mirror for traffic approaching from behind. If the path is clear, release the brake, sound the horn, put the truck in gear and slowly begin the turn. Hold the turn, with the wheel at the stops, until you just about lose sight of the trailer axles in the convex mirror.

At this point, the tractor will be close to 90 degrees from the trailer. Don’t pull too far into this turn as you could put the trailer up against the back of the cab, damaging the side extenders.

Swinging the steering wheel

Next, swing the steering wheel hard to the left to straighten out. As you’re turning, watch the mirrors for the gap between the two trailers to appear. If you have enough room to pull far enough forward, you will find yourself straight and directly aligned with your target.

Before you complete the backing maneuver, exit the cab and open the doors. Make sure the doors are held securely open. This also provides an opportunity to make one final check of the pathway into the dock. Make sure the way is still clear.

If you don’t have room to pull up completely straight, steer the trailer with gentle turns of the steering wheel toward the opening between the adjacent trailers. If you keep a foot or so between your trailer and the trailer on your right, you will clear the trailer on the left. If you’re even the slightest bit unsure you have adequate clearance on the left, get out and look.

Continue reversing slowly until you contact the dock.

Backing is always a risky maneuver because you can’t see behind the truck or to the left when the cab is off-center with the trailer. If you set up the maneuver properly you have a pretty good chance at getting onto the dock on the first try.

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