Backing up a large RV can be intimidating. If you have a 5th wheel or travel trailer, then the only driving experience that is helpful with this maneuver is if you drove a semi-tractor/trailer. Semi-trucks are “articulated,” that is, they are hinged so the tractor can pivot independent of the trailer and so are 5th wheel RVs and travel trailers. Motorhomes are not articulated—they are like a bus. Therefore, semi-trucks, 5th wheel RVs, and long travel trailers will be able back into places where the motorhome cannot. It’s not a question of fitting into a space but being able to maneuver into that space.
Driving a large vehicle like a truck is good but the process of driving/backing the motorhome is very different. The only driving experience that is helpful here is if you drove a bus (commercial or school bus).
Simply, the best way to learn to back an RV is to practice with the orange traffic cones in a large, empty parking lot. We always recommend a big church parking lot about 10:00 AM on a Tuesday morning. Position the cones and practice backing around them and up to them.
The good news is the following technique will have you parking like a pro in no time. There’s nothing magic here—but it takes practice. For our purposes, practice happens in that empty parking lot—NOT when you absolutely have to get it parked in the dark, in the rain, in a small campground, with an unmovable cement picnic table mostly in the way!
Never back up with the toad attached. It may cause the vehicle to jackknife and you end up pushing it sideways, you could easily break the tow bar arms, and if new enough, you will likely void their warranty. Remember, they don’t call it a “push” bar!
Always back up slowly. Even if you do hit something, there will be less damage! The old joke is that if you are going slow and hit something, there will be less noise so fewer people will know about it.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Start your backing practice by setting a cone about 50 big steps behind the rear of the RV. Position the cone so that the driver can see it in their driver’s side mirror. Shut off any rear-camera monitor. Then, have the driver back the RV and attempt to stop with the rear corner of the RV at the cone. The driver is judging the distance to the cone and where the rear of the RV is located solely from using the mirror. This is good practice for judging depth perception.
Author Note… Tilt your mirrors down to see the lower rear corner of your coach. When backing, your concern is no longer with traffic approaching from the rear but with carefully guiding the rear of your coach into a site.
When you drive up to a site that requires backing in, if possible, approach the site and position the RV so you are backing the rear of the coach toward the driver side (steering wheels are turned to the left on a motorhome). Starting from this position allows you to primarily use the driver’s mirror plus you can stick your head out the window if needed.
With this exercise, use both mirrors, your rear camera monitor, and have someone guide you. The guide should stand at the rear, driver’s side of your coach and be visible in the driver’s side mirror. Never have the guide stand behind the coach. If they cannot see your mirrors, you cannot see them. Ensure they look overhead for any tree limbs or obstacles that you cannot see in the mirrors. It is impossible to see everything around your coach when using only the mirrors and monitor.
For simplicity, assume that you are trying to park on a paved campsite with a defined edge and a wider entrance apron. You drive to the campsite and it is on your left set at 90° from the driving lane. You will want your starting position to be with the driver’s side of your motorhome about 3 feet (1 m) from and parallel to the left edge of the driving lane. Pull forward so that the rear of the motorhome is past the opening to the campsite.
Author Note… All RVs pivot from their rear wheels. All you need to do is have the rear wheels in the correct position before backing. The remainder of the task is simply follow-through. If you have a tag axle, raise it and use the dual rear wheels as the pivot point.
Try to approach your campsite so the site is on the driver’s side. This will make parking easier.
- With the co-pilot outside, position the motorhome just past the campsite entrance.
- The copilot should stand at the “intersection” (Position A in the figure). Look for a point where the true edge of the campsite entrance would intersect with the edge of the driving lane. Ignore any wider entrance aprons.
- The copilot should identify a spot on the motorhome that is 3 feet (1 m) forward of the drive wheels.
- Back up straight and very slow. The copilot will signal when that spot is even with Position A.
- Immediately turn the steering wheel as far as possible to guide the coach into the campsite. The driver should stop and wait while the copilot moves to Position B.
- The copilot should always remain visible to the driver even when positioned at the rear of the campsite.
- Back up slowly turning the steering wheel as needed to straighten the coach. Stop when signaled to do so by the copilot.
Backing is a driving skill that takes practice. The best, safest, and easiest place to practice is that large, empty church parking lot. Backing is also a driving maneuver that is best and most easily accomplished at the slowest possible speed. Because of the short distance typically needed to go back and possibly, due to the obstacle-like course found in many campgrounds, backing slowly is the only answer.
Not everyone can do it with skill. We know of several RV couples (one, good friends) who, when driving on the highway, the spouse rarely ever drives. However, this same spouse (that rarely ever drives) always does all the backing into campsites. The husband is excellent at judging distances and understands the maneuverability of their motorhome. They have learned the hand signals needed to communicate effectively. The wife can manipulate the motorhome with great skill using the mirrors and rear-view monitor.
Hey, it works for them.