Are 5th wheels easier to back up? (9+ advice)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Are 5th wheels easier to back up? We will explain how to safely back up a 5th wheel trailer step-by-step. We will also give you a few more essential tips on how to manoeuvre a 5th wheel trailer. 

Are 5th wheels easier to back up than travel trailers?

No, 5th wheels are not easier to back up than conventional trailers. In fact, most accidents happen when backing up fifth-wheel trailers. The most important thing to remember when backing up the 5th wheel is that the trailer will move in the opposite direction to what you expect. 

You must turn the vehicle’s wheels in the opposite direction of how you want the trailer to move. To be safe, you always have someone to help you when backing up. The second person can be behind the 5th wheel to ensure that no collision occurs.

How to back up a 5th wheel trailer step-by-step

To back up the 5th wheel safely begin by familiarizing yourself with the trailer. Don’t wait for a real situation: instead look for a large, flat area where you can sit quietly to practice – without an audience! – until you are able to “feel” where you are going. Try not to overthink it but just take action.

In a real situation, plan your drive so that the trailer is in the correct direction BEFORE you reverse.

  1. Start by moving carefully so that the whole road is straight, aligned. At this point, half the job is done.
  2. Keep in mind that the steering wheel IS the trailer: the top of the steering wheel is the front end, the bottom of the steering wheel is the rear end.
  3. Grasp the lower edge of the steering wheel (= the rear of the trailer) and start reversing while maintaining a straight path.
  4. Roll a little at a time. If you want the trailer to go to the left, point your hand to the left. Small movements of the steering wheel. If you want her to turn right, point your hand to the right.
  5. Wait for the trailer to follow (the longer the trailer, the more delayed it is). Watch in the outside mirrors.
  6. Straighten up by coming back in the opposite direction. Small fixes.

Remember: Hand to the right> trailer to the right. Hand to the left> trailer to the left.

Do not forget when backing up a 5th wheel trailer

If you turn around and look back as you turn the steering wheel, still be sure to keep an eye on the front fender of the towing vehicle. You don’t want to accidentally push aside an expensive 4×4 while backing up.

The longer the trailer, the longer it takes for it to “follow”. With a short trailer, steering wheel movements are transmitted quickly to the rear.

  • The most common mistake is to stress, which translates negatively into the steering wheel. In the worst case, the trailer folds up like a folding knife. However, all you have to do is move forward, straighten the road system and start from scratch.
  • ASK FOR HELP IF NECESSARY.
  • Don’t hesitate to have a few assistants check the front of the car and the rear of the trailer. It is much less of a problem to ask for help than to crash into another car. Make sure your assistant remains visible at all times and makes clear signs or gestures.
  • MANUALLY ADJUST.
  • If the combination is long and the opening you need to enter is narrow: make the final adjustments manually. If you don’t feel comfortable, let someone who knows how to uplift and give you a hand.

Essential tips for newbies: how to manoeuvre a 5th wheel trailer

Before starting any manoeuvre with a trailer or any other vehicle, you must check your mirrors. These must be perfectly adjusted so that you can see as much angle as possible behind the vehicle from all sides. 

Since there are three kinds of mirrors, you have to adjust them one by one and then check the width of what they generally cover. You have to make sure that no angle is obscured and then, once that is done, you can begin to perform your trailer backing manoeuvre.

With a vehicle without a trailer, steering the wheel to reverse is not difficult. On the other hand, with a hitch, we are in the presence of the trailer hitch which will act as a pivot point between the tractor and the trailer. Thus, if the car pulling the trailer will take the same direction as the steering wheel, the trailer will take the opposite direction. So you have to keep that in mind all the time. To achieve this more easily, it is advisable to operate the steering wheel with only one hand from its base when adjusting the steering; this avoids taking the wrong direction and thus getting lost in its movements.

Move forward a bit to straighten. There may be a tendency towards jackknifing when manoeuvring a trailer. If this happens, you have to avoid panicking and get things in hand. In order to properly reverse the trailer and reverse direction, it suffices to move the vehicle forward slightly so that the tractor-trailer combination can straighten up. A few meters are enough to adjust all this and voila.

Never sudden movements. It is very tricky to manoeuvre a trailer in general, but it is all the more valid when it comes to backing it up. Even if you are in a hurry, it is always necessary to take your time to get it right all at once instead of rushing and then failing and having to start all over from the beginning to waste even more time or worse, it could lose control of the vehicle and become dangerous. 

No sudden movements are therefore encouraged; concentration and precision are essential. Each manoeuvre must be carried out thoughtfully and gently. It also allows you to anticipate the slightest obstacle and to have more precision in your movements.

Always be careful. While avoiding sudden movements, you should also be extra careful when backing up a trailer as this kind of manoeuvre can quickly become dangerous if you are not vigilant enough or if you lose your concentration for a single second. For trailers with only one axle, the danger is more present since they are likely to pivot easily. 

It is, therefore, best to opt as far as possible for models with more than one axle. Jacketing can happen quickly and you can never be too careful so minimize the damage as much as possible.

Have someone as a guide. A little (or a lot) of help is always welcome, especially when it comes to this type of tricky manoeuvre. Thus, to better reverse the trailer, it is advisable to ask a co-pilot or any other person to guide each movement. 

Although the mirrors work well, blind spots are not to be ruled out and therefore the help of a natural person who can see everything that is going on behind is invaluable. This avoids making the wrong manoeuvre while not knocking over or hitting any surrounding object. This type of guide also allows more precision of movements, especially if the space in which to perform the manoeuvres is quite narrow.

Practice as much as possible. Experience is the key to a successful vehicle manoeuvre, especially when tackling a trailer that is twice as delicate to handle. Moreover, according to the adage, it is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith. The further back the trailer is, the more the technique will be mastered. 

Of course, everything takes a first time, so to start it is better to train in a spacious place and several times. Then, once you have acquired the technique, you can start practising in real situations. These are also very important since they allow you to develop your own techniques according to different situations.

Take a break. Just like the advice to never make any sudden movements when backing up a trailer, it is also advisable to step back by taking a short break. This allows you to better understand the situation by observing what is happening around you. The break is especially recommended if you have to back up a long distance.

Make good use of technology. Current vehicles are well equipped in terms of new technologies. If they exist, then they are useful for something and therefore must be used. 

Admittedly, they do not do the work for humans even if similar systems have been developed, but they nevertheless help to greatly simplify manoeuvres of all kinds, especially with a trailer. For example, we find Ford’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist system, which is extremely useful for backing up a trailer.

Conclusions

Backing up the 5th wheel trailer may be difficult especially if you are new to doing it, but it is not impossible. With the experience and use of these different techniques and advice, this can be done easily. Either way, no matter how experienced a driver is, caution is always required to avoid any danger.

Please feel free to get in contact should you have any questions or comments on the content. 

FAQ on Are 5th wheels easier to back up?

Can you jackknife a fifth wheel?

Yes, it is entirely possible for a fifth wheel to jackknife, skid or tip over. When a fifth wheel jackknifes, it means that the trailer did not follow the towing vehicle and did not turn properly. The fifth wheel may turn on a different side and nearly touch sides with your car.

What happens when a fifth wheel jackknifes?

Jackknife is produced in most cases by a loss of traction between the fifth wheel tires and the asphalt surface of the road. Instead of sticking to the asphalt as they should, the tires slip without proper traction, making it difficult or impossible for the driver to control them. 

Should my 5th wheel trailer be level when towing?

Yes, your trailer should be level when towing to improve your driving stability, braking performance, ground clearance,  and ultimately to prevent unwanted movement. 

What happens if your trailer is not level?

If your trailer is not level when towing, it will affect your braking performance, handling and it will cause your trailer to wear out more quickly. Another danger when your trailer is not level is that it can sway, causing unnecessary accidents. 

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