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Backing...Backing is NOT something you'll get good at overnight...so don't expect it or you'll be very, very disappointed!

Is it really that hard?


How hard backing is depends upon how well you understand angles, how much experience you have at the chore,etc, etc... If you've ever backed a boat trailer or camper, you've done at least some backing. The principles are exactly the same -- the difference is the length of the vehicles and what you're able to see (or more importantly, not see).


Backing is a trial and error process and only gets better with time & practice BUT can be learned significantly faster & with less difficulty with an understanding of ANGLES. Very few people are "born to back". The rest of us have to suffer through the learning process.


Backing is learning angles and timing -- when to begin your angle, how long to hold it and when to get rid of that angle. If this page does not make sense to you now, don't despair. It will. Come back after you've started doing some backing and see if a light bulb or two doesn't light up.


The 45 degree alley dock will likely be one of the first backs you'll learn. It's used the most often in the "real world".


45 Degree "Alley Dock" 


The 45 degree alley dock is probably what you'll use the most and what you will practice the most at school.

This is a student backing into a "dock" using a 45 degree alley dock setup. Most driving schools use cones and barrels to simulate a real dock. Why won't this tractor/trailer go into the dock straight from the position it is in now? (Wheels are turned slightly right.)


a. the wheels are turned the wrong way

b. the trailer is straight in the dock but the tractor is still at an angle.

c. both of the above.



Understand that since you have a pivot point (the fifth wheel), the trailer is going to go in the opposite way that you turn the steering wheel provided that you are steering from the top of the steering wheel. Some people claim it's easier to steer from the bottom, but my own personal opinion says steer from the top.








Next is the concept of "jacking and chasing". This means that you are going to "point" or "aim" the back of the trailer where you want it to go. This creates an angle and is the "jacking" part.


Once you've established the proper angle, it is time to "chase" the trailer -- in other words, to get the tractor & trailer straight with each other again. It's very simple to know which way to turn the steering wheel if you want to "chase" the trailer -- simply turn the steering wheel in the direction you can see more trailer in your mirror. If there's more trailer in the right mirror, you must turn the wheel right and vise versa.


Sounds easy enough, right? It's easy enough to see "straight" on a screen or on paper, but the trick is in seeing "straight" in the west coast mirrors. You are "straight" when both mirrors, left and right, show you nearly the same "picture". If your mirrors are not properly adjusted, you will not be able to do this! It is imperative when backing that the mirrors are properly adjusted, as well as clean.





The graphic to the left is of a trailer that is "jacked" -- an angle has been created. Which way would you turn the wheel to make the tractor and trailer straight again as in graphic to the right?


a. Right


b. Left


c. Neither, keep straight





C.  This is an example of a 45 degree alley dock. This 45 went bad when the driver cut it in towards the dock too sharply and/or too soon or held his angle for too long. If you look closely, you can see the blue barrel is on a collision course with the bumper. (arrow) Notice that the steer tires are turned left -- which indicates the driver knows he has come in too sharply and is trying to get the back end of the trailer to go to the right. That's a good plan but the flaw in it is that you must provide for the reaction time of the trailer. Once you turn the steering wheel in one direction or the other, the trailer does not immediately respond. It takes 6-8 feet before it does, minimum. This back cannot be fixed going backwards.... it must be fixed by a pull up.



If the barrel were NOT there and the driver proceeded back with the steer tires "pointed" just as they are in the picture, (approximately a full turn to the left) upon crossing the red line, about where would the rear right trailer tandem (black dot) cross the red line? (click on the picture.)




D.  This is the exact opposite problem as above. This back failed when the driver did not bring the trailer in tight enough to the barrel on the left. This is probably a worse back because right now the driver cannot see that he is inches from the barrel on his blind side. That barrel will be a REAL TRUCK when school is out!  Important!  Remember that anytime the trailer is as wide on the left side barrel as it is here, there's a definite problem on the other side.

Because of the minimum of 6 - 8 feet that it requires for the trailer to change direction after turning the steering wheel, this back cannot be fixed by doing anything other than:


a. a pull up


b. turning hard right


c. turning hard left





E.  The trailer is coming in too tight to the left-side barrel. The steer tires are turned hard left in an attempt to "get under" the trailer. This is the right thing to do, but has been done too late.

Here is a huge key to the whole thing. Perhaps you're wondering: if the driver has the wheel turned hard left, isn't the trailer supposed to go to the right? Yes, but, and this is a big but, it will not go to the right until it first comes straight with the trailer. Once the tractor is straight in line with the trailer, if the wheel is held left, the trailer will begin to move right. until the tractor comes straight, though, the trailer will continue to turn in the direction it had been going... which in this case is left.

Where do you think the left side of the trailer will end up if this driver were to proceed with the wheel turned exactly as it is now? ? (click on the picture)





F.  Do you think this set-up will allow the trailer the necessary space to get into this hole? The front wheels are turned approximately 3/4 to nearly one full turn to the right.

If the driver were to keep them in this position and proceed back, where do you think the left side trailer tires would end up? (click on the picture)



Backing Terminology

"get under it" or "Chase it" or "Follow it"


get the tractor and trailer straight to each other.

"Jack it"


create an angle

"Set up"


the way you position the truck and trailer to prepare for a backing maneuver.



Get Out and Look! (Or.. sometimes... Get Off Of Your Lazy #*@ and Look!!!!)



sometimes you must do pull ups to straighten an angle or to avoid hitting something. Most drivers use pull-ups and there's no reason not to use them. You can "fix" a bad backing situation with a pull up far easier than you can "fix" it going forward IF it's done right.

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Backing Tips


1.) Watch others as they back. You'll almost learn more from watching than from doing.


2.) Easy on the clutch. When you first let it out, it will sort of "surge" the truck back. The truck will then mellow out and go nice and slow. Unless you really need to stop and get your bearings, try to back with the clutch all the way out. It'll save a lot of wear and tear on your leg, not to mention wear & tear on the clutch itself. When a clutch gets hot, it tends to get "jumpy" and that makes it that much harder.


3.) If you have ANY doubt about where something is (or isn't) behind you, Get Out and Look. Make that a habit right now.


4.) You will learn nothing if you don't try.


5.) Roll your window down.


6.) Make sure your mirrors are adjusted correctly and that they are CLEAN. If they're not adjusted right, you won't back very well. Period. If they're dirty, you're just making it harder on yourself because light on dirt creates glare and makes it tough to see.


7.) Turn the AM/FM and/or CB radio off. You need to be able to concentrate.


8.) Finally, be patient with yourself. This is NOT a skill that a person learns overnight! In fact, many drivers spend YEARS developing and fine-tuning their backing skills. It's a learning process that never ends.


9.) People will often watch you back. Try not to let that make you nervous.


10.) Back at idle speed -- don't use the throttle.


11.) If you are at the shipper's/receiver's dock and are woken up and told to back into a spot, give yourself just a minute before you put it in gear and go. You may even want to get out of the truck for a second and get awakened. When you've been snoozing and all of the sudden you're awakened, it's hard to get all powers of concentration back to the real world.

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Pull Ups


Why not "fix" that bad set up or back by going forward instead of back????  It's much easier to fix it by pulling ahead than by backing... if it's done right. 


Here are two examples of situations that would use pull-ups as a remedy instead of backing...


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In Conclusion


We all have our "bad days" backing... every single driver out there (most certainly including this one) has times that he/she can put it in the hole

the very first shot as well as the times it takes 3 (or more!) pull-ups.

Sometimes it's raining when you back - sometimes snowing

and sometimes just the darkness can make it harder, not to mention

fatigue and tough docks.


The good news is that it gets increasingly easier with time.... Just remember.. GOAL!!!!!




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