Whether you’re using an owned semi trailer or a semi trailer for lease or rent, it’s critical that you take good care of that expensive piece of equipment. This is especially true when backing up. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to reach a loading dock or simply park the rig, backing up is an activity where there is tremendous risk of damage and injury, not only to the semi tractor and trailer, but to other vehicles, property and bystanders.

From veteran truckers to first-time drivers, it pays to review the best practices for backing up a semi trailer on a regular basis. Doing so can prevent costly mistakes as well as the time and effort involved in resolving them.

Backing up Like the Pros: How to Get Your Semi Trailer Right Where You Want It

To minimize the risk of damage or injury, keep the 15 tips below in mind every time you back up a semi trailer.

  1. Don’t back up. No, that’s not a tip on how to back up a semi trailer. But if you can position your rig where you want it without backing up, that’s ideal!
  2. Practice frequently. If you’re new to driving a truck, finding a large, empty parking lot or other open area in which you can practice backing up your semi trailer is key. Not only will your conscious awareness of the challenges increase, you’ll also start to develop what’s called “muscle memory.” Your arms, hands, legs and feet will “get a feel” for how to manipulate the steering wheel and pedals to get the rig to respond in a particular way.
  3. Observe how other drivers back up—in general and at your destination. The more often you observe truckers backing up their rigs, the more you learn about the process. That’s true no matter where they’re doing it. But if you can watch drivers back into the spot you’ll be using, that’s even more helpful.
  4. Use your steering wheel as a visual reminder. Most truckers are familiar with the trick of thinking of the top part of the steering wheel as the tractor and the bottom as the semi trailer. When you steer to the right, the top of the wheel goes to the right and the bottom to the left, meaning the trailer will go to the left, and vice versa.
  5. Scan the area. Before attempting to back up, stop and look around. What are the stationary objects you need to be aware of? What are the moving objects (vehicles, people, etc.) that you must account for throughout the maneuver?
  6. Remember “GOAL” (Get out and look!). Your initial scan is the first step. An important follow up is to get out of the cab and examine the area more carefully. Hazards you might not have noticed previously may become apparent. Many drivers are hesitant to do this, as they feel it will make them look like they don’t know what they’re doing. Of course, hitting something or someone does far more to create that perception! Experienced truckers are big believers in the “Better safe than sorry” approach to backing up.
  7. Clear the area of movable obstacles. If you feel that the forklift is too close to your approach path, ask for it to be moved. It doesn’t matter that, “The other driver goes past it all the time with no problem.” You’re the one behind the wheel now, and that means you’re the boss.
  8. Eliminate distractions. Turn off your radio, silence your phone, etc. Anything that can draw your attention away from what you’re doing—even for a fraction of a second—increases your risk of a collision.
  9. Use “landmarks” to help you get your bearings. Any visual indicators that will remain stationary during your maneuver can be used to help you assess your approach angle. Things like painted lines or even cracks in the pavement can serve as guides.
  10. Announce your intentions. Be sure people in the area know what you’re doing. Turn your hazards on and hit the horn a few times before you start backing up. Your instinct may be to avoid being noticed if you’re not confident about your ability to hit your mark, but nevertheless, you need to caution people to stay clear.
  11. Choose your spotter wisely. It’s best to have another trucker guide you into a spot rather than someone who’s never driven a big rig. The trucker understands the functioning of the vehicle and what you’re seeing and experiencing in the driver’s seat. Others won’t have that insight to draw on.
  12. Back up slowly. This goes without saying yet bears repeating. And, of course, keep your foot on the brake once the rig is in motion.
  13. Watch your tires and axles. Too often, drivers focus solely on the back of the semi trailer and whether it seems to be moving in the right direction. That’s important, of course, but looking at your tires and axles can give you a truer sense of direction.
  14. Take your time and don’t hesitate to start over. Taking three attempts… five attempts… 10 attempts to get it right is better than losing your patience, just “going for it” and colliding with something.
  15. Be comfortable saying, “No.” Some environments simply pose too many risks. If the hazards can’t be reduced, you shouldn’t enter these areas.

No Two Semi Trailer Backing Up Experiences Are the Same

“If you’ve seen one loading dock, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Famous last words before an expensive mistake! Just because you’ve backed into bays a thousand times doesn’t mean the next time will be any easier. You’ve got to treat each maneuver as if it’s your first attempt. The minute you let your guard down and start to relax, something unexpected will occur and you’ll find yourself with an insurance claim, an angry customer, a frustrated boss or all of the above.

The Final Piece of the Puzzle: A Well-Maintained, Mechanically Sound Semi Trailer

Whether you operate dry van trailers, flatbed trailers, refrigerated trailers or liftgate trailers.

At Boxwheel, we pride ourselves on providing customers with well-maintained, mechanically sound semi trailers that handle exactly as designed and expected. If you have questions about our inventory of trailers for rent, lease or sale, or our company in general, we’re happy to answer them. Please contact us at your convenience, or stop by our Colorado or Arizona location and lets have a conversation on how Boxwheel can help with your trailer needs.

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