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The Dark Art of Reverse Parking a Caravan - How to Reverse a Caravan in Tow

How to reverse a caravan in tow

We've yet to meet anyone that loves reversing a caravan into a tight spot. In fact, the vast majority of travellers see it as no more than a necessary evil. 

Put simply, reversing a hitched-load is tricky, delicate and often-times frustrating. Nevertheless, it can be overwhelmingly satisfying to nail the perfect park when reversing a caravan into an idyllic spot. And it's encouraging to remember that reversing vans is statistically one of the safest elements of towing. 

Take it slowly when entering a caravan park and don;t rush to position your van into your allocated spot (Opal Inn Caravan Park)(Image: Take it slowly when entering a caravan park and don't rush to position your van into your allocated spot- Opal Inn Caravan Park.)

The best approach is to remain calm and go slow. Memorise the basics and with a bit of practice, you'll be in there smooth as silk. Here's how it goes:

  1. Line the van up van so that it's pointing in the direction you want it to go – or at least as close as you can, depending on the space you're working with. If you need to reverse at an angle, you'll get better visibility by backing the van to the right so that the driver's side is on the inside of the curve. 
  2. If you have a passenger, get them to jump out and act as your spotter. Have them stand back and within view of the side mirrors. Roll the windows down so you can communicate easily, you may need to clarify some hand signals before you start. Your mirrors should be adjusted so that if the vehicle and van are lined up straight you can see both back corners of the van. 
  3. Now for the fun part; slowly back it up to push the van back into place. The trick is that the effect of your steering wheel is reversed. To combat the confusion, hold your hands at the bottom of the steering wheel, not the top. This way, steering with your right hand will move the caravan to the right, and the left hand turns the van to the left (this makes more sense when you're doing it).  
  4. First, turn the wheel so that the tow vehicle pushes the van to the desired angle, then ease up the angle of steering so that the tow vehicle follows the line of the van in a smooth arc. 
  5. The key to smooth reversing is to take it slowly and avoid big, sudden movements. Things can get out of control quickly, relax and take a break if things get tricky. At any point you can pull forward to correct the angle, this can help to reduce the curve to a gentler angle. And never be ashamed to pull forward, straighten up and start again.

14 comments

  • Glen Willson: June 08, 2021

    I have found this to be the simplest easyist to understand advice on how to steer when reversing a caravan:
    Face forward
    Look in side mirrors
    If too much caravan in Right mirror – turn steering wheel to the Right
    If too much caravan in Left mirror – turn steering wheel to the Left.

  • Paul Martin: May 31, 2021

    Its the age old story. Been driving for 8 hours. Both tired. You arrive at wine o’clock and proceed to entertain all the other van owners comfortably sitting around eating cheese and drinking wine. Then the spotter at the back starts giving hand signals. Nothing is going right for the driver. In the end he gets out in desperation and yells to the spotter whilst waving his arm around. "What the….. does this mean? We have all been there. Its not fun. Just try to stay calm. And maybe practice down some quiet back street with a few maneuvers. Practice, Practice Practice and you will improve.

  • Caravan Finance Australia: May 18, 2021

    Too many first-time owners, reversing a caravan is one of the trickiest and most intimidating maneuvers to perform. Thanks for sharing!
    https://www.creditone.com.au/leisure/caravan-and-camper-finance

  • Brian Hunt: May 11, 2021

    No one can get it right every time. I agree with Mark in earlier post, there should be a special licence or category for towing anything bigger than a box trailer. Too many people are buying vans and hitting the road with no experience. Lets get them trained first, maybe the dealers can get involved, no sale without passing a practical test after basic training.

  • Chris Lilol: May 07, 2021

    Hello Hema and Bec,

    I would like to make a comment on reversing your caravan with the help of a spotter. I have been towing trailers and caravans of all shape and sizes along with driving heavy haulage. The first thing a driver should do is visually check out where they want the van etc and have a good impression how they are going to execute the operation. Having a spotter is an excellent idea, but they should also understand how the driver is wanting to execute the operation. ideally, the spotter should be at the front of the vehicle and should only need to point to the direction that back of thevan etc should be heading. In tight situations, yes, there may be some need to communicate, but generally it can normally be achieved by surveying the situation and having the spotter just pointing from the front.
    The big issue I see with backing of vehicles and trailers etc, is that there are alot of drivers who hook up for the first time and have little or NO experience backing with a trailer etc .
    I look forward to your continued publications.

  • Graeme Munro: May 07, 2021

    When I am reversing our van, my wife takes out a hand held UHF radio as she acts as spotter, saves confusing hand signals and keeps the noise level down.

  • Ken Prokopec: May 07, 2021

    Great tips to get started. Reads well. now lets see how it goes for real!! thanks!

  • John Parkes: May 07, 2021

    Sensible advice. I’ve been towing vans for 50 years and point 5 on your advice list is probably the most salient piece of advice to remember.

  • Mark: May 07, 2021

    if you can’t reverse a trailer then you should be pulling one inthe forward direction either. bring on a special licence to tow a trailer and some of the useless drivers off the road.

  • David Munday: May 07, 2021

    This is a really nice explanation. I agree reversing with trailer/caravan can be stressful. I was fortunate that my Dad taught me when I was a teenager and even after quite a few years without towing, when my wife and I started camping with a young family and camper in tow, this valuable reversing skill came back just fine.I admit it can still be a bit nerve wracking if there are others watching but I totally agree that slow careful manoeuvring with not too much steering input for each adjustment to the arc is the key- and yes it can be really satisfying to nail it! Cheers, David

  • Peter PAUL Prysten: May 07, 2021

    This is sensible, always steering with the bottom of the steering wheel. I would also recommend that if you’re towing with a 4-wheel drive, then put the transmission into LOW. That way, things happen slowly and there is no need to use the accelerator, only the brake pedal. A second handheld radio saves all that shouting and yelling!

  • Peter Black: May 07, 2021

    Many years ago I was towing a 20 foot van with an old XY Falcon sedan. Driving through the main street of Goulburn, which then had parallel parking, I spotted some vacant spots to park. It looked a bit tight but I decided to give it a go and attempt to reverse park the rig. No reversing cameras in those days, so got the wife out to watch the rear of van. Perfect, nailed it first go. Small crowd watching on the footpath were amazed. I got out, felt like an expert. This is the one and only time I have do that. Wouldn’t even consider it now. But as they say, with a bit of practice and knowledge, it’s not so hard.

  • James: May 07, 2021

    Your tip regarding carefully positioning the combo for turning towards the drivers side makes it immensely easier. As driver you can turn and see what is happening much more readily. It really is worth doing another lap of the park and even going the ‘wrong way’ to give yourself this big advantage, especially if your passenger side mirrors happen to be convex (useless for backing!).

    Try to stop the forward motion in the absolutely best position possible to make the reversing easier, including with the curve being already initiated.

    The spotter is well named. The spotter should not use terms like “left-hand down”, “straighten up” etc., as if they know what is required. They should be good at estimating distance and looking for dangers and declaring how much distance to any important objects, and of course shouting STOP if required. They have an important role in telling the driver what the driver cannot see.

    The most interesting method that I have ever seen was when the driver got out, the spouse got in . . and followed ‘the driver’s’ exact instructions via portable radios without having a clue of how to reverse a caravan. The experienced driver had the luxury of darting here and there checking all manner of clearances and got a perfect result the very first time. Bravo!

    Finally, if using UHF radios, change to an agreed private channel, say 53, and you won’t find yourselves amusing all the truckies in the district!!

    Take your time – and don’t hit anything.

  • Alan: May 07, 2021

    Well you can relax because you have now met someone who loves reversing a van into a tight spot.
    I enjoy the challenge of putting my 30ft 5th wheel into difficult spots.
    Believe it or not, I have actually spoken to people who will avoid anywhere that they can’t get a drive-thru site. Crazy.

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