The idea of a caravan is an appealing one for many people, a home from home to explore the UK or Europe. But what puts some of them off is their lack of experience in moving one around, and the big fear is often reversing.
It could be manoeuvring on to a spacious campsite pitch or – and this is the nightmare scenario – down a narrow back road in front of impatient drivers after you’ve misunderstood commands from the sat-nav.
Even long-term owners complain about the difficulties of getting their ‘van to go where they want it to, and the stress can seriously hit marital harmony on holiday!
Many modern caravans have built-in ‘motor movers’ to take away some of the hassle, but there will always be times when the dark art of doing it with your car is unavoidable.
Getting it right isn’t that hard and the solution is two-fold – you need to understand the concept of ‘counter-steering’, and you need to practice.
Confused by the laws governing caravans? Read our FAQs.
Years of experience behind the wheel means we don’t really think about which way we turn it when we want to go backwards. When you’re reversing a caravan, the rule is to turn the steering wheel the other way to what seems normal. This is called counter-steering.
Your car’s door mirrors are a key weapon in the battle to getting it right. That’s part of the reason you see extension ones attached to vehicles being used to tow.
The secret to successful reversing is to take it slow. Start with the car and caravan in a straight line and all the wheels pointing ahead. Now go backwards at a snail’s pace.
As you start to move, observe which way the trailer is heading away from straight – because it quickly will. You’ll see a big slab of caravan side in either the left or right mirror, and the trick is to turn the vehicle’s steering wheel in that direction. It’s the opposite of what you’d do if the caravan wasn’t there.
Whoever first said ‘practice makes perfect’ was obviously a keen caravanner.
When you buy one, or if you’re still lacking confidence after countless trips, go somewhere away from other traffic. Under-used car parks are an ideal spot, but you will probably know of somewhere suitable close by.
Start by going straight back, and when you’ve mastered that try 90 degree turns. Heading right is easier because you can look out of the car window to see the pivot point.
Reversing left will take a bit more practice because you need to see over your left shoulder and through the car.
Give yourself enough space to start reversing in a straight line, then flick the wheel – remembering to counter-steer – to get the caravan going in the appropriate direction. When the back end is where you want it, turn the wheel on to opposite lock so the car is following the caravan back.
A shunt or two will help you position it perfectly, then you can relax and enjoy your holiday.
Read more caravan driving tips.