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What are the two main things that new RVers worry about? Yep, you guessed it, parking and turning! But with these travel trailer turning radius tips I look forward to being better at making turns. Since we got our travel trailer last year, I have only pulled it once. Now I need to learn how to turn and also turn while backing up so I can park. Turning a travel trailer requires patience and practice.
What is the best Travel Trailer Turning Radius Tip? When making a right-hand turn while towing a travel trailer, you’ll need to give yourself extra room to pull straight forward into the intersection before initiating the turn. This is called the “Pull Straight, Turn Late” method.
We’re going to give you some tips and tricks on how to turn a travel trailer safely. Keep in mind, it might be scary hitting the road for the first time while towing a camper trailer. But, if you don’t try, you’ll never overcome the fear of towing your RV.
Tips for Turning with a Travel Trailer
As I’m sure you already know, towing on the highway is easier to do than navigating city streets. Driving in the city is where you’ll have the hardest time adjusting. City streets are tighter and less hospitable for vehicles turning while pulling trailers. Have you ever seen a semi-truck or tractor trailer go over the curb? You can expect the same challenges as you learn the ins and outs of turning with your travel trailer.
You must remember that when towing a travel trailer, 5th wheel or camper, you’re much heavier than you’d usually be while driving a car. When fully loaded, you’re going to need more braking distance and a wider turn radius, especially when making right turns. Left turns, for the most part, will be easier for you to master when towing because you’ll have more room for error.
When making a right-hand turn while towing a travel trailer, you’ll need to give yourself extra room to pull straight forward into the intersection before turning. This is called known as “Pull Straight – Turn Late” and this method will allow you to make sure that your trailer tires are clear of the curb before you start your right turn.
Pull Straight then Turn Late
When towing a travel trailer, you’ll need to consider your trailer tires when making turns, and mainly right turns. You’ll need to head further into the intersection than you are used to before beginning to make your turn. Hence the phrase; pull straight, turn late.
It is important to remember that if you don’t clear the corner, there is a good possibility that you will hit the curb with your trailer tires. This could blow out a tire(s), bend a tire rim, take out a sign or light post, tear off the awning, or otherwise damage your travel trailer.
If this does happen, you need to stay on the scene and call the authorities. If the authorities see this and you leave the scene, they will pull you over. And there is also a good possibility that you will get a ticket for 1. Leaving the scene of an accident, 2. Careless or reckless driving, 3. Hit and run, or 4. Destruction of property. Plus your insurance company may want a copy of a police report to handle your insurance claim.
RELATED READING: Check out our article about RV insurance to make sure you are properly covered in case of an accident.
Tail Swing can be significant enough to move the back end of your trailer into the lane next to you during a turn. This may result in a car accident or worse yet, striking a pedestrian if you’re not careful. Tail swing is when the back end of your RV swings out toward the opposite direction of the direction you are turning. The longer the distance from the rear wheels to the back bumper of your RV the greater the tail swing.
Tail swing is crucial to consider when anything is close to the side of your trailer like, other cars, gas pumps, pedestrians, signs, and even hookups at a campsite.
As you can see in the diagram to the right, the tail end of the truck swings out to the left during a right-hand turn, thereby creating the potential for an accident.
Travel Trailer Turning Radius Calculator
To use the turning radius calculator you need to know: tow vehicle length, wheelbase, rear overhang, width and the distance between the wheels of your car. For the camper trailer or caravan, you need to know the length, length excluding the tow hitch and the distance from the tow hitch to the trailer wheel.
You will also need the curb to curb turning circle of your tow vehicle. The curb to curb turning circle is used to calculate the minimum turn radius of the vehicle to see if you can get your car around the corner without the trailer.
Here’s the thing about turning radius calculators. You have to know a lot of info about the towing vehicle and the trailer to enter the stats into a turning radius calculator. So, my best advice is to head to a large empty parking lot, like your local high school parking lot, and practice making turns.
This is really the best way to learn your turning radius. You can practice by setting up cones or trash cans and making the tightest possible right and left-hand turns without hitting anything.
Turning While Backing Up a Travel Trailer
Towing a travel trailer behind you is really quite easy because your trailer follows you wherever you go. You just need to remember to make wider turns. But backing up a trailer up is not so easy. It can be frustrating, nerve-wracking, and leave you sweating bullets. The number one thing to remember is to take your time and just breath.
I, personally, have not mastered this yet, but by the end of the summer, I will be a pro! During my studies, I have found some helpful tips that I would like to share with you.
When you turn and back up, the trailer and tow vehicle will form a V shape pointing away from the direction you are turning. As you go, the V will get sharper and sharper if you hold the wheel steady. The more dramatic the turn of your steering wheel, the faster the angle will become sharp. Go too sharp, and you can get jack-knifed. You’ll want to avoid this!
With your hand on the bottom of your steering wheel, the direction you move your hand is the direction the butt end of your trailer will go as you back up.
If you need to straighten out, the best way to do that is to go forward, not backward. It is tough, almost impossible to straighten-out going backward. Ideally, aim your wheels at the axis you want the trailer on, and go that way until you are lined up. Also, any time you feel stuck, going forward and trying to re-set is almost always your best move. And, to reset your position, pull forward further than you think you need to. This will give you plenty of room to get the correct angle to back up.
RV Driving Classes
There are plenty of RV Driving Classes available like RV School and RV Driving School through FMCA. But these classes might not be held near you. There are some good resources where you can take an RV driving class right in your own living room like this DVD from RV Education 101: Drive Your Motorhome Like a Pro or this paperback called Drive Your Motorhome Like a Pro. These are very inexpensive and will provide you with some good driving tips for turning and much more.
RELATED READING: Check out our article Is RV Driving School Worth the Money? to consider RV Driving School and other options to learn to drive an RV.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Do yourself a favor and practice in a large open parking lot before trying to back into a campsite. The best kind of exercise is usually hands-on practice. If you have your trailer already, drive it out to a large open parking lot in your area when it is likely to be empty. There you can practice backing up while turning to get a real life feel for how it works. Might be a good idea to bring some traffic cones or other obstacles that won’t hurt your trailer to simulate backing into a camping space.
Go slow and don’t panic. You can always take a few seconds to stop, catch your breath, and try again. Many veteran RVers know how you feel; they have been in your shoes before. They may even offer you some help and tips, so make sure you listen with both ears and take in all they are telling you.
Learning to turn while pulling a travel trailer or 5th wheel is part of the RV driving experience. Just take your time, practice and use some of our tips, and you will be turning like a pro.
As always, we thank you for reading our article. We would like to hear your feedback or any tips and tricks that you may know for knowing your travel trailers turning radius and backing up a trailer.
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