How to learn to reverse a tractor trailer

Updated February 21, 2017

Backing a tractor-trailer is one of the most difficult parts of a driving job. Drivers of single-unit vehicles learn to back their vehicles without putting thought into the mechanics of backing. A tractor-trailer combination does the opposite of what a car does when backing: Instead of the rear of the vehicle going left when you turn the wheel left, it goes right and vice-versa. Semi-truck drivers cannot see what is behind their vehicle, so they have to be vigilant when backing so they do not hit anything.

Locate a large empty car park. Manufacturing facilities often have empty car parks available on weekends and after-hours.

Make a 15-foot wide alley in front of your truck using your cones. Place 10 cones on each side, 20 feet apart.

Drive forward until the end of your trailer is at the front of the cone alley.

Set your brakes and get out of the truck. Walk around the truck to make sure there is nothing behind the trailer.

Get in the truck, put on your emergency flashers and honk your air horn once. The flashers and horn signal to others that you are backing. Put your truck in reverse and go straight back through the alley. If your trailer begins to get out of line, turn the top of the steering wheel slightly in the direction that the back of the trailer is going until the trailer is straight behind the truck. Back the truck until the trailer is even with the last cones.

Practice reversing the truck until you are able to back the vehicle accurately.


Always use the low reverse gear when backing. Do not accelerate when backing -- the momentum of the truck will move it down the alley. Remember to turn the top of the steering wheel toward the problem when backing a trailer. If you are seeing more of the trailer in one mirror than in the other, the trailer is not straight. Turn the top of the wheel toward the side that the trailer is going to get it back in line with the truck.


Always walk around your truck before you back up to make sure the area is clear. Use your mirrors to back; do not open the door and lean out to look because you could fall. Whenever possible, use a spotter on the ground to watch for people or cars that could get behind the trailer. A short trailer will turn quicker because of the wheelbase. Always make small adjustments while going slow enough to stop and pull up to straighten your rig if you need to.

Things You'll Need

  • 20 traffic cones
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About the Author

Specializing in business and finance, Lee Nichols began writing in 2002. Nichols holds a Bachelor of Arts in Web and Graphic Design and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Mississippi.