How to reverse a trailer

Updated July 20, 2017

Reversing, or backing up a trailer is normally the first manoeuvre a truck driver trainee attempts after learning how to shift gears and go forward. Some drivers back a trailer several times a day, while others may only do it once or twice a week. Understanding how to back up a trailer into a loading dock is an essential skill that every truck driver needs to master.

Position the back of the tractor-trailer just past the loading dock or target of the manoeuvre. Set the parking brake. Start the four-way flashers. Exit the tractor, walk around to the back of the trailer and inspect the area to ensure that no traffic or other obstacles will interfere with backing the trailer into the dock.

Re-enter the tractor. Depress t.he brake and clutch pedals to the floor. Move the range lever, if equipped, to low range. Move the shift lever to the reverse position. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the right Release the parking brake and foot brake. Slowly release the clutch pedal until the tractor moves in reverse.

Center the steering wheel when the tractor is at a 90-degree angle to the trailer, stopping the tractor if necessary to do so. The idea is to rotate the front of the trailer sideways by pushing it with the tractor, using the rear wheels as the pivot point until the trailer is almost at a 90-degree angle to the loading dock.

Turn the steering wheel rapidly to the left to chase the trailer as it approaches the 90-degree angle to the dock. The idea in chasing the trailer is to align the tractor and trailer at the same point so that the trailer reaches the 90-degree angle to the dock. Pull forward,making any adjustments necessary in order to correct the alignment of the tractor and trailer to the loading dock.

Put the tractor into reverse and finish reversing the trailer into the dock.


Don't be in a hurry to reverse the trailer. The chances of having an accident increase when backing up too fast. Keep checking the mirrors in the tractor to ensure that no traffic has pulled in behind the trailer or on the blind side of the trailer. When possible, approach the dock so that the left side of the truck faces the dock. While backing from the left side can be mastr easily, backing on the right, or blindside, is something some drivers are never able to do. The principles for backing a tractor-trailer also apply to horse trailers, utility trailers or any other type of trailer.

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About the Author

Tom Price began writing professionally in 1989. He has written for the "Chicago Tribune Redeye," the "Chicago Tribune" and "Los Angeles Times," among other publications. Price holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Illinois.