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Back it Up! Learn the Correct Way to Back Up Single-Axle, Double-Axle and Triple-Axle Trailers

 Posted on: January 28th, 2022

Car and trailer backing up by the river
Car and trailer backing up by the river

Backing up a trailer can be a complicated task, and with different types of trailers, you might wonder whether the process of backing up differs among them.

You can find single, double and triple trailers on the market. Understanding the differences between these trailers will ensure you are able to back them up safely and avoid any potentially dangerous (and embarrassing) accidents.

But what do we mean when we talk about a single-axle versus a double- or triple-axle trailer?

Single Axle
Double Axle
Triple Axle
3D rendering examples of Single, Double, and Triple Trailer Axles

The axle is the rod that passes through the center of a wheel, or group of wheels. Therefore, a single-axle trailer is a trailer with just one axle, connecting a wheel on either side of the trailer. A double-axle trailer features two axles, each of which are connected to wheels on either side of the trailer. Finally, a triple-axle trailer features three axles, all connected to wheels on either side. This results in two, four and six wheels, respectively.

Typically, the larger the weight you need to haul, the more likely you are to need a double- or triple-axle trailer.

Backing up your trailer

In most cases, the number of axles won’t make a significant difference for how you back up the trailer—what’s more likely to be important is the design of the hitch.

Most vehicles connect to trailers with a ball hitch, and a ball-and-socket connection. This ensures some maneuverability even with the added weight and length on the back of the vehicle. However, it can result in the trailer moving off at weird angles, no matter how many wheels it has.

Here’s an overview of the steps to safely backing up a trailer:

Keep your hands at six o’clock

Keep your hands at six o’clock

Normally when you’re driving you probably keep your hands at around 10 and 2. By keeping them at 6, it will be a lot easier for you to visualize the way you need to move your hands and steer the trailer. Moving to the left while in that position will cause your trailer to go left. Moving to the right while in that position will cause the trailer to go right.


Look over your shoulder

Don’t just rely on rearview mirrors and backup cameras—actually look over your shoulder, and roll down your window to get the best view out your side mirrors as well.


Consider the relationship between vehicle and trailer

Rather than thinking of the vehicle and the trailer as a single large piece of equipment all moving together, think of it as your vehicle pushing your trailer one way or another. Another great way to think of it is a person pushing a wheelbarrow. If you want to turn the wheelbarrow to the left, the handles have to go to the right. The feeling of maneuvering a trailer is quite similar.

If you want to turn the wheelbarrow to the left, the handles have to go to the right just like the vehicle and its trailer
If you want to turn the wheelbarrow to the left, the handles have to go to the right just like the vehicle and its trailer

Take your time

You can start off by making wide turns, but always go slow at first so you can avoid jackknifing the trailer. This is one of the biggest mistakes made by beginners—trying to get through the process too quickly, and ultimately damaging the vehicle and trailer. You need to focus on making wide turns, and going slow until you really become comfortable with the process. It might take you months or years of practice before you really get the hang of it.

How trailer length affects handling

Small trailers, like single-axle trailers, are more likely to swing faster when you’re turning the wheel even slightly. Longer trailers are actually easier to back up because they don’t maneuver as quickly. This means when backing up a single-axle trailer, you need to make sure you’re taking it slow and not making any jerky, rapid adjustments, as the single-axle trailer will be easier to jackknife.

Longer trailers are not as sensitive to these steering adjustments, especially when they’re loaded up with items. You’ll need more space to back them up, and you’ll need to make larger movements with your steering.

If your longer trailers are also on the taller side, you might need to add some tow mirrors so you can get better visibility out the rear.

Practice makes perfect! If you have a trailer and need to learn how to back it up, get into an open area and practice, practice, practice. You’ll become an expert in no time!