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Tips for Backing a Tractor Trailer

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

Don’t give up, keep practicing, every job takes skill and skill has to be learned!

As a female truck driver who is new to the industry of trucking, you're bound to feel like giving up. There are guys out there who want to make your life as a trucker miserable, but the majority of men are nice and can help you.

New male truck drivers have many of the same fears and concerns that you do, everyone has fears and uncertainty when it comes to a new job. They do not graduate from trucking school knowing everything. In fact, you probably know more about trucking than they do.

Women generally are more detail organized than men. You probably breezed through the written parts of the program, but you struggled with backing a truck.

You're not alone, everyone struggles with backing. There are times when seasoned truckers struggle backing into a tight place. If you pay attention to other truckers who have been driving for years, you will notice that they get out and look when they are not sure of the area, if the parking lot is full of cars, or trash cans.

We will discuss:

  • Look around the area.

  • Be cautious.

  • You Are the Driver.

  • Be aware of the front of your truck.

  • Take your time.

  • Watch the back passenger side of the trailer.

  • Remember to pay attention to the fairings on the truck and the side of the trailer.

  • You can’t see the front bumper.

  • Pulling up is not a contest.

  • Set up to back in the dock.

  • Trailer Doors.

  • Dock Plates.

Many trucker drivers want others to think they never get out of the truck to check while backing in.

It’s just not true!

The smart and safe drivers will get out and look when in doubt.


Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

Look Around the Area

ALWAYS look around the area that you will be backing into. It may take only a quick glance or it may take a quick walk around the truck and trailer to access the area.

Look for people, cars, low signs, poles, trash cans, bushes, trees, anything that can be a possible hazard.

Be on the lookout for moving people and cars, they do not stop for a truck backing in.

Many times drivers of cars are in a hurry to get where they are going, if they see a tiny opening where they may be able to squeeze through, they will generally try it.

And you will be the one with paying a ticket and insurance claim for hitting the car.


Be Cautious

One important tip!


I am always happy to have help, in tight spots. There are so many things that I can hit, but I learned that the hard way. While the person helping me back in means well, if I hit anything, it is NOT THEIR FAULT, IT IS MINE.

I am the one driving the truck, if I am unsure, I need to get out and look.

Now if you know the person or they are the second half of your team operation, such as a husband, wife, or trainer, you may feel comfortable enough to trust that they will get you backed in without hitting something.

I have had many people, mostly other men truckers, help watch for potential items that I might hit.

However, if I was ever unsure, even just a little, I would pull the brake valves and get out to look for myself.

If I hit a car or a stack of pallets, and then call my dispatcher, saying “Johnny Truckdriver” told me to keep going, my dispatcher is going to ask if Johnny was driving my truck.

Who is responsible for your truck, trailer, and freight?

Once you are assigned a truck and dispatched on a load?


There are many things to watch for while backing.


The Front of Your Truck

I know that you're watching the back of your trailer as you back into a dock, but don’t forget about the front of the truck.

Take your time, pull up, back up, pull up, back up, and repeat.

The nose of your truck is moving at the same time your trailer is moving.

If you know there is a car close by, a pole, or even a stack of pallets, look at the back of the trailer then, check out the front of the truck, continue this process until you get backed into the dock.


The Back of the Trailer

When you start backing into a dock be aware of where your trailer tires are positioned.

If the tires are pushed all the way to the front of the trailer, your trailer will have more of a tail swing.

The back of the trailer will also swing around faster.

However, if your trailer tires are all the way to the back of the trailer, it will have a little bit of tail swing. And the back of the trailer will move much slower.


Front of the Trailer and Back of the Truck

Where your axles are, also determines how the front of the trailer and truck move.

If the axles are closer to the front, the front of the trailer will move more quickly towards the back of the truck.

Always be aware of the fairings on the back of the cab, I forgot one time and bent the fairing.

I never forgot again.

If your axles are further back on the trailer, generally the back of the truck will take longer to hit the side of the trailer.

Regardless of where the axles are set on your trailer, watch the distance between the back of the truck and the front of the trailer.


Front Bumper

Another place that gets overlooked by many drivers is the front bumper.

It takes time, practice, and good judgment to gauge the distance the bumper from other objects.

You can not see the bottom of the bumper on the passenger side.

If you drive the same truck all the time, you will get used to how it turns and how much clearance you have.


Pulling Up

In trucking school, you were trained to back a truck between the cones with only a few pull-ups.

Real life is not as easy, even when you have years of experience.

In school, if you hit a cone, you probably won’t damage the truck, but in the real world, you will.

Pull up as many times at it takes you to safely back your truck and trailer in.

Those drivers watching you do the same thing. If you don’t believe me, sit in your truck and watch as drivers come and go.

Besides, if it takes a 100 times pulling up and backing up, at least you didn’t cause an accident.

Who’s going to be laughing when they hit something?

I know if I hit something it's not going to be me laughing!


Setting Up Before Backing In

When I first started driving and still till this day, I have problems backing into a dock when there is not another trailer or a line painted on the ground.

The other trailer or lines provide me with an idea of when to start turning the wheel to make my trailer turn.

It was suggested to me to take one of my gloves, walk back to space I am backing in, put the glove on the ground where I think I need to start turning the trailer. Then use the glove as if it were a cone.

This trick has helped me many times. I have also used oil stains on the ground, ruts in the pavement from other trucks, or even the chock for the trailer.

If I don’t do this, I will take all day to back into an open dock with nothing in the way. But give me a cramped little spot to back into and I have no problem.


Trailer Doors

I almost forgot, I usually open my trailer doors before backing in.

First, be careful when you open the trailer doors, a stray box of freight may come tumbling out the back. It is not fun getting hit falling freight or being flattened by giant rolls of paper.

As you open the door be prepared to jump to one side, especially if the door seems to be pushing toward you.

If your trailer is loaded, look and listen for freight that may fall out of the back of the trailer while backing in. It can happen when least expected. Don't back over your freight.

When you latch your door to the side of the trailer make sure they are secure. If there is not a latch on the door, I have used a wire coat hanger or heavy duty zip tie to secure the door to the side of the trailer.

While backing the trailer in remember there is extra room on each side of the trailer because the doors are open.

I have backed in part of the way, then pulled up catching a trailer door on the trailer beside it. This usually happens to me when I am in a tight space and I am having to pivot the trailer at the axles, a few feet at a time.

The most important lesson is to understand about backing a truck is that it is not something that you or I learn overnight. It takes practice and hard work.

Don’t let a driver tell you that they always back a trailer in without pulling up. They don't unless they back into the same dock over and over again.

Most of the time, the drivers who tell you they back in on the first try, have only been driving for a few months.

99% of the drivers who have been driving over five years will tell you in real life you may have to work at getting a trailer safely backed in.


Square to the Dock

One of my pet peeves is when a driver backs a trailer into a dock, but they do not back it up square.

Many times truckers back in at an angle to the dock, the back of the trailer is not touching the dock on both sides.

This makes it hard to get a dock plate in, it also makes it hard for other drivers to back into the dock door beside the crooked trailer.


Dock Plates

When you back in, if your trailer is square to the dock, some dock plates cannot raise up if you are backed up to close to the dock, with no space between the dock plate and the back of the trailer.

Once your trailer touches the dock, barely take your foot off the break. This lets the trailer roll about an inch or two forward, providing room for the dock plate to lift up.

You can always walk to the back of the trailer to see if you have to much room, not enough room or just the right amount.

NEVER move your trailer if there is a forklift or someone on the trailer.


In conclusion, the job of the truck driver is a learned skill, it takes time, practice, determination, and a lot of courage.

I know that you can DRIVE THAT TRUCK!

Just remember these tips:

  • Look around the area.

  • Be cautious.

  • You Are the Driver.

  • Be aware of the front of your truck.

  • Take your time.

  • Watch the back passenger side of the trailer.

  • Remember to pay attention to the fairings on the truck and the side of the trailer.

  • You can’t see the front bumper.

  • Pulling up is not a contest.

  • Set up to back in the dock.

  • Trailer Doors.

  • Dock Plates.

This may seem like a lot of things to consider at one time. But once you start driving and backing into different places, you won’t even remember why you were worried about backing in a dock.

Best of all, I can say to all those male truck drivers that did laugh, discouraged, or just plain harassed me, LOOK AT ME NOW!!!

If you need encouragement, leave me a message in the comment section below.

If you have a question about trucking ask me, I will do my best to answer it for you.

Check out my post on Driver Responsibilities.

Have a safe journey!

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