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Parking practice makes perfect.
As they say, towing a trailer is easy, it’s backing one up that’s difficult.
Now, if you’ve ever towed a trailer you’ll know that that statement isn’t exactly 100% correct. Can you say “fishtailing?” For the most part, though, the first real challenge a newbie experiences is discovering their campsite isn’t a pull-through and that they will need to back their rig in.
Before you even put your tow vehicle in reverse, let’s face the facts. No guide on the planet will make you look like a parking pro. That takes practice. Lots of practice. We suggest you read this guide, download it, and take it with you to a nice, big parking lot and get to work.
Let’s get started.
Not so fast, my friend.
Before you get ready to park your RV you’ve got to first make it safely to the campsite. While you might expect that roads in your campground are made for RVs and are easy to navigate, don’t be so sure. There are still some sites that could be difficult to access due to tight turns and narrow squeezes between boulders and trees. And if you’re arriving at night there could be even more surprises.
So, check out the route to your campsite before you go. Some reservation websites will post caution notices to warn the owners of longer rigs that they might want to consider another campground. If you don’t see these warnings on your campground’s website, don’t assume you’re good to go—reach out directly just to make sure.
BACK IT UP, BACK IT IN
What you’ll notice is that as you back up, the trailer and tow vehicle will form a V-shape pointing away from the direction you’re turning. The more dramatic the turn of your wheel, the sharper the V. Turn too sharp and you’ll jack-knife. Let’s avoid that.
The trailer can take a little time to start heading in the direction you want it to, so it’s common to turn it too much. If you’re patient and make small adjustments to the steering wheel, you’ll have better success.
If you need to straighten out, don’t back up. It’s practically impossible to straighten out by going backward. Even the most experienced parker must pull forward every now and then to straighten out.
TOGO RV TIP - Place one hand at the bottom of your steering wheel. The direction you move your hand is the direction your trailer will go. So, move the hand left, the trailer turns left, but your truck turns right.
Working with a Spotter
No, your other left!
As challenging as backing up an RV can be, there is one simple way to reduce the stress: determine who is the backer-upper and who is the spotter. The spotter serves as the driver’s eyes and ears, and they’re responsible for getting the rig positioned.
TOGO RV TIP - If you don’t like taking directions, you might want to be the spotter.
While some RVers buy walkie-talkies to communicate, we prefer hand signals. Why? Because showing the driver he has three feet left to go is clearer than telling him he has three feet left.
Before using hand signals, agree on what they mean. And never move your rig unless your spotter is in plain view at the left rear of your vehicle.
Here are five basic hand signals you should know before you learn how to park.
STOP: Two options: 1. Cross your forearms above your head to form an X, or 2. raise your arm and make a closed fist.
GO LEFT, GO RIGHT: Hold your arm straight out to the side you want the driver to move. Bend your arm at the elbow with fingers pointing to the sky. Make a pumping motion to indicate the direction to go. Increase the intensity of the motion to signal a sharper turn.
STRAIGHT BACK: Place your arms straight out in front of you, bend them at the elbow, and turn palms inward. Use a back and forth motion to signal to the driver to move toward you slowly.
DISTANCE TO GO: Bend your arms at the elbow so your palms are facing each other. Arms can be shoulder-high or above your head for a clearer view. Close the distance between your palms to match the distance remaining.
GO SLOWER: Hold your arms straight in front of you with palms downward. Make a motion like you are patting a dog.
Parking Tips and Tricks
9 parking tips and tricks.
Tip #1 — GOAL!!! When you arrive at your campsite, do what truckers do: GOAL. Not the soccer kind, but the Get Out And Look kind in which you stop, walk around the site and vehicle, and familiarize yourself with the situation—especially before backing up.
Tip #2 — Look up. When surveying the campsite and looking for possible obstacles before parking your rig, be sure to also look up. Tree branches can do a number on your rig just as well as a tree trunk can.
Tip #3 — Give yourself an easy visual reference. If you find it helps, you can place bright cones along the path to help with visibility and determining when and where to start making turns. It’s better to run over a rubber cone than your neighbor’s grill.
Tip #4 — Radio off. Kids out. Before you start backing up, turn off your radio and roll the windows down so you can hear your spotter. And eliminate any other distractions. Tell the kiddos to quiet down until you’re done. Or better yet, have them watch your badass backing from a safe distance.
Tip #5 — Who's right? Don’t say “Right” or “Left.” Instead, use “Driver Side” and “Passenger Side.” This makes things much clearer for everyone involved.
Tip #6 — Trust your spotter. If you are ever in doubt as to your guide’s advice, just ask “Are you sure?” Generally, they can see the situation much better than you can.
Tip #7 — Watch your front. Keeping an eye on the back end and where it’s going is all fine and dandy, but that’s also your spotter’s job. Don’t forget about the front of your tow vehicle.
Tip #8 — Hook-ups and slide outs. Don’t forget to check the distance between the campsite’s hook-up and your rig to make sure there’s enough room to extend your slide out. The last thing you want to do is park, level, stabilize, and then discover you have to do it all again!
Tip #9 — Play for practice. As crazy as it may sound, if you want to practice parking without the threat of actually crunching your RV, buy a toy semi-truck. It’s a handy way to see what happens when a trailer backs up. It also makes a nice gift when you’re done.
Once you’re backed in safe and sound, be sure to thank your spotter! They’re probably scarred from the language they heard.
2 steps to leveling up.
Okay, you’ve parked your RV. The hard part is over! Now it’s time to level. Leveling your RV is important for a few reasons: your fridge might not work if it isn’t level, doors might swing open, and objects could roll or slide off surfaces.
To begin the process of leveling, you’ll first need a bubble level. You can grab the small one you use around the house, buy a specially made level that can be attached to the outside of your RV, or splurge on an electronic leveler. Whatever you decide, use your level to determine which side or end needs to be raised.
TOGO RV TIP - When leveling, always start with side-to-side leveling first. Front-to-back happens after you’re on leveling blocks.
Once you’ve determined which side needs attention and how much, follow these easy steps to leveling:
STEP 1: Draw or mark a line on the ground at the center of your tires.
STEP 2: Back up a few feet, park, then place the required number of leveling blocks where the tires were. Align the center of the blocks with the line on the ground.
STEP 3: Drive forward until the tires rest squarely on the blocks.
STEP 4: Check the bubble level to make sure you are where you want to be.
STEP 5: Place your wheel chocks on the opposite side of your leveling blocks to keep your trailer from rolling away.
Determining how many blocks you need is a trial-and-error process. In time, though, you’ll get the hang of it. Buy your blocks in packages, because you never know how many you might need. There are a few types of blocks, but the most popular is similar to Lego blocks that can be snapped together and then stacked. Other block levelers look and function like ramps that raise the side of the RV more the farther you pull up on the block.
Front-to-back leveling is a whole lot easier. Once you’re happy with the side leveling, follow these easy steps to level out the front and back ends:
STEP 1: Lower the tow jack of the trailer so it rests on the ground and supports your trailer.
STEP 2: Unhitch your tow vehicle and move it out of the way.
STEP 3: Use your bubble level to check the trailer’s front and back end. You’ll need to either raise or lower the front.
STEP 4: Raise or lower the tow jack to either lower or raise the front end.
TOGO RV TIP - Never use your stabilizers to level your rig. That’s a good way to permanently bend or break them.
Stabilizing your RV.
Most modern RVs come with stabilizing jacks already attached. If yours didn’t, you can pick them up at your local RV dealer or online. Prices vary based on quality and how much weight the jacks can support. If you need to buy jacks separately from your RV, know the weight of your RV and an estimated weight of your gear. Expect to pay anywhere from $90 for a set of four up to $70 each for individual jacks.
JACKS TO BASICS
Although your RV may have come with its own stabilizing jacks, you may want to pick up a few extra to get that rock-solid feel. For example, there are jacks designed to be placed right by the side door of the unit to limit movement when someone steps in or out of the rig. Another good spot is next to the bumper to limit sway when someone is in the bedroom.
After your stabilizing jack is in place, turn the winch handle to raise or lower it to the preferred height. For jacks that are attached to the RV, turn the winch until the jack reaches the ground and stabilizes the RV. Once the jack reaches the ground and makes solid contact, stop lowering it. If you put too much weight on the jack, you could damage it, as well as unlevel your RV.
Some RVers place a leveling block under the foot of the jack for it to rest on instead of the ground, but it’s not necessary. You can save time by using a power drill with the proper socket to raise and lower the jack in the blink of an eye.
Ride off (and park) into the sunset.
Hopefully after reading this guide you will feel some of the inevitable parking stress melt away. Remember, don’t feel rushed by others in the campground. Most RVers can recall the challenges of parking for their first—or hundredth—time. They will show you the common courtesy and patience that one day you will undoubtedly show others when you’re a pro!
Now, off you go to a large parking lot to practice. Remember to use the hand-on-the-wheel turning tip we talked about above. In no time at all you’ll be sitting by a campfire doing exactly what you dreamed of when you bought your RV—taking it easy.
Feb 25, 2020
Togo RV • 12 min. read