Use Your Mirrors When Hitching a Trailer to a Truck

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This farmer needs to maneuver her 12,000-pound capacity 20-foot gooseneck flatbed trailer from the sloped lane in front of the house around a gradual 90-degree curve to load several tons of scrap lumber. She pulled the entire rig ahead of the turn and has just begun backing up. Note that she starts by turning the truck's front wheels to the left. In reverse, that makes the back of the truck head to the left, which pulls the trailer's coupler to the left, effectively aiming the rear of the trailer to the right.
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The driver has successfully maneuvered the gooseneck off the lane and positioned the trailer for the load. (Note that our farmer is looking in the right-side mirror for this right-hand turn). She dropped the trailer and headed to town for a dump permit, hoping the loading would be finished when she returned — it was.
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Well into the turn, our farmer has turned the truck's wheels slightly to the right to allow the truck to follow the trailer and to end the turn. Novices tend to overcorrect at this point, and rather than gradually straightening the truck with respect to the trailer, they overshoot and cause the trailer to turn opposite the desired direction. At this point, drivers should get out of reverse and pull the rig ahead to straighten things out before backing up again.

Learn important tips to help when hitching a trailer to a truck. 

When hitching a trailer to a truck, begin the hitchup: jack the trailer’s tongue to the appropriate height (if you have a gooseneck hitch be sure to lower the tailgate on the truck) and slowly back the truck to the trailer (check those mirrors). Once properly oriented, lower the jack, centering the coupler on the ball. With the trailer’s tongue fully seated, latch and lock the coupler, connect the safety chains, make the electrical connections, fully raise the jack, close the tailgate if you opened it, and test the lights and brakes to be sure that they all work properly.

Back in the truck, check and adjust the mirrors so you can see the rear corners of your trailer, ease the truck into gear and creep forward. Spend time practicing turns in a secluded area until you understand how the trailer tracks. Gooseneck trailers tend to cut the apex of the corner making them more likely to hit the line of waiting cars when making a left turn at a stoplight than with a tagalong. Tagalong trailers generally track closer to the tow-vehicle’s trajectory, but the longer the distance between the hitch and the trailer’s axles the greater the tendency for the trailer to clip the corners.

Once you are comfortable driving with the trailer behind you and are familiar with the brake controller, it’s time to head out and haul that first load. Have fun, but take it slow and above, all be careful out there.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Published on Nov 1, 2006

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