7 Pro Tips for Backing up a Motorhome

Ah, the fun part of driving an RV—RV parking

Whether your motorhome is a smaller Class B, a Class C, or a large Class A rig like ours, backing up a motorhome can be a concern for every RVer. Backing up a Class B van is undoubtedly far more manageable than backing up a Class A motorhome, but backing up a motorhome of any size or type probably isn’t high on anyone’s list of things to do just for fun.

We travel in a 38-foot Class A diesel pusher, so I understand the challenges that come with backing up a larger rig. Although after nearly three decades on the road, it’s something we’ve done hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do you back up a motorhome?

In a word, carefully! But seriously, backing up a motorhome, even backing up a large Class A motorhome, is like anything else we learn to do well—it requires practice and more practice.

If you’re just learning how to back up a motorhome, find a large, open, empty parking lot and spend some time getting a feel for the following tips. As you begin your practice sessions, be sure not to position yourself near objects that could cause damage to your motorhome or anything in the area. You want to give yourself as much freedom as possible as you master these tips about backing up a motorhome.

While I understand that backing up a motorhome can be intimidating for many reasons, I’m confident that you’ll become more at ease with the process with practice and the mastering of these tips. Even if you’re backing up a Class A motorhome, the more you understand about the process, the easier it will be.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 1: Take a mental picture

Before backing up a motorhome, stop the RV and get out and walk the site while making a mental picture of the area you’re about to back into. Make a mental note of any and all obstacles. Since your motorhome is tall, think in three dimensions looking for trees, poles, and any other obstacles.

Extra pro tip: Know in advance how to pace off your rig’s length. For example, I know that I pace off exactly 12 steps plus two feet (two of my feet) to equal the length of our motorhome. As a result, I can enter walk into any site and know if we’ll fit, even before bringing the rig into place.

While backing into the site, if you’re unsure about anything at any point, get out and look (known by the acronym GOAL by professional drivers).

Hollywood Casino RV Park, Bay St. Lewis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 2: Use ALL of your tools when backing up your RV

When backing up a motorhome, it’s important to use EVERY tool at your disposal: All mirrors, both flat and convex, your windows (yes, if your driver’s window allows it, you can stick your head out while stopped), a spotter (if available), and your backup or side-view cameras (again, if available).

The helper/spotter must be aware of your plans (where do you want to actually stop/park the motorhome), be in your mirrors all the times and both have established signals to help each other. A Walkie Talkie is an awesome tool for this.

If things are really tight and you don’t have a spotter, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. If it’s just too tight, consider approaching from the opposite direction or even request another site altogether. Usually, approaching a site that requires backing into is easier from one side rather than the other.

A note of caution about spotters: A well-intentioned helpful stranger with whom you have no real rapport or understanding can back you into something (especially an obstacle that’s high up that they may not think to look for, like a tree limb). While they may mean well, you’ll be the one who’s left to deal with the damage. So choose your spotter carefully.

For example, if you’re backing up a Class A motorhome, you may not want to choose a neighbor with a Class B van to back you if there are folks a few campsites over with a Class A motorhome. Experience appropriate to the rig you’re backing up is most helpful.

If you have a traveling companion, formulating a language that you both understand well before backing up a motorhome at a campsite can be very helpful. Hand signals should be clearly understood and walkie-talkies are often even better. Be sure to take that partner along with you for parking lot practice.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 3: Don’t be driven by pressure

Never let pressure, nerves, or anyone else drive your RV for you. That means that if you’re trying to maneuver in a tight spot and you’re not 100 percent sure that you’re clear of that power pedestal or tree or picnic table… stop! Don’t continue moving just because stopping and getting out and look (GOAL) may block the campground roadway or make other campers think you don’t know what you’re doing.

First of all, they’re strangers so why should you care what they think of you as you’re backing up your motorhome. Second, anyone who’s had experience backing up a big rig and in particular backing up a large Class A motorhome knows that it can be a delicate process especially when the space is tight. They’ll also understand that nothing is more important than avoiding contact with a fixed object or other obstacle.

We’ve seen accidents where drivers were too embarrassed to simply stop, get out of the rig, and evaluate the situation. And all because people were watching them!

It’s ultimately far more embarrassing to succumb to pressure, appear cavalier, and hit something that causes damage to your rig, someone else’s rig, and/or the campground pedestal than it is to GET OUT OF YOUR RIG and size up the situation from outside the RV and THEN resume backing up your motorhome safely.

Butterfield RV Resort, Benson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 4: Beware of reverse off-tracking when backing an RV around a corner

When backing up a motorhome around a corner (or any other time you’re not rolling perfectly straight back) beware of something called reverse off-tracking. It’s a seldom-discussed related danger when backing up that you need to be aware of it.

When backing up a motorhome with the wheel turned to the right, the left side of the rig sweeps out to the left basically moving diagonally/sideways. Even though you’re sitting right there in the driver’s seat on the left side, it’s easy to forget about that sweep. This could allow you to strike an obstacle with your left side, right down below or behind the driver’s seat unless you remember to monitor the convex mirror and/or out your left window.

Open your driver’s window when maneuvering back into a site for just this reason. You can stick your head out to look straight down and along the left side of the rig if needed. That’s especially important when items are low and/or close along the left side like a picnic table or fire pit. The open window also allows you to hear better including instructions from your spotter.

Of course, you can’t as easily look down along the right side or stick your head out the right window. That makes the right front corner one of the most vulnerable spots when backing into your site.

When backing up a motorhome with the wheel turned to the LEFT, the situation is even more insidious because now your RIGHT side (which is, by definition, your weak side because you’re sitting on the left) is sweeping across toward the right, basically moving sideways/diagonally as you back up.

Taking that mental picture in advance will allow you to know that there’s a picnic table, fire pit, or other obstacle down there. On that note, keep in mind that a mental picture won’t take into account obstacles that move like a youngster riding a bike or chasing a ball or a dog that’s off-leash.

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Important note: Monitoring the right convex mirror is the key in this case but not an absolute because it can’t see everything. When I’m backing up with the steering wheel turned fairly hard to the left with my right side reverse off-tracking toward my weak right side, that’s when I’ll often ask my spotter to watch my right front corner near the entrance door. Not doing that is a common cause of damage to the side of an RV in the area close to the front end. It’s also a good way to yank the front bumper off, too, by getting it hooked on the bumper of a car that’s down low and out of sight.

Having a spotter there is sometimes even more important than having them behind me. I can see behind the RV pretty well in the backup camera but I’m blind down low near the entrance door where that picnic table or car may be lurking waiting to damage my right side.

Smokiam RV Park, Moses Lake, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 5: Whenever possible, back to the left when backing up a motorhome

This means positioning yourself whenever possible with the spot you’ll be backing into on the left side of your RV. We do this because the left side is our strong side due to the fact that our vehicles have the steering wheel and driver on the left. In countries where the driver sits on the right, the right side is the strong side.

It’s easy to remember that the left is your strong side because you sit over there allowing greater visibility in both the left-side mirrors and out the driver’s window. As a result, backing up a motorhome or any large vehicle to the left is always easier than backing up to the right.

There will, of course, be times when the campsite you’re backing into may only be accessible from one side. For instance, if you’re on a one-way street through the campground and/or the sites are at an angle. But when you have the option, approach the site from the direction that will allow you to back to the left.

Bentsen Palm Village, Mission, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 6: Line yourself up while still driving forward

Always, always, and always (did I say always?) pull forward more than you feel is necessary. Watch professional truck drivers—they always pull up much more than needed and have themselves positioned where they want to be—before backing up.

You absolutely want your rear most wheels past the apex of the turn. I’m referring to the curb cut/opening that you are trying to back into.

Again, watch truckers—they will always pull their trailer wheels past the opening they want to enter. The rear wheels of your RV are the same. They MUST be past that area to allow you to back in quickly and professionally.

Take control! The road is only so wide and you really can’t or at least don’t want to go on the site on the other side. Most campsites require you to back into a space on the driver’s side. If you are too far over to the right when you start to cut your front wheels you’ll be driving on somebodies site!

The most common difficulty newer drivers have is steering while backing. Sawing the steering wheel back and forth too much or too far is a common challenge to overcome.

When you pull up and past your driveway/campsite entrance, position yourself so you are on the wrong side of the road. It won’t hurt! Put your 4-way flashers on and be sure nothing is coming towards you and steer over to the opposing lane and past your driveway. Now, when you start to back into your driveway/parking spot you’ll be able to quickly do so, without cutting your front wheels onto someone’s site.

That wasn’t so bad was it?!?

Have a good helper that knows your plans, pull forward past your entry point and start from the wrong side of the road.

Everything will fall right into place—quickly and professionally!

Sundance 1 RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP 7: Pay attention to your right quarter vision when backing up an RV

You may have noticed that when you pull up to a stop sign where the cross street is angled about 30-60 degrees from your position with the left turn being shallow and the right turn being sharper, you’re unable to see down the road to the right. That’s because the vast majority of RVs don’t have a continuous row of windows down the right side, like a car does.

The mirrors won’t do the required job here either because the flat mirror only sees into the distance mostly straight back along the RV and the convex mirror doesn’t see very far into the distance and mostly downward preventing you from getting an all-inclusive view of objects above ground level such as tree limbs.

That area, generally about 30-60 degrees off your right side is often mostly blind and you need to be aware of that and aware of what’s potentially lurking there. The left side is easier than the right because you can simply look out the left window at almost any angle especially if you’re able to stick your head out. Again, this is part of the reason the left side is your strong side and the right side is your weak side.

When you in this situation, you again can ask your spotter to watch the right side rather than the back at least until you clear any potential conflicts on the right. Then, the spotter can return to the rear of the motorhome to finish backing all the way into the rear of the site.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion: You can handle backing up a motorhome

These are seven tips I think will be helpful to you when backing up a motorhome. So now you’ve got some extra ammunition to make your RVing experience a little safer, easier, less stressful, and less likely to result in damage to your RV or anything else.

With a bit of practice, you’ll surely find yourself more at ease when backing up a motorhome—and safer and more confident, too.

Worth Pondering…

I’m still learning.

—Michelangelo