How to Backup a Tractor-Trailer on Your CDL Test

When taking your CDL test, knowing how to backup a tractor-trailer is one of the most important skills. There are some skills that you must display on your commercial driver’s license that still give many veterans of the field trouble. You must know how to backup a tractor-trailer – and not just straight between the lines. You could be tested on many different ways of backing up, as these tests can vary slightly depending on the instructor and the state

How to Backup a Tractor-Trailer on Your CDL TestLearn How to Backup a Tractor-Trailer Every Way Imaginable

When you go to take your CDL test, there are several different backing tests you might have to perform, including straight line backing, offset backing left or right, parallel parking, and/or alley docking. Many truck driving professionals cite backing up as one of the major reasons that individuals might fail their CDL test the first time.

It’s always worth remembering that the number of times you get out and look (referred to as G.O.A.L.S in the CDL exam) could affect your final score, so ideally you will learn how to backup a tractor-trailer with minimum stops and starts. This is why we’ve collected some tips, tricks, and helpful reminders as you work on learning how to back up a tractor-trailer.

Straight Line Backing

No matter what, set up is the most important part of learning how to backup a tractor-trailer of any size. You must have the proper set up or it will be much more difficult to achieve.  

The next most important part of backing up is that you must have patience. A tip that applies to backing up of any kind is to remember to avoid using the gas pedal unless absolutely necessary and avoid turning the steering wheel too hard one way or the other. You should focus on making small, slow corrections rather than quick dramatic ones that could end in an accident. This might be difficult at first, but it will also help you become more precise as you begin with straight line backing.

Different instructors will offer different methods: some will say to look at the wheels, while others will recommend you look only at the back trailer of the truck. You may hear that you need to focus on the convex mirrors once, and then later be told to only use the flat mirror. When it comes to straight line backing, you should use what method works for you – just make sure to make use of all your tools and mirror occasionally to verify that your truck is doing what you want it to do.

Offset Backing (Left or Right)

Offset backing is slow and precise work, and many beginners might find themselves hitting a reference point, stopping, turning their wheel and continuing on, then stopping at the next reference point again. This can be frustrating to those who want to move on faster, but it is an important way to learn what some call blindside backing. 

To start to perform offset backing (left to right), you will need to pull forward and stop short of the front cone boundary. Then, the trailer will need to go right, so you will have to turn your steering wheel to a hard left. Back up and stop when the right front corner of the trailer is above the right truck frame rail. You will then turn your steering wheel hard right to realign the truck. 

Remember that with offset backing, if your trailer looks like it might hit a cone, pull forward to where you were before you began backing. This will get you in the position to begin straightening out and backing up between the lines.

After that, it gets more complicated – which is why at the Truck Driver Institute each student gets to spend time on our practice driving range to master offset backing long before the CDL test is underway. 

Parallel Parking

If you’ve wondered how to backup a tractor-trailer, you’ve certainly had to wonder about how to parallel park it. Parallel parking is the stuff of nightmares for those taking their basic automobile tests, and it’s understandable if that fear carries over to those working on their CDL. However, it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds if you practice and remember the right set up!

Setting up is key when learning how to backup a tractor-trailer into a parallel parking position. You should pull up until the back of the trailer is even with the front cone of your parking box. There, you  should have about 3 feet of space between the cone and the trailer’s corner. Unlike other parking maneuvers that require small, slow turns, this backing maneuver calls for hard wheel turns to fit into the space while minimizing how many times you get out and look.

Alley Dock Parking

The dreaded alley dock is a backup skill that you will likely use many times if you’re getting your Class A CDL. It’s easy to get too in your head about this maneuver. Remember that with the alley dock, it’s about taking your time to move into the perfect position – not showing off by trying to do it too quickly. If your trailer is late you can speed it up by moving right and if it’s early, slow it down by steering left.

Learn All the Skills You Need at Truck Driver Institute

Backing up is one of the most important (and most difficult) things you will ever do as a truck driver, which is why it is so important to learn properly. At the end of the day, the best way to know how to back up a tractor-trailer is by practicing and learning from trained professionals and seasoned drivers who were in your shoes not too long ago – like those at the Truck Driver Institute. 

At the Truck Driver Institute, we make sure students know how to backup a tractor-trailer by offering plenty of time on a driving range and getting them on the road for real-world truck driving experience. With an 80% success rate with job placement, our three week program will take you all the way from getting your permit to getting a job. To learn more about the Truck Driver Institute, contact us today.


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