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Tips on CDL Backing

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In order to obtain a job driving a commercial vehicle, you must pass the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) exam. The skills section of this test will test your ability to back tractor-trailer combination units and can include straight-line backing, offset backing – moving the vehicle over one vehicle width – parallel parking and alley docking, where you back the semi into a space that is at an angle from the vehicle. When you test, you should have already had training to perform these maneuvers, but there are tips which can help you excel on your exam.

Steering Wheel Tips

When you need to make minor adjustments to correct the trailer’s movement, turn the top of the steering wheel slightly in the direction the trailer is drifting. Watching both mirrors will tell you if your trailer is getting out of line. You will see equal amounts of your trailer in both mirrors if your unit is straight. Turn the top of the wheel to the left if you begin to see more of your trailer in the left mirror, and to the right if you see more of it in the right mirror. Return the steering wheel to the center as soon as you see the trailer is coming back in line. Hold the bottom of the steering wheel when you are making a large adjustment while backing. Turn the wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go.

Conduct During the Test

Wear your seat belt during your backing test, since the tester will deduct points if you do not. Never open the door to look out during your test. In some states, doing this can cause you to fail the test. Make sure you get out of the truck to look for obstacles, turn your flashers on and honk your horn before you back. Keep the truck in its low-reverse gear and do not accelerate. Cover the brake with your foot and be ready to slow down or stop. Perform pull-ups, and get out and look as needed, but keep in mind how many of these your state allows during the test. If you exceed the maximum number, you will not pass.

Tandem Position

The trailer tandem position affects the wheelbase of your vehicle. The closer the trailer tandems are to the truck tandem, the faster the truck will turn. Slide the tandems all the way to the rear before you take your backing test; this will increase the amount of time you have to react if your trailer is not aligning with the parking space as you want it to. Use the trailer’s pivot point to help guide your turns. The pivot point is where the tires meet the pavement. When backing, the pivot point is on the rear axle. When the pivot point gets even with the obstacle – traffic cone, line marking or another trailer – turn your steering wheel in the other direction to let your truck follow the trailer into the space.


Specializing in business and finance, Lee Nichols began writing in 2002. Nichols holds a Bachelor of Arts in Web and Graphic Design and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Mississippi.