I hate backing up trailers. It’s partly a learned skill I haven’t learned, but it’s also some weird deficiency in my brain. My mind turns left, the trailer turns right, the boat I’m towing runs into a dock. It’s not a good situation, but in a recent test of a 2019 Ford Raptor, two different features provided at least some guidance and assistance to help a newbie like me.
First, you should know that the Raptor is a beast of a truck, a behemoth that can plow through a foot of mud with ease or careen off the top of a sand dune and survive.I didn’t do any of those things. In fact, I rented a small trailer at Menards and loaded up a few bags of brush from my yard. We’re not talking a stress-test pulling a tree stump out of the ground or hauling an Airstream across North Dakota. More like an afternoon of stress.
My problem isn’t totally unique. I know several truck owners who rarely if ever tow anything, knowing it’s a pain because you have to connect the cables the right way, think about towing capacity, and then when you pull into the driveway at home you know you will have to maneuver around a few kids toys, back the trailer into a side stall or a concrete slab, and after you disconnect make sure you slide a couple of blocks next to the tires.
It’s certainly not rocket science, and for those of you who drive a trailer everyday for work or leisure, it becomes second nature. You know what to do and it’s not a big deal.
Ironically, I used to tow a trailer more often when I lived a few hours north of where I’m currently residing. I tested all-terrain vehicles on a regular basis and owned an ATV trailer. I also owned a Chevy Suburban at one time, and hauling a trailer was not a big deal. Even back then, I was constantly having to retrain my brain on how to steer the trailer into position. I have the same problem when I test drones – I turn left and the drone goes right.
Easy does it
It’s been quite a few years since I tested all-terrain vehicles regularly or owned a pop-up camper, so once again I had to think through hauling and backups.
With the Ford Raptor, I used a feature called Dynamic Hitch Assist. It sounds more technical than it is. In the rear-view camera, you can see line markers for the side of the trailer and also for the hitch. When I needed to back up to the trailer at Menard’s, I used this guide and landed with the ball perfectly aligned right under the trailer hitch. I jumped out and connected the trailer. It was super easy, and made me think towing was no big deal.
Now, for a much more high-tech feature called Pro Trailer Backup Assist, there’s some setup required that I wasn’t able to do. You have to attach a decal to the trailer, which helps align the cameras. The basic idea is that you use a control knob in the cab that works a bit like a joystick. For people like me, it helps because if you want the trailer to go left when you back-up, you turn the knob left.
Fortunately, I have tested Pro Trailer Backup Assist before with a Ford rep at an auto show, and I know it is incredibly helpful. A massive trailer was attached to a test truck (not a Raptor, but an F-150), and I backed up the trailer perfectly with the knob.
The truck controls the steering for you, although you are still in control of the brakes and accelerator. I recall thinking people like me would love it, but the pros I mentioned earlier who drive trailers every day for sport or as part of their job might not need it.
Advances like this are exactly what we need as we move into the age of automated driving, the near future when cars and trucks are so smart and tech-enabled that we will need brand new interfaces like Pro Trailer Backup Assist to help us figure it all out. Few of us can be experts at everything, and this doesn’t even touch on the future scenarios when we might dispatch a truck autonomously to pick up a trailer or to instruct the vehicle to reposition a trailer for us.
I could see controlling a trailer and truck with our phones, similar to the summon feature on a Tesla Model S that allows you to push a button to retrieve your car from the garage. For now, the visual aids helped me a great deal, and I really like Pro Trailer Backup Assist because it doesn’t mess with my brain. I focused mostly on the thorny brush in the trailer.
On The Road is TechRadar's regular look at the futuristic tech in today's hottest cars. John Brandon, a journalist who's been writing about cars for 12 years, puts a new car and its cutting-edge tech through the paces every week. One goal: To find out which new technologies will lead us to fully self-driving cars.