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Learning to back up a trailer can be a frustrating process, which is made even worse when you’re under pressure to nail that reverse because someone is waiting on you.
If you’re like me, it takes a lot of screwing up before the process begins to come naturally. That’s because the basic operation of backing up a trailer involves opposites — steer the vehicle to the left to turn the trailer to the right and vice versa.
Ford is looking to do away with the “wires crossed” moments with a new system called Pro Trailer Backup Assist, and we put it to the test with the F-150 and our flat deck car carrier.
The system takes the opposites out of the equation. Simply turn a small knob on the dash to the right of and the trailer will turn to the right. Before you can start operating the system, though, you must calibrate it.
Start by naming the trailer. Having different names allows you to have multiple trailers calibrated and ready to be used with the system.
Before you can calibrate it, you must place an included black and white checkered sticker on the tongue of the trailer in a specific position described in the owner’s manual.
Next, you must input specific measurements into the onboard computer so it knows how to handle your trailer. This is important because different length trailers will respond differently, so the truck needs to know how to act. After all four measurements are in, the camera will make sure that it can properly see the sticker. Once it is seen, the system is ready to go. To activate it, you press a button in the center of the steering knob.
Performing multiple 90-degree reverse maneuvers taught me a few a things about Pro Trailer Backup Assist. First and most important, the controls are nuanced and you are able to make slight variations to the steering, allowing for precise maneuvering.
The system is intuitive and easy to use from the beginning, mainly because your brain quickly understands the left knob-turn to left trailer-turn premise. The knob is spring loaded, always ready to return back to center, which means that simply letting go will straighten up your truck and trailer again in short order.
Backing up in a straight line over long distances is also made much easier by the system, as it will make all the small corrections needed to keep your truck and trailer straight.
Regulation of the gas and brake is still done using your feet, but the driver cannot touch the steering wheel. If you do intervene with the wheel, the system automatically shuts off and lets you take back control.
One bit of advice while using the system: don’t forget about your nose swing. Because it is knob operated and you must focus on the back of the trailer, we found it easier than normal to forget about where the front wheels and nose are.
Pro Trailer Backup Assist is an excellent system for amateurs and pros alike, offering an easy solution to backing up with a trailer that is intuitive. However, we strongly believe that if you do own a trailer, you should be able to back it up without aides, just in case.
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