Feature Focus: How the Ford F-150’s Pro Trailer Backup Assist Works

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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.

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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.

Calibration Time

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.

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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.

SEE ALSO: 2017 Ford F-150 Adds New EcoBoost Engine, 10-Speed Automatic

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.

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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.

All-New Pro Trailer Backup Assist for 2016 Ford F-150

Discuss this story at our Ford Forum

  • smartacus

    that was pretty informative!
    Uhaul could make this option quite popular on their trucks and vans.

    i could see this pro trailer backup assist making its way into the Transit Connect.

    *good point; computers will never fully replace human drivers.

  • craigcole

    Pretty amazing, but with stickers and measuring, you’d better have an advanced degree in calculus before trying to use this system …

  • MikeFromEnderby

    It only works on bumper pull trailers so that rules out a lot of trailers. I’ve seen some pretty terrible trailer backers so this may help some people, but I’ve been able to teach anyone how to back up a trailer in less than 20 minutes. Two tricks: always put your angle on while going forward, you can adjust the trailer angle in less than 3 feet that might take 20 feet in reverse. And secondly, always put your right hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to go. This allows you to countersteer without thinking about it. Always use a ground guide and never hesitate to get out and look. Some people like to impress other people by going fast, I try to impress other people by not hitting anything.