best brake controller for travel trailer

10 Best Trailer Brake Controller Systems For Safe Towing

If you tow a travel trailer with your SUV or truck, you will need to invest in the best trailer brake controller for safe towing.

Firstly, a brake controller will make sure that your tow vehicle and the trailer slow down at the same rate for the safest and most efficient braking possible, especially in case of emergency braking and braking in less than ideal conditions.

Secondly, in most cases of towing applications, you would be required by law to have a trailer brake controller installed. 

Trailer brake controllers can get very technical. But worry not, as here’s an in-depth review of the 10 best towing brake controller models with something for every budget and towing needs. I

n addition, you will learn how to install, set up and test your brake controller, as well as crucial specifications that you need to understand to make sure your brake controller will work with your towing setup, and clear cut answers to many common answers by your fellow campers.

Why You Need A Trailer Brake Controller For Towing

If you want to tow a trailer with your pickup truck or SUV, you will need to install a trailer brake controller in your towing vehicle.

Firstly, most trailers these days come with either an electric braking system or an electric over hydraulic braking system, and they won’t work without a trailer brake controller. Do note that a trailer brake controller will not work with older-style trailers that don’t have electronic control though. 

Secondly, in most cases, you would be required by state laws to have one installed if your loaded trailer exceeds a certain weight, that is you will need one for most towing applications.

best brake controller for travel trailer
Photo: CURT Manufacturing

What Happens When You Tow Without Brake Controllers

There’s a reason why when you have a fully loaded trailer in tow behind your truck, you can’t rely on the truck’s braking system alone for stopping the whole towing setup.

Without RV brake controllers in place, you will need to press down on your truck’s brakes more aggressively in order to account for the extra load in your trailer. This means the towing vehicle’s brakes will do the job alone, which means premature wear and tear to the brakes and costly repairs. 

More importantly, this is not at all effective and thus not safe, especially in emergency stopping, since the trailer might slow down at a different rate from your towing vehicle, depending on its load.

Imagine, if the trailer slows down faster, it will push your truck, while if it slows down too slowly, it will jerk your truck backward. On hilly, curvy, slippery roads and in emergency braking situations, this can be highly dangerous. 

How Brake Controllers Work To Allow For Safer Towing

A trailer brake controller continuously keeps track of the towing vehicle’s speed and braking system. Once you press down on the brake pedals, they detect the amount of force you apply, then automatically transfer power to the trailer’s brakes accordingly to let the trailer slow down on its own. 

An electric trailer brake controller engages the brakes in the trailer by sending a controlled amount of electricity to each wheel assembly in the trailer via an electromagnet. The electromagnetic forces the trailer brake pads to press onto the trailer’s brake drums, thus slowing down and stopping the wheels.

The level of voltage sent to the trailer’s brakes is varied for optimal braking performance in all cases. A higher voltage means the brakes will use more power and thus will stop more aggressively. The trailer will stop on its own without your truck having to do all the work, thus allowing for faster and safer stopping while putting less wear and tear on your tow vehicle’s brakes.

How much power is transferred from the towing vehicle’s brakes to the trailer’s brakes in each case depends on the amount of pressure you apply on the brake pedals. This is dictated by the settings of your brake controller, which you need to adjust after installation for optimal braking performance. 

Different load sizes would require different customized settings to achieve the shortest stopping distance without jamming the brakes and causing you to lose control of your vehicles. A digital brake controller can be set to automatically override the preset settings to deliver the safest, most effective braking power in emergency situations. 

Law Requirement

Due to trailer brake controllers’ capability for more effective braking performance, transportation regulations in most states and countries would require you to have one installed if you need to tow a load that exceeds a certain weight. 

For instance, in most states in the United States, you must have a brake controller installed if your fully loaded trailer weighs over 3,000 pounds or if the gross weight of the trailer  exceeds 40 percent of that of the towing vehicle. This means that only teardrop trailers and the tiniest trailers would be exempt from this rule. Otherwise, most trailers you want to tow would usually double to triple the weight of your towing truck.

That said, even if you’re not required by your state’s laws to install a brake controller, if you value your own safety and others who share the same road, you should still have one in place when towing any load that is over 1,650 pounds or 750 kg. A trailer brake controller would cost you at least $100, and many drivers would feel tempted to hit the road without one, but your life is definitely worth way more than that. 

Types of Trailer Brake Controller

There are two types of trailer brake controllers, namely time-delayed or proportional. Proportional units are more expensive but perform better, so they are a worthwhile investment if you tow heavy loads regularly. Meanwhile, the time-delayed type is cheaper and simpler, but is only safe for occasional towing with a light load. 

Time-Delayed Brake Controllers

This type of brake controller sends power to your trailer’s brakes at a predetermined rate of intensity that you set up, but as the name suggests, has a delay between the depressing of brake pedals and the activation of trailer brakes. This variety is cheap and simple, thus is easy to install. 

That said, they are more complicated to adjust the settings afterwards. More importantly, they cause more wear and tear to the tow vehicle’s brakes due to the lack of customization for optimal stopping performance based on the towing setup.

Proportional Brake Controllers

A proportional brake controller offers higher performance in most towing applications, as they are better than their time-delayed counterparts at allowing the tow vehicle brakes and the trailer brakes to slow down at the same rate.

This is thanks to built-in inertia-based sensors, which keep track of your real time speed as well as the tow vehicle’s deceleration rate, and then apply the right amount of force to the trailer brakes to match. This is why this type of brake controller is also called “inertia-based”.

Precisely how much power the brake controller sends to the trailer brakes will depend on the settings that you need to adjust after installation, but it will be proportional to the amount of force that you apply on the brake pedals in your tow vehicle. This is why another name for this type of controller is “proportional”.

This superior mechanism allows for less abrupt and more gradual braking performance, which is safer in case of emergency braking and braking in less than ideal road or weather conditions. They also ensure even wear between your trailer brakes and tow vehicle brakes. 

10 Best Trailer Brake Controllers: In-Depth Review

If you’re familiar with all the specifications and features of a trailer brake controller and know what you need for your typical towing job, let’s dive right into this in-depth trailer brake controller reviews and comparisons of the 10 most reasonably priced and fully functional models on the market. 

You might come across more expensive and fancier models, but these are what would deliver the best value for money in most towing applications.

This list includes high performance units for the most challenging towing applications as well as basic entry-level units meant for occasional light towing jobs, those compatible with electric braking systems only as well as those that also work with electric over hydraulic systems found in high-end trailers.

Otherwise, if you don’t know what to look for, it’s imperative that you skip to the next section to learn the crucial buying considerations, as trailer brake controllers can get quite technical.

1. Best Overall: Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control

Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control

Specifications:

  • Type: proportional brake controller
  • Compatible with both electric braking system and electric over hydraulic system
  • Compatible with: trailers with up to 4 axles or up to 8 brakes
  • Compact dash-hugging design
  • Braking boost function
  • Readings: output current, output voltage, battery voltage and brake voltage

Why we love it:

If I had to pick the one best brake controller for travel trailer of the whole universe, the Tekonsha 90195 P3 would be it. This is hands down the most reliable and fully functional unit at its price range. 

At around $300, it is on the pricey side. But note that buyers are generally more critical towards more expensive products, yet this brake controller still gets a near perfect 4.8 stars rating on Amazon from almost 7,000 happy customers. This shows that this unit really delivers and is totally worth its price.

Firstly, this brake controller is compatible with both electric braking system and electric over hydraulic system; you just need to select the right mode at the push of a button. The LED screen has different color options and is easy to read, where you can monitor the towing vehicle’s battery voltage as well as the controller’s output current and output voltage applied to the trailer’s brakes. 

With this reliable brake controller, you will achieve the shortest stopping distance possible in a seamlessly smooth and safe manner, even with a large heavy trailer having up to 4 axles and even in emergency or less than ideal road and weather conditions.  You will immediately notice a difference with this unit installed. This is in part thanks to the best-in-class digital G-sensor that allows for more effective stopping, especially when you’re driving downhill, than the analog sensors.

A super handy feature that adds to its high braking performance is the Original Boost function that allows for different levels of customized braking. Thanks to the user-friendly display and menu, it’s super easy to tune the maximum output and sensitivity level using tap buttons to best match your load size. 

Installation is pretty straightforward and the manual instructions are very clear. This controller comes with a pigtail connector so you can splice into your towing vehicle’s wiring. But if your pickup has a factory installed tow package then it may already have a pre-wired connector under the dash, and installation would be a snap without you having to splice any wires. 

Tekonsha offers plug and play wiring harnesses that plug into most make and model years of trucks, although these are sold separately. It’s a simple four wire hookup: 12V input from the tow vehicle’s battery, an output to the brake pin of the trailer connector, a stoplight input running to the tow vehicle’s stoplight switch behind the brake pedal, and a frame ground. 

In short, this trailer brake controller has it all. While towing a gigantic trailer behind on long trips can be a daunting task, this brake controller will give you a more assured and pleasant driving experience. If you need to tow an extra heavy trailer on a regular basis, look no further than the Tekonsha 90195 P3. 

2. Best For Both Braking Systems: Hopkins Towing Solutions 47297 INSIGHT Plug-in Simple Brake Control

Hopkins Towing Solutions 47297 INSIGHT Plug-in Simple Brake Control

Specifications:

  • Type: proportional brake controller
  • Compatible with both electric braking system and electric over hydraulic system
  • Compatible with: trailers with up to 4 axles or up to 8 brakes

Why we love it:

A more budget friendly proportional brake controller that works with both electric braking system and electric over hydraulic system and can handle a larger, heavier trailer having up to 4 axles is the Hopkins Towing Solutions 47297 INSIGHT plug-in brake controller. 

This model offers smooth yet effective stopping performance in a variety of towing setups, and you can customize the 7 sensitivity settings for advanced braking control in any weather or terrain conditions. 

What really sets this trailer brake controller apart from other high performance units though is that the display screen, the manual control and the smart box can be mounted separately with no drilling required, allowing you to keep your eyes on the road while keeping controls in easy reach. This design makes it extra intuitive to use. 

3. CURT 51170 Spectrum Original Equipment Style Integrated Proportional Trailer Brake Controller

CURT 51170 Spectrum Original Equipment Style, Integrated Electric Trailer Brake Controller

Specifications:

  • Type: proportional brake controller
  • Compatible with both electric braking system and electric over hydraulic system
  • Manual override knob

Why we love it:

The CURT 51170 Spectrum Original Equipment Style Integrated Trailer Brake Controller is another high performance proportional unit that works with both electric and electric over hydraulic systems, but with many special features that sets it apart from the previous two offerings. 

The Spectrum trailer brake controller is designed to mount onto the dash of your vehicle and integrate with the other controls like a factory brake controller. It allows you to control and monitor all brake settings using a simple push-button knob. I particularly like this easy yet precise means for control and tuning more than the common tap buttons or the sliding levers.  This control knob also offers easy manual override to accommodate different vehicles, trailers and loads for optimal braking performance in all towing applications.

A special feature that contributes to such performance is that the CURT 51170 Spectrum operates with an integrated circuit called a triple-axis accelerometer. This circuit detects motion on three planes and provides braking power accordingly, up or down a hill, for smoother and safer stopping in more challenging situations.

Another feature that makes this unit a pleasure to use is that the computer module of this brake controller is separate from the control knob and can be mounted out of sight in order to maintain powerful trailer brake operation without obstructing your vehicle dash. All in all, this is an easy to install high performance controller that might be much easier to control and tune than most other units on the market, based on your preferred method for adjusting the settings.

4. Best Entry Level Controller: CURT 51110 Venturer Electric Time-Delay Trailer Brake Controller

CURT 51110 Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller

Specifications:

  • Type: time-delay controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Compatible with: trailer with 1 to 3 axles (2 to 6 brakes)

Why we love it:

If you’re only towing a simple boat trailer or popup camper occasionally, you might not want to spend hundreds of dollars for the best brake controller there is. Instead, an easy to install and easy to use time-delay controller, like the 51110 Venturer from CURT, would serve you well at less than $50. This is one of the best electric brake controllers for light towing applications and a popular entry-level model.

Venturer is compatible with anti-lock brakes, and can operate one to three axles at a time, meaning two to six brakes. This time-delay unit is simple and basic: the LED display only shows a horizontal bar for monitoring brake pressure. It has an automatic power level adjustment feature and is very easy to set up and tune to match each towing job.

This CURT trailer brake controller is designed to work with quick plugs so it can readily plug into your vehicle’s original equipment socket; however, CURT vehicle-specific quick plug harnesses are sold separately. It also includes an adjustable mounting bracket and hardware for easy installation at any angle on your dash. All in all, it’s nothing too fancy, but it does offer reliable braking performance for light towing applications and is easy to tune. 

5. Best Affordable Proportional Controller: Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control

Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control

Specifications:

  • Type: proportional brake controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Braking boost feature
  • Works even in reverse
  • Manual sliding override

Why we love it:

If you need to tow heavy trailers on a regular basis but cannot afford our number one pick from Tekonsha, the same manufacturer has another more budget friendly option that also offers high performance and is easy to tune to suit different towing jobs. This model also amassed a near perfect rating from almost 7,000 happy Amazon buyers. 

Like the Tekonsha 90195 P3, the 90160 Primus IQ is a proportional brake controller with a boost function to allow for more aggressive brakings when you’re towing an extra heavy load. Overall, I find this unit to work like a dream when it comes to enabling smooth but hard stopping in more demanding situations. 

What’s special about the Primus IQ though is that this brake controller works even in reverse, which is pretty rare. When you need to back your trailer into a tough spot, the Primus IQ will apply the appropriate braking power based on the deceleration of the tow vehicle. 

Another handy feature that earns the Primus IQ showers of praises is the manual override function. If you ever need to manually apply the trailer’s brakes, that is to override your pre-set settings, simply slide the override lever to the desired power output. Unlike the push knob type, the sliding lever allows you to more easily customize the trailer’s braking at variable rates.

As for installation, the kit includes a traditional mounting bracket, or snap-in mounting clip, and a plug and play wiring port that adapts to all Tekonsha T-connectors or 2-plug vehicle-specific wiring harnesses. Tekonsha sells these T-connectors separately, but they plug into most make and model years of trucks. 

6. Best Time Delay Controller: Tekonsha 8507120 Brakeman IV Time-Delay Brake Controller 

Tekonsha 8507120 Brakeman IV, Time-Delay Brake Controller For Trailers with 1-4 Axles

Specifications:

  • Type: time-delay controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Compatible with: trailer with 1 to 4 axles (2 to 8 brakes)
  • Manual override function

Why we love it:

While the previous CURT 51110 Venturer is a simple and functional entry-level unit suitable for the budget first-time campers, I recommend that you spend a little bit more on a higher performance model, the 8507120 Brakeman IV time delay brake controller from Tekonsha. This brake controller works like a dream with trailers with 1 to 4 axles or 2 to 8 brakes, even in more abrupt braking situations and on more challenging road conditions.

The LED display tells you in real time the voltage applied to the trailer brakes, as well as the gain and sensitivity levels in the form of a bar chart. “+” and “-” tap buttons allow you to easily adjust these settings. The LED screen will flash green light when it detects a secure connection with the trailer, or red light when more power is applied to the trailer brakes. 

Another handy feature is the manual override lever so you can get more aggressive braking when towing heavier loads. Like most Tekonsha brake controllers, this model also comes with separately sold vehicle-specific wiring harnesses. 

7. Unit With Best Manual Control Function: REDARC Tow-Pro Elite Electric Brake Controller

Redarc Tow-Pro Elite Electric Brake Controller

Specifications:

  • Type: proportional brake controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Easy and precise manual control turning knob 

Why we love it:

If you need a high performance proportional brake controller for towing heavy loads but prefer to have some means of manual control for more versatility, the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite is an excellent choice. This unit is capable of sure and safe stopping performance in all weather conditions and terrain, and this is enhanced with the manual control knob that you can easily turn to customize braking power with ease and precision.

The REDARC Tow-Pro Elite’s reliable performance in different towing applications is due in part to its technologically advanced sensors. This model features a three-axis accelerometer which can measure acceleration in any direction. The SEMA Global Media Award winning Tow-Pro Elite also comes with self-leveling technology, so it can sense the rate of deceleration and features active calibration, which constantly monitors the vehicles direction of travel, with or without a trailer attached. In addition, each unit is rigorously tested before leaving the factory to ensure the safest and most effective operations.

For fuss free installation in most trucks and SUVs, this no-nonsense brake controller comes with a universal pig-tail wiring harness and universal switch insert panel for installation in both 12 and 24-volt systems. 

8. Draw-Tite 5535 I-Command Proportional Trailer Brake Control 

Draw-Tite 5535 Trailer Brake Control

Specifications:

  • Type: proportional brake controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Compatible with: trailers with up to 4 axles or 8 brakes
  • Braking boost function

Why we love it:

Draw-Tite is not as well known as Tekonsha and CURT, but they do have some highly functional brake controllers at a reasonable price, and the 5535 I-Command is one of the best RV brake controller units at around $100. This is a proportional model that works with trailers with up to 4 axles or 8 brakes. For its agreeable price tag, it surprisingly delivers smooth and sure stopping performance, even in downhill and uphill situations. 

The LED display tells you in real time the voltage applied to the trailer brakes, and tap buttons allow for adjusting the gain level and boost level. The braking boost function is handy when you need extra stopping power while handling heavier loads, but note that this model does not come with a manual override lever. Overall, for the price, this brake controller is easy to install with a plug and play setup, is simple to monitor and tune to your desires, and provides reliable braking performance in a variety of towing applications.

9. Best For Small Trailers: Reese Towpower 74642 Brakeman Time Delay Compact Brake Controller

Reese Towpower (74642) Brakeman Timed Compact Brake Control

Specifications:

  • Type: time delay brake controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Compatible with: trailers with 1 or 2 axles or 2 to 4 brakes
  • Works with anti-lock systems
  • Sliding lever for adjusting settings

Why we love it:

If you only need to occasionally tow a small trailer with 1 or 2 axles, that is 2 to 4 brakes, the Reese Towpower 74642 Brakeman would be a functional, no-nonsense entry level brake controller that gets the job done at a low price. This unit even works with all anti-lock systems.

Available at around $30, this is a basic time delay brake controller that’s made for use on 12 volt negative ground systems only. As long as you set the gain or output level and sensitivity level right, you will get excellent braking performance in both high and low speeds. Once you set the sensitivity, all you need to do is to adjust the gain depending on whether you are driving on a highway or driving at low speeds on local streets. This unit uses sliding levers for adjusting the gain and sensitivity. 

10. Reese Towpower 74377 Pod Time Delay Brake Controller

Reese Towpower 74377 Pod Brake control

Specifications:

  • Type: time delay brake controller
  • Compatible with: electric braking systems
  • Compatible with: trailers with 1 or 2 axles or 2 to 4 brakes
  • Sliding lever for adjusting settings

Why we love it:

Another good option from Reese Towpower for light towing jobs with trailers having up to 4 brakes is the 74377 Pod time delay brake controller. It is quite similar to the 74642 Brakeman in the way of its sliding lever for adjusting settings. 

It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles as the expensive ones do but is extremely user friendly and gets the job done. It can deliver quite aggressive braking power in case of emergency situations but without you losing control of your vehicles on slippery roads.

How To Pick Trailer Brake Controller For Your Needs

A brake controller first needs to be compatible with your towing trailer as well as your towing vehicle, and secondly need to be able to handle your load size. To make sure of these, pay attention to the following specifications: 

Voltage

Trailer brake controllers work with either a 12-volt or a 24-volt system. The first thing to check is whether your towing vehicle’s power source is a 12-volt or a 24-volt system, then find a compatible trailer brake controller. Your brake controller will most likely malfunction if it doesn’t match the power system of your towing setup.

Electric vs. Hydraulic Braking System

After voltage, your brake controller also needs to be compatible with the type of braking system your trailer has. There are two types. The first is electric braking systems, which are the most common type in trailers these days. The other is electric over hydraulic systems, or hydraulic systems in short, which are more commonly found in high-end trailers. 

You must check which system your trailer has, because not all brake controllers these days can work with both braking systems. Incompatibility can lead to the brake controller malfunctioning or less than optimal braking performance, since incompatibility means the brake controller won’t be able to properly communicate with the trailer brakes.

Number of Axles 

Most trailer brake controllers these days can control up to eight wheels across four axles. There are also models that control six wheels across three axles, or four wheels across two axles, but they belong to the minority. In any case, make sure your trailer brake controller can handle the number of axles your trailer has. 

Features

To enable different towing applications, brake controllers these days can allow you to:

  • Change braking system: Some brake controllers are compatible with both braking systems and allow you to swiftly change between electric and hydraulic braking at a push of a button. 
  • Use the manual activation button to activate the trailer brakes whenever needed without you having to apply the brakes of your towing vehicle. This might come in handy for gradually slowing down on a steep hill or for correcting minor trailer sway. 
  • Adjust the force exerted on brake pads
  • Boost feature: This feature is useful for larger and heavier trailers, as it provides a higher initial braking boost for more effective stopping. Like all other settings, you will need to set a starting value based on what the manufacturer recommends, then test and adjust several times until you get the right level of boost for your trailer when loaded. 

Price

For many things, the most expensive product might not be the best for your particular needs. That said, when it comes to trailer brake controllers, those that can safely handle heavier loads tend to cost more.  

The price range for trailer brake controllers is pretty wide, that is from $60 all the way to $350, sometimes more. If you just need something basic for an occasional towing job with a small load size, buying a unit that costs between $60 and $150 should be sufficient. There are a few offerings under $60 too, but they are the most basic time-delayed variety that’s only suitable for a very limited number of towing applications, and they don’t last very long.

Otherwise, if you often tow heavy loads full-time and need something that would last you for many years to come, look at models of between $150 up to $350. These are the best trailer brake controller that should give you more versatility and safety for a variety of towing applications.

Trailer Brake Controller Installation, Setting and Testing

electric trailer brake controller
Photo: CURT Manufacturing

Installation

Most trailer brake controller kits these days include the necessary mounting brackets and hardware. The controller would be attached to this bracket, which is then screwed into the bottom of your dash for easy monitoring.

For trucks and SUVs: In case of trucks and SUVs, that is vehicles designed for towing, you will need to buy wiring harnesses separately, as most trailer brake controller kits won’t include them. The wiring harness will plug into your brake controller and a port underneath the dashboard. Check your vehicle’s manual to locate this port. In most trucks and full-sized SUVs, you only need to plug the wiring harness into this port to install your trailer brake controller. 

For other vehicles: In other types of vehicles that are not meant for towing, the installation process is much more complicated. It’s best that you hire a professional to do this, as it involves running multiple wires to link the trailer brakes, towing vehicle brakes, ground, and the towing vehicle’s battery. 

Testing 

To test if your brake controller works, press down on the brake pedal and watch if the controller display does light up and gives you a relatively steady reading. The voltage should not vary by more than 1/10 of a volt both ways. If the display does not light up, it is most likely that the fuse to the controller is burned, which needs to be replaced.

Adjusting The Settings

A brake controller needs to be set properly based on the weight of your trailer when fully loaded, as well as other metrics. Adjusting the settings appropriately will allow your brake controller to  send the right amount of current to the trailer’s brakes for the safest and most effective braking performance. 

For instance, if the brake controller sends too much current to the trailer’s brakes, the brakes will stop abruptly and thus skid the tires, which might cause you to lose control of your towing setup as well as premature tire wear. Meanwhile, if the brake controller sends too little current, the trailer won’t be able to brake for itself, which means the brakes on the tow vehicle would have to work extra hard. Both cases are unsafe and suboptimal. 

Different brake controllers require different methods and steps for adjusting the settings, and it can get very technical, so consult your manual and follow each step religiously. The steps generally look something like follows:

Firstly, plug the trailer wiring harness into your towing vehicle.

Calibrate the brake controller: Most brake controllers these days are self-calibrating. These controllers will have a flashing light or other forms of visual signal that will tell you if the unit is calibrating and when calibration is complete. Once your controller is done, you will move on to adjusting the settings.

Setting the gain: The very first setting to adjust is the maximum amount of electricity or current the brake controller will send to the trailer brakes electromagnets. This number depends on the trailer’s gross weight when loaded. A heavier trailer would require a higher output setting.

Check the manual for the recommended gain. Then press and hold the vehicle brake pedal and set the output to this value. This will be your “starting output”, which you must always test a few times until you get optimal braking performance with your given trailer load. 

To do this, drive with your loaded trailer in tow slowly, at about 25 mph. Apply the brakes to see if it stops too slowly or too abruptly. In the first case, you will need to increase the maximum output to reduce the time it takes for stopping. In the second case, you need to reduce the maximum output. What you need to do in the end is to find the highest output without locking up the trailer wheels. This would allow the trailer brakes to grip firmly for the most effective and safest braking.

Adjust the gain based on road and weather conditions: Before a long trip, you should adjust the gain to suit the road and weather conditions ahead. For instance, if you’re going to travel on the highway in good dry weather, you may want to set the maximum output just a bit higher so that the trailer will brake more aggressively in case of emergency braking. If you’re going to travel in the rain or on rough terrain, you might want to reduce the gain by a little but so that the trailer brakes will not lock up on wet roads and cause you to lose control of your vehicles.

Adjusting the sensitivity level: Sensitivity level refers to how aggressively your brake controller will apply the trailer brakes, or how long it takes for power to transfer to the trailer’s brakes. This is why sensitivity is also called “sync”. The more “in sync” the trailer’s brakes are with the tow vehicle’s brakes, the more instantaneously and aggressively the trailer will brake when you press on the brake pedal in your tow vehicle. 

Adjusting this metric is similar to adjusting the gain. Check your manual for the recommended starting value, set this value, then drive slowly and apply the brake pedal. If the vehicles don’t stop quickly enough, increase the sensitivity level, or reduce If they stop too abruptly. 

Trailer Brake Controller FAQs

Which axle should trailer brakes be on? 

The rule of thumb is to distribute more cargo weight on the front of a trailer to minimize side-to-side swaying. This means while braking, the front axle would carry more weight, so it’s best to put the brakes on the front axle.

Can you tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller?

No, as electric brakes require a brake controller to work. If your trailer brakes don’t come with a brake controller already installed, you will need to have one installed before any towing job.

Do I need a trailer brake controller for towing a travel trailer?

In most cases, yes. Firstly, If your trailer comes with electric brakes or an electric over hydraulic system, they will not work without a brake controller. Secondly, you’re required by law if you tow a load that exceeds a certain weight. 

For instance, in most states in the United States, you must have a brake controller installed if your fully loaded trailer weighs over 3,000 pounds or if the gross weight of the trailer  exceeds 40 percent of that of the towing vehicle. This means that only teardrop trailers and the tiniest trailers would be exempt from this rule. Otherwise, most trailers you want to tow would usually double to triple the weight of your towing truck. 

Which is better, a timed or a proportional brake controller?

A proportional trailer brake controller generally offers superior stopping performance in a variety of towing applications and thus provides a higher level of protection, especially in emergencies. You should definitely get a proportional brake controller if you regularly tow heavy trailers. Meanwhile, if you only occasionally tow lighter loads, a timed brake controller would be a more economical choice. They are simpler, but they can get the job done.

Who makes the best trailer brake controllers?

The most prestigious brands with many tried and tested products in this arena include Tekonsha, CURT Group, Draw-Tite, Reese Towpower and Hopkins Towing Solution. There are also newer brands with very well received and competitively priced offerings, but if you want popular products with lots of reviews for your peace of mind, start your search with the biggest brands first.

What is the best setting for a trailer brake controller?

This depends on your trailer and its load size or cargo weight. Check the manual of your brake controller for instructions on how to adjust the different settings, including sensitivity level and gain level. Start with what the manufacturer recommends, then test your brakes to see if you need to adjust for higher sensitivity or gain.

How do I test if my trailer brake controller is working?

Press down on the brake pedal and watch if the controller display does light up and gives you a relatively steady reading. The voltage should not vary by more than 1/10 of a volt both ways.

How do I turn off my trailer brake controller?

Once your vehicle is turned off, your brake controller will go into sleep mode. To turn the brake controller off completely, just unplug the connector at the back of the controller.

How do I reset my trailer brake controller?

Just unplug the brake controller for about 10 seconds and then plug it in again.

How do I calibrate my trailer brake controller?

Most brake controllers these days are self-calibrating. So you simply need to plug your trailer into your pickup and let the brake controller calibrate by itself. However, after calibration, it’s important that you follow the brake controller’s manual to adjust the settings to best match your towing vehicle, the trailer and its load size.

How do I tell if my brake controller is faulty?

At the back of the controller you will find a red wire. Use a circuit tester to check if this wire only goes hot when you press on the brake pedal. If it is the case, your brake controller is indeed faulty.

How much does a trailer brake controller cost?

If you just need something basic for an occasional towing job with a small load size, buying a unit that costs between $60 and $150 should be sufficient. Otherwise, if you often tow heavy loads full-time and need something that would last you for many years to come, look at models of between $150 up to $350. These should give you more versatility and safety for a variety of towing applications.

How much does it cost for trailer brake controller installation?

Installing a trailer brake controller is not for the novice. To have it professionally installed, you will need to pay from $150 up to just under $300 for the most complicated models.

Does a brake controller know if a trailer is connected?

Yes. Whenever a trailer is hooked up, the magnets in the trailer’s brake assemblies will create a power draw from the brake controller via the brake output wire. The brake controller then knows that a trailer is connected.

How long does a trailer brake controller last?

Given proper installation and settings, you can generally expect them to last from 5 years to 10 years. Some models can last over 10 years, but that’s the minority.

Leave a Reply