What Is a Trailer Brake Controller?

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What Is a Trailer Brake Controller? 

You very well might need a trailer brake controller to legally and safely tow your RV. Wait, what?

Towing a trailer involves a lot more than just hooking up and heading out. There are some behind-the-scenes modifications you need to make to have a safe RV journey.

Yes, you read that right. But what is a trailer brake controller? Let’s dig into what it is and why you might need one.

What Is a Trailer Brake Controller? 

A trailer brake controller is an important piece of your tow package. Its job is to ensure your trailer slows down when you hit the brakes on your tow vehicle.

The controller senses when you apply your brakes and helps decrease your stopping distance. It also helps make your ride smoother.

How Does a Brake Controller Work? 

If you’re in the market for a trailer brake controller, you’ll have two options: a proportional controller or a time-delayed brake controller. Each operates in a different manner. Most people consider a proportional controller to be better than time-delayed. So, if you want the best, you’ll want a proportional brake controller.

They both work by applying the brakes to your trailer, which helps your rig slow down quicker. Here’s a little more about how each of them works and how they differ. 

A black truck tows an Airstream travel trailer downhill, showing one of the benefits of having a trailer brake controller - better braking during downhill driving.
Trailer brake controllers help you slow down more easily on those long downhills.

What Types of Brake Controllers Are There?

A proportional brake controller works by sensing the amount of force you apply to your tow vehicle’s brakes. The controller then proportionally applies your trailer’s brakes. This helps your vehicle and trailer slow down at the same speed. Additionally, it helps reduce stopping distance and leads to a smoother stop.

The other type of brake controller, a time-delayed controller, works a little differently. It’s less fine-tuned. Rather than being based on the amount of force, this brake controller is based on time. Once you apply your brakes in the tow vehicle, the controller applies the brakes on your trailer after a pre-set time.

The weight of your trailer and driving conditions will impact the settings on a time-delayed brake controller. These settings are important as they determine how much force applies to your trailer brakes.

Who Needs a Brake Controller? 

If your trailer weighs over 3,000 pounds loaded, chances are you will need a trailer brake controller. It’s actually the law in most states. Another reason you might need one is if your trailer has electric brakes. This type of braking system needs a brake controller or it won’t work. So, if you have electric brakes on your trailer, DON’T try to leave without a brake controller.

Keep in Mind: You shouldn’t just rely on your brakes and brake controller when towing downhill or you could destroy your brakes. Find out more about How to Safely Drive an RV on Mountain Roads before you go.

Benefits of Trailer Brake Controllers

As you’ve probably gathered by now, having a trailer brake controller helps you stop. This is definitely a benefit when towing a large rig. I mean, everyone wants to be able to stop as they drive across the country. But beyond that, having one helps you have a smoother ride and prevents you from having a clunky slowdown.

A brake controller also helps decrease your stopping distance. This could be the difference between stopping in time or getting in an accident.

Additionally, some automatically adjust based on the terrain. This is especially helpful when traveling through hilly or mountainous terrain (a favorite for many RVers).

How to Use a Brake Controller

Using a trailer brake controller is a simple process. The first thing you need to do is set up and install the brake controller. Some brake controllers require a wiring harness. But, for others, all you need to do to get started is plug in your brake controller.

Most brake controllers require very little setup while others are more customizable. You can personalize the settings based on the amount of force you want to apply to the brakes.

The higher you set the maximum braking the more power will apply to your brakes. You might also need to set the sensitivity level. This will help your trailer slow down at the perfect speed for a smoother stop.

Once you have the controller setup, it is important to test the function at slow speeds on flat ground. After the initial installation, you simply drive as usual and the brake controller does the rest of the work.

Sometimes, manual braking may also be an option for even more stability and control.

Do You Need a Trailer Brake Controller?

Adding a trailer brake controller is a simple and often necessary part of towing a trailer. Although it might seem like a hassle to install one more thing, the time is worth it! You will be much safer on the road. Plus, you’ll have a smoother, more comfortable ride.

Pro Tip: The truck you use to tow your trailer is just as important as having a brake controller. What RV Towing Truck Size Do You Need?

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