Knowing how to adjust the sensitivity of your trailer brake is a vital skill for folks towing their RV. After all, traveling at highway speeds means you’ve got to be able to slow down and stop with control.
But inexperienced drivers may not even realize this device is something they need to consider. And while some states require them, others don’t even mention them, so having the correct information for the safe operation of your rig is critical.
We’ve gathered the best information we can find here to guide you in the best practices for these systems.
What Are Trailer Brakes?
If you don’t know much about physics, you’ve probably at least heard of Newton’s first law of motion. Objects in motion stay in motion unless something stops them. When you tow a rig behind your truck, it wants to keep going even when you don’t.
Unsurprisingly, your tow vehicle’s brakes aren’t enough to stop an extra 3000 pounds moving at highway speeds. And in some cases, they can even be overwhelmed, leading to failure. To prevent this, trailer brake systems may be installed to help you slow down.
In fact, 40 states have laws on the books requiring boat tows to have these stopping aids. For RVs, the weight of the rig matters most. Regulations differ for rigs between 1,000 and 3,000 pounds, depending on the state. Above 3,000, and you’ll see most have something in place.
There are two main types, hydraulic and electric. The first type uses inertia to engage the mechanism, but these aren’t as reliable because the driver doesn’t control them. The second type is more reliable because you activate them with the brake pedal.
Trailer Brake Sensitivity Benefits
Calibrating your trailer brake sensitivity is vital for it to work effectively. The whole purpose of installing them is to help control your stopping. If they’re too sensitive, you’ll damage your lead vehicle.
Safety is the number one reason you want them properly adjusted. They should provide firm pressure, slow your rig on mountain passes, and reduce sway.
Well-adjusted brakes provide safer travel for you, that’s for sure. But it’s also important for others’ safety. Occasionally, you’ll need precision when stopping, and towing a 3000-pound camper makes that challenging. But they’ll make that possible, even in dangerous conditions.
Finally, this simple fix increases the life of your tow vehicle. A cost-effective braking system saves you money in the long run.
Pro Tip: Brakes making a funny noise? Use these tips on How to Stop Brake Squeaking.
How Can You Tell if the Trailer Brake System Is Working?
As with any new system, you’ll want to ensure your trailer brake functions correctly. This isn’t something to learn on the open road. Instead, you need to test it in a controlled setting.
A simple pulling challenge is one of the easiest ways to check if things work correctly. Engage the manual override in-cab so the wheels are locked in place. Then, attempt to pull the camper. If it moves even a little bit, you need to adjust.
If you can’t budge it at all, there’s another step to the process. Disengage the brakes and then drive at a slow 20 mph. Try to lock up your wheels by stomping on the pedal. You’ll need to tweak your arrangement if the wheels don’t seize.
In the event that you’re experiencing other issues, such as your rig pulling to one side or squealing, pay attention. It won’t just go away on its own, and you may need professional help.
How to Change Trailer Brake Sensitivity with the Controller
Because you must adjust the system’s function with each load, you should familiarize yourself with changing your trailer brake’s sensitivity. For the most part, trucks designed to tow have a controller already installed. Access your gain through the buttons on your steering wheel. You can adjust the sensitivity up or down here.
Mechanics refer to stopping power as gain. An increase means you’re getting a faster reaction while decreasing means slower. Errors on either side are dangerous. Too much, and the tires on your trailer will lock up. Too little, and your tow vehicle’s brakes take the heat.
Each time you connect your tow hitch to a new rig, you’ll need to find the sweet spot. Test it on a gravel surface at slow speeds to see if you’re in the right neighborhood. It shouldn’t lock up or skid. Before you hit the road, you’ll want to go through this process.
After all, nothing ruins your trip quite like finding out you aren’t calibrated on a steep Colorado mountain pass.
Pro Tip: You’ll be glad you invested in one of these 5 Best Trailer Brake Controllers.
Steps to Manually Adjust Trailer Brake Sensitivity
If you’re working with an unfamiliar or hydraulic system, there’s a process to follow for adjustments. Instead of just trial and error, this is a tried and true method for trailer brakes.
First, chock your wheels so it doesn’t roll away when you’re working on it. Just like changing a tire, you’ll jack it up so the wheels can spin freely.
Second, remove the adjuster plug and find the screw to dial sensitivity. If you have two holes, it could be in either one. Check both and locate the adjuster.
Thirdly you’ll want to begin spinning the wheel and manually setting the resistance. Put your screwdriver onto one of the teeth of the adjuster and push. They should move away from you during this process. You’ll know you’re close when the wheel is hard to turn, and too much resistance will lock the wheels.
The final step is similar to the calibration process of electric brakes. Hitch it up and put it to the test. Seating them correctly could take up to thirty stops, so clear your afternoon. Some smoking is common for new installs, and temperatures should be around 350 to 400 degrees.
When you’re comfortable with your brake adjustment, that’s all you need to do. Disc brakes and automatically adjusting drums need minimal calibration. In fact, discs don’t need any at all.
Don’t Skip This Critical Step
Heading out on the road shouldn’t be a source of anxiety, and properly adjusted trailer brakes are essential to that equation. Ensure that your rig can stop on a dime so you don’t end up a cautionary tale.
Fortunately, the task is pretty straightforward. If you do a little research beforehand, you should be able to calibrate your trailer brakes in an afternoon. A few simple steps ensure you’re ready to ride.
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