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Do You Need A Trailer Brake Controller For Your RV?

trailer brake controllers
Brake controllers are essential when descending steep grades.
Photo by iRV2 Forums member RPatrick16

How Trailer Brake Controllers Work

The pandemic has brought many new buyers to the RV lifestyle with the majority choosing a travel trailer as their first RV. Most didn’t realize what all is necessary to properly equip the family SUV or pickup truck to safely tow their new purchase. After a proper hitch, the most important piece of towing equipment for new owners are trailer brake controllers.

What are trailer brake controllers?

Trailer brake controllers regulate the amount of electrical power that flows from the tow vehicle to the electrically activated brakes on the travel trailer. Without trailer brake controllers, the braking system of the tow vehicle would be tasked with stopping both the tow vehicle and travel trailer, which is unsafe and in many cases illegal.  

trailer brake controller

 “Rather than relying solely on the brakes in your tow vehicle, many trailers come equipped with electric brakes to give them some stopping power of their own. In fact, this safety measure is legally required in several states for RVs above a certain weight, and it’s almost always a better idea than going without them.”  – Says blogger Jamie Cattanach

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How do trailer brake controllers work?

Trailer brake controllers sense when the tow vehicle driver is applying the brakes via a connection with the tow vehicle’s brake light switch. Trailer brake controllers then interpret the appropriate amount of electrical power to send to the trailer brakes.

This power is transferred through the 7-way electrical connector from the tow vehicle to the trailer, allowing both the trailer and tow vehicle to decelerate smoothly and together.  Trailer brake controllers use either a time delay or inertia-based system to determine the amount of power sent to the travel trailer brakes. The inertia-based system typically offers smother proportion braking.

What other features do trailer brake controllers offer?

Most trailer brake controllers offer manual activation via a lever or slide that allows the driver to manually activate the brakes on the trailer. This is useful to check that the trailer brakes are operating properly before departing on a trip, correcting trailer sway, or to apply additional braking to the travel trailer during an emergency situation.

In addition to manual activation, most brake controllers also feature a digital readout indicating the amount of power being transferred to the travel trailer, as well as adjustments that allow the driver to set when the controller activates in relation to the tow vehicle brakes and the intensity of the power.

Safety note: The travel trailer should always brake a bit harder than the tow vehicle to keep both vehicles in a straight line and the tow vehicle from skidding. If the trailer is allowed to push the tow vehicle, it can result in jackknifing.

For an in-depth look on how a trailer brake controller works, check out this video:

If your travel trailer is equipped with electric brakes, consider the safety that a trailer brake controller provides and have one installed in your tow vehicle.

These are some of the most popular trailer brake controllers on the market:

See also: What Is An RV Propane Regulator? (And Why You Need One)