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If you need to tow a heavy trailer with your truck or SUV, then there are a number of devices and accessories you must equip for your towing setup for safe towing on public roads. Among them, an absolutely crucial towing device is a trailer brake controller. Its role is to automatically apply the brakes in your trailer, so that both the trailer and the tow vehicle slow down or stop on their own at the appropriate rates for optimal stopping performance, especially in emergency situations or in inclement weather and bad road conditions. It is an essential part of your towing arsenal. Having the best trailer brake controller installed is crucial to the safety of your vehicles, you and all passengers onboard.
While the general working mechanisms of the different types of trailer brake controllers are easy to understand, how to select the best trailer brake controller for different towing tasks based on a number of technical criteria as well as how to install and set up the unit for optimal braking performance might be more complicated. But worry not, as you have all the crucial information you need to make an informed buying decision.
In addition to our handpicked list of the best trailer brake controllers on the market with in-depth reviews, you will learn how these devices work, why you must have them installed, the types of controllers, important buying criteria, step-by-step instructions on installation, mounting and adjusting the settings of the brake controller for proper operation, a list of prestigious manufacturers and answers to frequently asked questions regarding trailer brake controller and trailer electric brakes.
Comparison Chart of Best Trailer Brake Controllers
|No||Top-Rated Trailer Brake Controllers||Prices||Our Ratings|
Trailer Brake Controller Basics
What is a trailer brake controller?
Electric Brakes on Your Trailer
Travel trailers and fifth-wheels are typically equipped with electric brakes installed on tandem axle models. Another type of braking system more commonly installed on luxury trailers is the electric over hydraulic braking system.
When you press on the brake pedal in your towing truck, electric current is sent from the tow vehicle back to each wheel assembly in the trailer through an electromagnet. The electromagnetic forces the trailer brake pads to press onto the trailer’s brake drums, and the generated friction between these two parts is what slows down your trailer or brings it to a full stop.
But why do you need to know this? Because when your trailer has an electric or electric over hydraulic braking system, you won’t be able to operate your trailer brakes without installing a brake controller first, which is mounted in your tow vehicle. This is also likely required by law in your state to ensure safe towing operations.
Trailer Brake Controllers
Brake controllers for trailers are devices purposely engineered for trailers that incorporate electric braking or electric over hydraulic (EOH) braking systems. Thus these controllers are also called electric trailer brake controllers.
When you are towing a heavy, fully loaded trailer, effective stopping is a much more tricky task compared to having to stop your towing truck only. Without the brake controller in place, you will need to add extra pressure on your towing vehicle’s brakes in order to account for the extra load in your trailer. So in a towing setup, the tow vehicle’s brakes will do most of the job, which means premature wear and tear to the brakes and costly repairs. This is where an electric brake controller comes into play.
Put simply, the brake controller connect your trailer’s brakes to the main brakes in your towing vehicle so that you can control the trailer’s brakes with the tow vehicle’s brakes. So both vehicles in the towing setup slow down on their own at the appropriate rates, instead of either one of the two having to be responsible for most of the stopping forces, which can be dangerous in emergency situations or in bad roads and/or bad weather conditions. And what you get is safer, better stopping performance, especially in the case of an emergency.
How does a trailer brake controller work?
In use, the brake controllers of trailers continuously monitor the braking system of towing vehicles. They detect the amount of force you apply on the brake pedal in your tow vehicle, then automatically engage the brakes on your trailer accordingly to let the trailer slow down on its own.
The brake controller does this by sending electricity to the trailer brakes through the trailer plug. To control how varied the braking on the trailer is, the brake controller will increase or decrease the voltage supplied to the trailer brakes. The higher the voltage, the more power the brakes will use, and the harder they will stop the trailer.
Also, you’ll need to set up your controller after installation. The brake controller setting will dictate how much braking power will be transferred by the brake pedal and applied to the brakes on the trailer for safe, effective braking performance.
What all these mean is that the trailer is not relying on the tow vehicle to stop, thus you end up needing to apply less force to your tow vehicle’s brakes. This decreases your stopping distance, puts less wear and tear on your tow vehicle’s brakes, as well as creating a smoother and safer braking all round.
A digital brake controller can be set to automatically override the existing setting, giving you maximum braking power in the event of an emergency. Most brake controllers will also have a finger trigger that allows you to activate the brakes with the pull of a lever. This is how you test the brakes to make sure they are working when you first drive away.
Who is it for?
When you look at the three-digit price tag of the best trailer brake controllers on the market, you might be tempted to hit the road without it. However, if your trailer has electric brakes or an electric over hydraulic system, they will not work without a brake controller. If your trailer is equipped with electric brakes, you will always need to install a brake controller before beginning any towing task.
Do note that the opposite is also true. A trailer brake controller will not work with older-style trailers that don’t have electronic control. The device only operates on a trailer with electric or electric-over-hydraulic brakes.
Many new trucks and vehicles that are designed to tow heavy trailers come with factory-installed brake controllers, so you won’t need to install one. Otherwise, if your truck does not have a built-in controller, you will need to have one installed before hitting the road.
As a general rule, for safe towing, you should have a trailer brake controller installed if you need to tow any load exceeding 1,650 pounds or 750 kg.
Although not mandatory under the law everywhere, an increasing number of US states are requiring the installation of trailer brake controllers. Due to the necessity of a controller in heavy towing tasks, most states in the United States require by law that you have a brake controller installed if your trailer weighs over 3,000 pounds when fully loaded or the trailer gross weight exceeds 40% of the tow vehicle’s gross weight.
Since it’s more likely than not that except for the tiny teardrop trailers and the smallest travel trailer models, most fifth wheels and travel trailers you’d be towing usually double to triple the weight of the towing truck, so having a trailer brake controller installed is an absolute must.
Benefits of trailer brake controllers
Safety: Losing control of ladened trailers in busy traffic is dangerous and may prove fatal. By outfitting your rig with an electric trailer brake controller, you could avoid various accidents in which the trailers move independently with the towing vehicles.
Save money on repairs to the braking system: Without a brake controller for trailers around, you must rely solely on towing vehicles to provide the necessary braking force for the entire setup. That is going to put significant wear and tear on the braking system of your tow vehicle over time, particularly the brake pads, which means trips to the repair shop and cumbersome repairs to keep your tow vehicle in working order. It also means less safety while towing, since prematurely worn brake pads would cause brake fade.
Value for money: Compared to amounts of money that go into repairing trailers after traffic accidents and swapping damaged braking systems, a trailer brake controller costs little. Hence, in the case that you like to save some bucks in the long run, you should consider investing in a brake controller for trailers.
Ability to monitor your towing setup: The best trailer brake controllers will typically come with a user-friendly LED display. It will feature advanced diagnostics that allow you to monitor the whole towing setup while you’re driving, including updates on the trailer braking and cargo.
Types of trailer brake controllers
Numerous brake controllers exist but models on today’s market could be split into two types: time-delayed and proportional.
They are very different, but there are a few similarities. Firstly, the wiring for installation is identical. Secondly, you can adjust the maximum braking power depending on the trailer gross weight. Also, both types of trailer brake controllers allow you to manually override trailer brakes’ signal.
Time-Delayed Brake Controllers
As the name indicates, time-delayed brake controllers have a delay between the depressing of brake pedals in towing vehicles and the activation of trailer brakes. Depending on the requirement, it’s possible to change the delay of models of the type in the sync setting. Thanks to the simplicity of their design, time-delayed brake controllers boast quick installation processes. That said, they are more complicated to set-up and configure after installing, and cause more wear-and-tear to the tow vehicle’s brakes due to the single pressure setting.
Proportional Brake Controllers
Packing built-in inertia-based sensors, proportional brake controllers consistently supervise the speed of your rig on the road, sense the intensity of the tow vehicle’s deceleration and apply the right amount of force to the trailer brakes to match. The end goal is to enable the tow vehicle and the trailer to slow down at the same rate and bring your towing setups to a smooth stop.
This working mechanism means that compared to the simple time-delayed brake controller, a proportional controller provides a more progressive, gradual braking performance and under abrupt, heavy braking situations, it would provide you more safety. They also ensure even wear between your trailer brakes and tow vehicle brakes. For this reason, the best proportional brake controller on the market are often reviewed by campers and experts alike as the best electric brake controller models for the money. They are more expensive, but justifiably so.
That said, the best brake controller for the money should be the one most suitable for your towing needs. If you often perform towing for your job, a proportional controller would definitely be the better choice and it will be worth your investment. On the other hand, if you only tow every now and then, a time-delayed brake controller should be adequate.
Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews & Recommendation
Without further ado, let’s dive into our delicious handpicked list of the trailer brake controller
Models on the market today, including both of the proportional and time-delayed types.
They are all user-friendly, functional and durable brake controllers for trailers based on their well-rounded specifications and features, as well as brake controller reviews by buyers and experts.
Each comes with an in-depth review that explains what sets them apart, so that you can easily compare among models and pick out the one that best suit your towing needs.
1. Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control – Best Of The Best
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 3.1 x 4.4 x 10.4 Inches
- Weight: 1.4 Pounds
- Quick disconnect
- Rotary manual override lever
- Easy-to-read display
Why This Is The Best:
Possessing a small build, Tekonsha 90195 occupies negligible amounts of space on the dashboard of towing vehicles in use. In addition to that, the Tekonsha brake controller is designed with a quick disconnect feature so people may swiftly remove it when the need arises. As a result, Tekonsha 90195 electronic brake control tends to be prized by those that like to have an organized and non-clustered dashboard. It’s worth pointing out that Tekonsha 90195 is transferable between automobiles which leads to terrific flexibility in towing operations.
With an easy-to-read display, Tekonsha 90195 lets users manage the trailer brakes and associated systems in a convenient manner. Depending on individual liking, the brightness, contrast and language of the display of the brake controller from Tekonsha could also be changed in no time. Hence, adapting Tekonsha 90195 to particular demands is a walk in the park and there is no need for mechanics. Besides that, this brake controller is able to handle up to four axles at the same time so it’s a wonderful match for typical towing setups.
One interesting thing about Tekonsha 90195 is that it carries a rotary manual override lever that applies the brakes of your trailers one pushed. The taillights of your trailers would light up as you push level too to warn people that travel behind you. In the case that you value traffic safety, Tekonsha 90195 is the best trailer brake controller on the market for you.
- Dependable and reliable
- A bit pricey
- Buttons of some units get stuck now and then
2. Tekonsha 90160 Electronic Brake Control – Editor’s Choice
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.7 x 8.5 Inches
- Weight: 1.0 Pounds
- Snap-in dash mounting
Why It’s An Editor’s Choice:
Engineered to be a plug-and-play model, Tekonsha Primus IQ 90160 could be put to use as soon as it’s out of the packaging. Upon purchase, Tekonsha 90160 is accompanied by snap-in dash mounting so securing it to the dashboard is a cakewalk. Thus, the brake controller made by Tekonsha is the best trailer brake controller for people that lack the patience for models with drag-out installations. Moreover, since Tekonsha 90160 incorporates a boost feature, it’s capable of applying extra braking power for heavy trailers.
In the course of operation, the brake controller from Tekonsha frequently runs self-diagnostics to detect signs of potential problems. The moment it notices something odd, Tekonsha 90160 is going to send warnings to the users via its LED display. Because of that, with Tekonsha 90160 onboard, you should have no trouble supervising the brakes of your towing setup. The brake controller of Tekonsha works proportionally as well so it’s compatible with a wide range of arrangements nowadays.
As proof of confidence, Tekonsha willingly offers everyone that buys its brake controller a lifetime warranty that covers manufacturing defects. Naturally, Tekonsha 90160 receives a shower of praise for its tip-top post-purchase support.
- Slim and sleek
- Intuitive installation
- Quality control could use some work
- Users complain about short wires
3. Curt 51110 Electric Trailer Brake Controller – Editor’s Choice
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 3.4 x 0.6 Inches
- Weight: 0.4 Pounds
- Customizable output
- Automatic leveling
- Hardware included
Why It’s An Editor’s Choice:
Adaptable and versatile, 51110 of Curt could provide excellent control over the brakes of towing setups in an assortment of conditions. Boasting customizable output, the brake controller from Curt allows people to modify braking force at any time without much difficulty. Also, through the sync setting of 51110, it’s possible to determine how aggressive the brakes of trailers kick into action which is a big plus. Needless to say, Curt 51110 is held in high esteem by those that want to have optimal breaking in towing operations.
Being created with automatic leveling, 51110 needs no tuning during installation so the setup process rarely takes long to wrap up. Since the brake controller made by Curt packs splendid compatibility, it operates well alongside cruise control, anti-lock brakes, PWM systems and alike too. That is why adding 51110 of Curt to the average rigs is essentially a piece of cake. Lastly, the absence of internal moving parts means 51110 would run reliably for years and that makes it the best trailer brake controller for routine towing.
In terms of interface, 51110 of Curt integrates a flush LED display that keeps users up-to-date about trailer brakes. By grabbing the Curt brake controller, you could check up on the brakes of your trailers with a glance and quickly respond to unexpected developments.
- Light and compact
- Setup process is child’s play
- Sensitivity is kind of high
- Reports of units arriving used appear occasionally
4. Reese Towpower 8508211 Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.0 x 6.6 Inches
- Weight: 1.9 Pounds
- Reverse battery protection
- Plug-in installation
- Push-button control
Why We Love It:
So you need a brake controller that could manage multiple brakes at the same time? In that case, there is a good chance that you would come to like Reese 8508211. With the ability to simultaneously handle between one and four axles, 8508211 permits you to manage from two to eight brakes. Furthermore, the brake controller made by Reese is assembled with a built-in diagnostics feature so when things seem wrong, you should be immediately informed.
Similar to its contemporaries, Reese 8508211 is equipped with a boost function that delivers more initial braking in times of need. As a result, the brake controller from Reese works like a charm whether you tow light or heavy-loaded trailers. About installation, 8508211 is a plug-in model that requires moments to set up and the inclusion of user-friendly push-button control facilitates the programming. With reverse battery protection, Reese 8508211 remains uncompromised even if you happen to mess up the polarity as you install it.
As it comes to the market at a reasonable price, the brake controller of Reese suits plenty of shopping budgets. For those who have rather tight wallets but still wish to get something decent, 8508211 is the best trailer brake controller.
- Simple to install
- Fantastic flexibility
- Tech support still leaves something to be desired
- A number of units reach the users in an inoperable state
5. Reese Towpower 74377 Pod Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.0 x 6.6 Inches
- Weight: 1.9 Pounds
- Up-front user interface
- Powered LED
Why We Love It:
Being a proportional model that could bring towing setups to a smooth stop on the road, Reese 74377 earns numerous compliments from trailer brake controller reviews. With an up-front user interface, the brake controller from Reese lets people access the control no matter the orientation. Additionally, 74377 possesses a powered LED light indicator so users should be able to tell whether it’s up and running. Hence, once it comes to convenience, 74377 of Reese is the best electric brake controller available for purchase on the market.
Purposely made to withstand a diversity of abuses, 74377 could take on virtually everything that you throw at it in use. That is why if you pick up the brake controller made by Reese, it’s going to be a while before you need a replacement. On arrival, Reese 74377 also comes with installation hardware so its setup process only lasts a couple of minutes and you don’t need specialized tools. When 74377 is positioned and secured in the towing vehicles, it would manage up to four axles which equal eight brakes.
To reassure users, Reese backs its trailer brake controller with a five-year manufacturer warranty. If your 74377 fail due to defects within the warranty period, you may claim yourself a replacement free of charge,
- Installation is no-nonsense
- Missing hardware is noted
- Users detect sporadic interruptions in several units
6. Reese 74642 Compact Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 1.9 x 3.9 x 8.7 Inches
- Weight: 1.9 Pounds
- Slide adjustment
- Red indicator
- Two axles
Why We Love It:
Put together with an emphasis on utility, Reese 74642 is capable of meeting the demands of a lot of towing operations. Containing no moving part on the inside, the reliability of 74642 is superior to that of ordinary brake controllers for trailers. Moreover, the brake controller of Reese could even level on its own so there is no need for manual leveling. Because of that, Reese 74642 is popular among those that have a schedule to keep and lack the time to fine-tune brake controllers to perfection.
The brake controller of Reese is a plug-and-play model, therefore, its setup process is both uncomplicated and brief. After the installation finishes, it’s possible for owners of 74642 to begin adjusting the braking force via the slide adjustment. In the course of operation, Reese 74642 fluidly handles two axles at the same time and that allows people to manipulate up to four brakes simultaneously. Finally, if you have other systems set up on your trailers, it’s noteworthy that the Reese brake controller is compatible with anti-lock braking.
Since 74642 of Reese is inexpensive, squeezing it into the spending plan is child’s play. About post-purchase support, the brake controller made by Reese is backed with a five-year manufacturer warranty that brings much-needed peace of mind.
- Reasonable price
- Endurance is top-notch
- Shipping is less than ideal
- People complain about receiving dead units
7. Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 3.5 x 4.5 x 8.5 Inches
- Weight: 1.0 Pounds
- Flush display
- Removable electrical connectors and snap-in mounting
Why We Love It:
Loaded with features and functions, Draw-Tite I-Stop (20191) could be adapted to countless setups. Thanks to the self-diagnostics, owners of the brake trailer made by Draw-Tite would immediately receive notifications when issues occur out of the blue. The presence of a flush display on I-Stop (20191) makes it a breeze to check up on readings as well. That is why Draw-Tite I-Stop (20191) is prized by those who hit the road year-round and have to deal with variable lighting conditions.
Packing a combination of removable electrical connectors and snap-in mounting, I-Stop (20191) proves to be a cinch to install and remove at short notice. Hence, many people that want to create a versatile dashboard layout regard the Draw-Tite brake trailer as the best brake controller for the money. While I-Stop (20191) of Draw-Tite appears kind of expensive compared to market models, its values justify its price tag. If you buy I-Stop (20191), Draw-Tite is going to provide you with a lifetime manufacturer warranty which speaks volumes.
About maintenance, Draw-Tite I-Stop (20191) needs insignificant attention from users throughout its entire lifespan. If you like to reduce the amounts of time that go to the maintenance of towing accessories then I-Stop (20191) is exactly what you need.
- Accurate readings
- Impressive handling
- Uncomplicated maintenance
- Steep price
- Braking power deviate from time to time
8. CURT 51140 TriFlex Electric Trailer Brake Controller
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 3.2 x 4.0 x 0.9 Inches
- Weight: 0.5 Pounds
- Optional levels of sensitivity
- Automatic leveling and calibration
- Reverse-polarity and short-circuit protection
Why We Love It:
Carrying a modern-day design that is built to last, CURT 51140 never fails to please in the course of operation. With an advanced triple-axis accelerometer, 51140 consistently detects motion on three planes and delivers necessary braking power for smooth stopping. Furthermore, featuring optional levels of sensitivity, the CURT brake controller permits users to apply adjustment based on loads, road conditions,… As a result, with 51140 of CURT, people could take part in a wide range of towing operations with relative ease.
Assembled with automatic leveling and calibration, the brake controller made by CURT eliminates the hassle of fine-tuning so the setup process is fairly swift. The LED display of 51140 shows power changes in precise increments too, thus, adapting it to specific arrangements is no sweat. About pairing, CURT 51140 is compatible with anti-brake, cruise control, ABS, PWM and so on. Therefore, you should have an easy time matching the brake controller of CURT to systems you have on your rig.
For protection, 51140 of CURT is well-secured against reverse-polarity as well as short-circuit. Unsurprisingly, those that like to travel with confidence and care about safety consider the CURT brake controller as the best brake controller for travel trailer.
- Terrific safety
- Quick installation
- Outstanding customizability
- Battery drain is kind of high
- A couple of units come with unresponsive controls
9. Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 6.3 x 5.7 x 3.1 Inches
- Weight: 0.7 Pounds
- Separate components
- Vertical manual slide
Why We Love It:
Despite its plain appearance, Hopkins InSIGHT (47297) is still able to meet the expectations of its users in lots of situations. Consisting of separate components, the brake controller of Hopkins could be mounted virtually anywhere that people want in towing vehicles. That is why the odds of InSIGHT (47297) getting into the way during the average towing operations tend to be low. Also, the installation of Hopkins InSIGHT (47297) involves neither tool nor drilling which means installation is a walk in the park.
Owing to the digital display, InSIGHT (47297) makes managing the brakes of trailers on the road around the clock a snap. A vertical manual slide is present too and that helps people engage all the trailer brakes in case of emergency. Hence, with the brake controller from Hopkins, bringing towing setups to a stop is going to be child’s play. Besides that, since InSIGHT (47297) is capable of controlling four axles with eight brakes at once, it works superbly in an assortment of today’s arrangements.
As for affordability, InSIGHT (47297) of Hopkins comes at a price that people could accept so its purchase would have trifling impacts on your upcoming spendings. On arrival, the brake controller made by Hopkins is backed with a lifetime warranty so you have something to count on when things go south.
- Second to none adaptability
- Quality control should be overhauled
- People report oscillations in braking power
10. Hayes 81760 Engage Digital Time Based Brake Controller
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.7 x 8.0 Inches
- Weight: 0.6 Pounds
- Automatic/manual braking
- Quick-connect wiring
- Built-in troubleshooting
Why We Love It:
Functional and practical, Hayes 81760 often gives a good account of itself in towing operations while requiring minimal care from users. Engineered with an intuitive display that shows current, voltage and percent of power, 81760 allows people to maintain control over their towing setup at any time. Moreover, possessing innovative troubleshooting, the brake controller made by Hayes significantly facilitates the process of detecting and addressing operational problems. Because of that, Hayes 81760 is well-received by those that place convenience above all else.
Equipped with time-based circuitry, the brake controller from Hayes provides increasing current to trailer brakes as time passes by. Thus, the longer you depress the brake pedal with 81760 installed on your rig, the more braking power you would get for your entire towing setups. For installation, 81760 of Hayes is made to mount in any direction and at any angle. Naturally, the brake controller of Hayes is well-suited for towing vehicles that happen to come with somewhat steep dashboards.
Normally, Hayes 81760 manages the brakes of trailers on its own based on the preset parameters that users could readily adjust. However, in times of need, owners of 81760 have the option of applying trailer brakes by themselves via the manual lever. Upon the activation of manual lever, the stoplights of towing vehicles as well as towed trailers should start to illuminate.
- Bright display
- Easy to set up
- Mediocre delivery service
- Connector is not universally compatible
11. Tekonsha 9030 Voyager Electronic Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions: 2.0 x 6.1 x 0.7 Inches
- Weight: 0.7 Pounds
- Advanced electronics
- Broad control rage
Why We Love It:
Created with advanced electronics, Voyager (9030) of Tekonsha excels at minimizing false braking on the road which provides a fluid experience. When people hit the brake pedal, the LED light indicator of the brake controller from Tekonsha also changes from green to red to indicate power. In addition, Voyager (9030) packs a broad control range so users may optimize braking output for towing setups as they like. That is why Tekonsha Voyager (9030) is sought after by those who wish to have a firm grasp on trailer brakes.
Thanks to the integration of the plug-and-play feature, Voyager (9030) could be installed in a blink of an eye. Interestingly, being fashioned with first-class compatibility, the brake controller made by Tekonsha would work alongside other electrical systems without causing interference to their operation. Hence, Tekonsha Voyager (9030) is capable of pairing with a diversity of trailers in towing operations. Aside from that, with a low profile, Voyager (9030) occupies insignificant space on the dashboard and that earns it good scores in trailer brake controller reviews.
As a budget-friendly model, Tekonsha Voyager (9030) fits the wallet of people who don’t like to spend big bucks. Tekonsha back its brake controllers for trailers with a reassuring five-year manufacturer warranty that put users at ease too.
- Fast shipping
- Wonderful versatility
- Owner’s manual is poorly-written
- Missing hardware is reported on occasions
12. TEKONSHA 90885 Electronic Brake Control
Specifications And Features:
- Dimensions:3.1 x 4.4 x 10.5 Inches
- Weight: 1.1 Pounds
- 360-degree rotation
- Continuous diagnostics
- No hard-wiring required
Why We Love It:
Boasting outstanding responsiveness, Tekonsha P2 (90885) would activate the brakes of towed trailers as soon as people depress the brake pedal. Therefore, with P2 (90885) onboard, the braking system of towing vehicles is going to suffer less wear and tear over time. Furthermore, the Tekonsha brake controller carries a boost feature that permits allocations of additional power to braking so it’s able to manage variable loads. Depending on the requirements, you could set the boost of Tekonsha P2 (90885) for automatic activation or turn it on manually.
The brake controller of Tekonsha is assembled with 360-degree rotation so regardless of orientation, the top-mounted display remains visible. Since P2 (90885) level on its own in the course of operation, there is no need to worry about tuning it as you navigate terrains too. Owing to continuous diagnostics, Tekonsha P2 (90885) would detect potential problems in towing setups and communicate them to users before they have a chance to manifest. As a result, compared to classic brake controllers, the brake controller from Tekonsha is unmatched in terms of situational awareness.
Aside from installation hardware, P2 (90885) of Tekonsha is accompanied by a very detailed owner’s manual on arrival so its setup process rarely takes long. As for post-purchase support, Tekonsha backs its brake controller with a lifetime manufacturer warranty.
- High accuracy
- Small build
- A bit expensive
- Certain units show up without enough hardware
Trailer Brake Controller: Important Buying Criteria
Trailer brake controllers come in two types, as discussed above, with a variety of added features for optimal performance and available at widely varying price points, so there’s something for every camper or every towing job. Of course, if you have a fixed budget or if you only tow light weights occasionally, you might compromise on some aspects to get the most suitable one for your needs. In any case, to make an informed and wise decision, you need to consider all of the criteria below when assessing different models.
Electric vs. Hydraulic braking
While some trailers use a hydraulic braking system which is often called electric over hydraulic systems, trailer brakes are most commonly electric brakes, since they are cheaper to produce still offering an excellent response time. It’s important to know which type your trailer has before purchasing a brake controller, as the brake controller needs to communicate with the trailer’s braking system properly for optimal braking performance. An electric over hydraulic braking system is more commonly found in high-end trailers.
That said, do not just readily assume that your trailer has an electric brake. Brake controlling is a delicate task and requires precision, so always check what system your trailer has, and whether the particular brake controller unit you’re eyeing is compatible with what you have. This is because not all brake controllers today can work with both electric braking systems and hydraulic braking systems.
Number of Axles
Brake controllers come designed to control a set number of axles, so you’ll need to know how many your trailer has in order to ensure that the model you buy delivers optimum performance. In case you don’t know, most trailer brake controllers on the market nowadays could control up to eight wheels across four axles. The minority might only control six wheels across three axles, or in rarer cases only four wheels across two axles.
Built-in Monitor for Monitoring Your System
A top-rated trailer brake controller should have a convenient monitor that allows you to easily monitor the whole towing setup while you’re driving. A built-in digital display shows important data from the controller, including battery, output current, and brake pad force. It will feature advanced diagnostics that allow you to keep track of what’s going on, including updates on the trailer braking and cargo.
The best models today typically feature a LED monitor, which is reliable, durable, and easy to read. With a monitor in place, it’s recommended that you frequently look at the display monitor to ensure the system is functioning as required.
Manufacturers design their brake controllers for trailers with multiple goals in mind, thus, market models contain a diversity of features. Normally, by reviewing your requirements in towing operations, you would be able to determine for yourself what features you need. Looking at these features would help you further shortlist the best trailer brake controllers for your usual towing needs.
A number of brake controllers allow users to manipulate the force exerted on brake pads while others could swiftly change between electric and hydraulic braking.
Most trailer brake controllers today feature a handy manual activation button to activate the trailer brakes whenever needed, such as for correcting minor trailer sway and gradually slowing down on a steep hill, all without you having to apply the brakes of your towing vehicle.
Many brake controllers will also have what’s called a boost feature. This provides a higher initial braking boost, which is required when the trailer is larger and heavier. It will take some testing to see what level of braking boost is right for your trailer and its load, which should not jam on the brakes too aggressively, but enough boost for the smoothest, most effective stopping power.
Most brake controllers will also have a finger trigger that allows you to activate the brakes with the pull of a lever. This is how you test the brakes to make sure they are working when you first drive away.
Since you will install the brake controller on your dashboard, size is an important factor. For example, if you have a small dashboard, you won’t want a large device. To avoid ending up with an oversized model that will make the dashboard cluttered, take the dimension of the spot where you intend to install the trailer brake controller into account. The unit should also be placed in a space that is easy to access and manipulate as needed.
When applying brakes, the condition of the tires significantly affects the outcome which means tire safety is an essential consideration. As a result, to pick up the best trailer brake controller for your rig, you have to prioritize models that keep the tires under control. The best trailer brake controller will control your wheels and prevent them from making sudden, jerky movements.
Via the owner’s manual, you could gain valuable details about how well certain brake controllers manage the tires of towing setups on the road. Before purchasing a trailer brake controller, make sure it has the appropriate features and mounting options that can better make sure that your tires don’t move in an unsafe manner.
In towing operations, your rig as well as everything on it should continuously experience vibration that presents tests of endurance. Hence, if you don’t like to replace your brake controller frequently, it’s strongly recommended that you treat durability as one of the priorities. In the usual cases, by examining the construction material of models, you may be able to deduce its structural integrity. Naturally, you need to steer clear of trailer brake controllers that integrate fragile materials with less than ideal average lifespans.
Trailer brake controllers work with either a 12-volt or a 24-volt system. Before you decide on a particular trailer brake controller, it’s important to know which one yours operates on. Your towing vehicle’s power source must be compatible with the trailer’s brakes or else your brake controller may malfunction, which totally makes its addition to your towing setup meaningless, since it’s supposed to provide you with safer towing operations.
While the unit itself is quite affordable, the installation process is very complicated and is best left to the pros. To have it professionally installed, you can expect to pay in the hundreds, typically close to $300 for labor on models with the most complicated installation procedures.
On average, you can expect to pay anywhere between $60 and $350 for the controller itself, depending on whether you opt for a timed controller or a proportional controller. While most models fall within this price range, you can also find some models costing less than $60. Anything below $60 is considered to be cheap, might be too cheap if you’re buying insurance for safer towing.
Below $60: Models within this range typically are the time-delay variety or are proportional lacking a boost mode and are more difficult to calibrate. However, on the upside, they are basic and practical. Depending on your towing situation, models in the range give a good account of themselves despite the lack of fancy features. The simplicity of these brake controllers permits them to operate in an assortment of environments.
From $60 To $150: Being middle-class models, trailer brake controllers in the range carry various helpful functions without costing a fortune. Incapable of dropping big bucks on a brake controller but still want something of quality? Then you should consider models that cost between $50 and $100.
From $150 to $350: Loaded with virtually everything people need in brake controllers, models in the range appear expensive but the values they provide match their price tags. In addition, with fantastic lifespans, such brake controllers could last through plenty of towing operations. If you tow often, especially with heavy loads, this price is well justified, since you’re paying an insurance for your safety as well as your vehicles’. Plus, the best trailer brake controller would allow for less wear and tear on your vehicles’ brakes, saving you money on premature replacements.
Top Brands Of Trailer Brake Controllers
Overall, the brand of a model doesn’t dictate its performance entirely. The best trailer brake controller for your set budget should depend on how often you tow and your towing needs. If you come across a brake controller that meets your requirements, feel free to purchase it regardless of its brand. Nonetheless, if you’re not familiar with trailer brake controllers, purchasing the best trailer brake controller that’s highly rated from a major manufacturer would be a good insurance policy.
Products from prestigious makers would typically have more reviews online by both buyers and experts, thus you have much more information to rely on. Plus, the most trusted household names usually offer better customer service to assist you during the complicated installation and setting up process.
Tekonsha – As a long-established brand, Tekonsha possesses substantial experience in putting together trailer brake controllers. Nowadays, once it comes to dependability and reliability, models made by Tekonsha don’t have many competitors on the market.
Draw-Tite – Thanks to applications of innovations in production lines, Draw-Tite could introduce solid brake controllers for trailers at reasonable prices. As a result, Draw-Tite models prove popular among those that have limited shopping budgets.
CURT Group– With an emphasis on convenience, Curt is well-known for designing brake controllers that take moments to install and could be adapted for numerous operations. Needless to say, a lot of people hold Curt and its models in high esteem.
Reese Towpower- By continuously optimizing its models, Reese keeps its brake controllers for trailers competitive over time. Moreover, since models of Reese have undemanding maintenance, there is no need to give them unique treatment on the road.
Hopkins Towing Solution – Hopkins Manufacturing Corporation was founded in 1953 and is located in Emporia, Kan. It’s one of the industry’s top leaders in towing electrical products.
How to Use a Trailer Brake Controller
Using a brake controller while towing a trailer involves installing and mounting the controller, calibrating it, adjusting trailer brake gain, adjusting braking sensitivity, adjusting a few personal settings, then manually activating the trailer brakes and testing if the brake controller works properly. If it doesn’t upon testing, you will find the steps for troubleshooting at the end of this section.
Installation and Mounting
Most trailer brake controllers will come with a mounting bracket and all necessary hardware included in the kit. Most trailer brake controllers would typically slide, sometimes screw, into this bracket, which is most conveniently screwed into the bottom of your dash for easy monitoring.
If you opt for a proportional trailer brake controller, make sure you mount it the right way. If they aren’t mounted level or are mounted upside down, you can mess up the accelerometer.
That said, most controller kits won’t include a wiring harness, which must be purchased separately. Make sure you read the product manual to choose the right wiring harness for your vehicle. The wiring harness will plug into the controller unit and a port underneath the dashboard. In many trucks and full-sized SUVs, you only need to plug the wiring harness into the port to complete the simple installation process. The port’s location can vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle, so you should either locate it by consulting your owner’s manual or look for help online, particularly in auto forums or blogs.
If your vehicle is not a truck or an SUV, that is if it is not equipped for towing, you’ll have to run wires linking the trailer brakes, ground, vehicle brakes and battery power. This wiring process is much more complicated, and it’s recommended that you seek professional service. If you’re inclined to do it yourself, seek out step-by-step wiring guides online to ease your task.
One common question by DIY-ers is which axle should trailer brakes be on. Typically trailers will carry more of their weight on the front, as this is the rule of thumb in distributing cargo weight for less side-to-side swaying. This means while braking, the front axle would most likely carry more weight, thus you would want to put the brakes on the front axle.
Adjusting the Settings of a Trailer Brake Controller
The job of the brake controller is to send the appropriate amount of electricity to the trailer’s brakes for the most effective, safest braking possible. You must adjust the setting properly to allow the brake controller to do its job optimally. Imagine if the brake controller sends too much current back to the brakes, the brakes would abruptly jam the brake pads into the drums and lock up the brakes. This would skid the tires and make it harder for you to control or stabilize your whole towing setup, and this braking style would wear out the brakes prematurely.
A brake controller needs to be set properly. In other words, it must let both the tow vehicle and the trailer brake for themselves, instead of making one of them do most of the job to bring the towing setup to a stop. If the trailer’s brakes receive too little electricity from the brake controller, the trailer won’t be able to brake for itself, which means the brakes on the tow vehicle would have to take care of slowing down or stopping the trailer. However, if the brake controller sends too much power to the trailer’s brakes, then they would get the job of slowing or stopping the tow vehicle in front.
Both scenarios would lead to premature wear and tear to the brake system on both vehicles, and also the wear on the two would not be even, which means your safety while towing is compromised as well as costly replacement.
Different brake controllers require different methods and steps for adjusting the settings, depending on the manufacturer and your unit’s make and model. Trailer brake controllers get very complicated once you go into the technical details. It’s critical that you have the manufacturer’s instructions on setup and strictly follow each step.
You should also look online or Youtube for video tutorials on how to adjust the setting of your particular model, if any. Or if there’s none, look for videos on the same type of controller that you have so you’ll have a clearer idea of what the procedures look like. To help you get a general idea though, below are a step by step guide on how to adjust some important settings in an average trailer brake controller on the market today.
How To Set Up a Trailer Brake Controller: Step by Step
Plugging in the trailer wiring harness
For safety, make sure your vehicles are in an extended, open area with no traffic or pedestrians around, and plenty of stopping distance. Park your trailer on level ground, back your towing truck into position and couple your trailer to your truck.
Then, make sure the trailer wiring harness is plugged into your towing vehicle before setting things up, as the brake controller needs to get power from our towing vehicle and must be connected to the brakes in your trailer to do its job.
Calibrating the brake controller
Most brake controllers these days are self-calibrating. Others do not require calibration at all. First, park your vehicle on a level ground. Then, all you need to do is to plug your trailer into your tow vehicle and let the brake controller calibrate by itself. Typically, self-calibrating brake controllers will have a flashing light or other forms of signal to indicate when the unit is calibrating and when calibration is complete. After calibration, you might need to adjust the settings to best match the vehicle, the trailer and its load size by strictly following the product’s manual.
Setting the maximum power output
Maximum output is the maximum amount of electrical power the brake controller will send to the trailer’s brakes. This is also commonly called “setting the gain”. As the vehicle brake pedal is applied, the gain tells the brake controller how much current to apply to the trailer brake electromagnets.
This output needs to be set and adjusted depending on the trailer’s gross weight when loaded. For larger trailers, use a higher output setting. For smaller trailers, use a lower output setting to avoid locking up the brakes and thus abrupt, jerky stopping.
To adjust the maximum output, first check your user instructions for the specified starting output value, then press and hold the vehicle brake pedal and set the output to the starting value.
Now, test the maximum output. In a safe and open area, drive your towing setup forward slowly at about 25 mph and apply the brakes. If it stops too abruptly or locks up, then the maximum output is set too high and needs to be reduced. In contrast, if the vehicle stops too slowly, increase the maximum output.
You need to find the appropriate gain setting that would allow the trailer brakes to grip firmly for effective braking. In other words, you need to adjust the maximum output setting several times until you have found the highest output without locking up the trailer wheels. Too low a setting will mean that the trailer’s brakes won’t slow down or stop fast enough, but too high a setting will make the brakes locked up and you might lose control of your vehicles and can be dangerous in less than ideal road conditions.
An important note is you might also want to adjust the output setting to best suit the road conditions or the weather conditions for your long towing trip ahead for maximum safety. If you are going to tow in the rain or where there is gravel or loose rock, it’s a good idea to adjust the setting a bit lower so that the trailer brakes do not lock up and might cause you to lose control of your vehicles on rough terrains. Otherwise, if you are travelling on the highway in good weather, you may want to set it a bit higher so that the trailer will brake more aggressively for faster stopping.
Adjusting the sensitivity level
Sensitivity level refers to how aggressively your brake controller will apply the trailer brakes. Similar to adjusting the maximum output, you need to set the sensitivity level at the starting value specified in the products instructions. Then you can test the trailer brakes to adjust the sensitivity level accordingly.
In a safe and open area, drive slowly forward at about 25 mph and apply the brake pedal. If the vehicle stops too abruptly, set a lower sensitivity level. If the vehicle stops too slowly, increase the sensitivity setting. Next, you should test braking at various speeds to ensure effective and smooth stops in emergency situations as well as in different conditions.
If your brake controller comes with personal settings like the angle of the interface or the brightness of the screen, adjust them to your preference before driving.
Testing a Trailer Brake Controller
Press down on the brake pedal while watching the display on the brake controller. The light should come on and you should get a relatively steady voltage reading. Any variation either way should not exceed 1/10 of a volt.
If the display does not light up, the fuse to the controller is most likely burned. Inspect, have it replaced if needed and repeat the steps above. If the display still doesn’t light up, there’s another burned fuse. This means a short circuit that must be found and repaired before you can perform any tests to check if the brake controller is working.
Check the brake control wire: To troubleshoot, you need to first check the brake control wire, which is the blue wire in the trailer connector on the back of the tow vehicle. In a correctly wired connector, this wire should have voltage present when you press on the brakes on the tow vehicle.
To check if this is the case, have an assistant press on the brake pedal in your truck while at the back, you use a multimeter to probe the terminal connected to the blue wire in the trailer connector. Ask your assistant to move the adjustment control on the brake controller. You should see the amount of voltage present vary. If there’s no voltage present, or if that voltage does not go up or down, there might be a problem with the blue wire itself, or your controller is faulty and needs to be replaced.
To check the blue wire, probe for voltage in the blue wire. If there’s no voltage present, or the voltage present cannot be modulated, your trailer brake controller is faulty.
Check the wiring of the brake controller: Or the problem might be in the wiring of the brake controller unit. To check the wiring, sever the blue wire. Use a circuit tester to see if you get output to the blue wire. If there is a voltage present, try to activate the blue wire with both the brake pedal and the manual slide bar. If you can, next you will need to test the wires going into the brake controller.
There is a black wire and a red wire that exit from the back of the controller. Make sure you have power entering the brake controller on the black wire. You will only want power on the red wire when the brake pedal is pressed. If there’s no output to the red wire when the pedal is pressed, the controller needs to be replaced. Another scenario is if there is power on the red wire before the brake pedal is pressed, then the red wire is connected to the wrong circuit. To find the correct connection, you need to find the brake switch wire that has power only when the brake pedal is pressed.
FAQs About Trailer Brake Controllers
1. Does a camper need a trailer brake controller?
Many modern trucks and tractors that are designed to tow heavy trailers come with factory-installed brake controllers built into the vehicle, so you won’t need to install any additional controller. However, if yours does not come with a factory-installed brake controller, you will need to have one installed. First is for safety, and second, to comply with the current law.
Due to the necessity of a controller in heavy towing tasks, most states in the United States require by law that you have a brake controller installed if your trailer weighs over 3,000 pounds when fully loaded or the trailer gross weight exceeds 40% of the tow vehicle’s gross weight. Since it’s more likely than not that except for the tiny teardrop trailers and the smallest travel trailer models, most fifth wheels and travel trailers you’d be towing usually double to triple the weight of the towing truck, so having a trailer brake controller installed is an absolute must.
2. Can you tow a trailer with electric brakes without a controller?
Electric trailer brakes do not work without a brake controller. If your trailer is equipped with electric brakes, you will need to check whether it comes with a preinstalled controller and if not, have one installed before any towing.
3. Which is better: a timed or a proportional brake controller?
4. How much does a trailer brake controller cost?
5. What is the average cost to Install a brake controller?
6. How long would a brake controller for trailers last?
7. What is the best setting for a trailer brake controller?
8. How do you reset a trailer brake controller?
9. How do I calibrate a trailer brake controller?
10. Why does my trailer brake controller stay on?
11. How do you turn off a trailer brake controller?
12. How do I tell if the brake controller is bad?
13. How do you test a trailer brake controller?
14. Does a brake controller know if a trailer is connected?
15. How do I know if my electric trailer brakes are working?
Look for the indicator light or a slide bar with a scale from 0 to 10 on your brake controller. Once you’ve located the slide bar, drive forward slowly and at the same time, start pulling on it gradually to move from 0 to 10. You should feel stronger and stronger resistance from the trailer’s brakes. As you gradually move toward 10 on the slide bar, if you can hardly feel any braking, then the brakes on your trailer are not working properly.
You can also double check the trailer’s electric drum brakes without connecting it to your truck. To do this, you’ll need to directly apply +12-volt power from a fully-charged battery to the hot and ground contacts on the trailer’s plug or to the two wires of an individual brake assembly. Then try to rotate the hub. You should feel some resistance and hear gentle humming from the brake magnets.
If you don’t get any resistance, troubleshoot by inspecting the most common sources of problem. First, check the vehicle and trailer connectors for corrosion. The parts most likely to be corroded due to exposure to moisture are the brake feed circuit and ground as they are at the bottom of the connector.
Next, check for loose or corroded main ground wire. This sometimes occurs if a trailer is parked idle for extended periods at a time. Any corrosion will cause a short inside the connector and prevent power from reaching the trailer’s brakes. If the main ground wire is fine, check each brake’s ground wire to make sure all of them are made to clean bare metal.
If a loose or corroded connection is not the culprit, the problem might be in the wiring of the brake controller unit. To check the wiring, sever the brake output wire, which is typically blue. Use a circuit tester to see if you get output to the blue wire. If you do, try to activate the blue wire with both the brake pedal and the manual slide bar. If you can activate it, you will need to test the wires going into the brake controller.
There is a black wire and a red wire that exit from the back of the controller. Make sure you have power entering the brake controller on the black wire. You will only want power on the red wire when the brake pedal is pressed. If there’s no output, the controller needs to be replaced. Another scenario is if there is power on the red wire before the brake pedal is pressed, then the red wire is connected to the wrong circuit. To find the correct connection, you need to find the brake switch wire that has power only when the brake pedal is pressed.
If that doesn’t resolve the issue, it’s most likely that your trailer’s electric brakes are not working properly due to missing components such as a slack adjuster, poorly adjusted brakes or grease-saturated and/or delaminated brake shoes. The problem might also lie with the brake magnets, which you can test using a multimeter.
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Last Updated on June 27, 2021