If you have electric brakes on your vehicle, then you may be wondering whether you need to have a brake controller or not. That is what we are going to talk about on this page.
So, can you tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller? Yes, in theory you can tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller. However, without a brake controller in place, towing the trailer is going to become a lot more dangerous.
What is a Brake Controller?
If you have electric brakes on your trailer, they need to know when they should be triggering. They aren’t going to brake simply because the rest of the vehicle is braking.
To keep things simple, you can imagine the brake controller as sending a signal to the brakes on the trailer each time that they need to brake.
It does this in a variety of different ways, and it will be dependent on the brake controller that you have installed.
Some will have a sensor installed, while others will be quite literally hooked up to your vehicle brakes.
When you have a brake controller installed, the trailer brakes should engage every single time that you use your vehicle brakes. This helps to ensure that you have full control over the trailer at all times.
Without a brake controller, the brakes won’t know when to engage.
Can You Tow a Trailer with Electric Brakes Without a Brake Controller?
This is actually a tricky question to answer because the answer is both yes and no.
Right away, we want to clear up the fact that electric brakes simply won’t work if they do not have a brake controller. So, no brake controller means no independent braking system for the trailer. That part is dead certain.
However, you may not actually need to have the brakes working at all.
As you may well know, there are some states that will have certain requirements in place i.e. if you are towing over 3,000lbs in some states, then you need an independent braking system, etc.
If you stay below the minimum requirements for an independent braking system for the state that you are driving in, then you do not actually need a brake controller.
That being said, without a brake controller in place, towing the trailer is going to become a lot more dangerous.
This is because you need to rely on the trailer stopping when your vehicle stops. If it doesn’t, then it can swing wildly from side to side, and that is just going to be dangerous, not just for you, but for all of the other road users.
In our opinion, even if there isn’t a legal requirement for you to have a brake controller, we suggest that you get a brake controller anyway.
They are fairly affordable, simple to install, and you are going to be much safer while you are on the road.
👉 Purchase: I really like the CURT 51180 Echo Mobile Electric Trailer Brake Controller with Bluetooth-Enabled. It’s not terribly expensive but gets amazing reviews. Just follow the link to Amazon where you can see current pricing.
How Do You Install a Brake Controller?
This is dependent on the brake controller system that you have.
👉 The most common form of brake controller is the wired system. This will be wired into the power supply of your vehicle.
As you can probably guess, installing a system like this can be rather difficult and cumbersome. It isn’t something that can really be done by a layperson.
Thankfully, there are plenty of mechanics that will be more than happy to install a wired brake controller for you.
👉 In recent years, more and more companies have started to come out with alternative brake controllers. This includes wireless brake controllers.
They can be installed by a layperson. All you need to do is plug the brake controller into the 7-way by the hitch, and then connect the brake controller up to your mobile device via Bluetooth. If you do that, then your braking system will work perfectly!
Of course, you will still need to hunt around for the braking system that is right for you!
👉 Wireless options tend to be the best options. This is because they will allow you to drive whatever vehicle you want without having to do any complicated wiring.
As long as the vehicle has a 7-way power supply on the back, which it almost certainly will do if it has a trailer, then you will be able to use the wireless system.
As a result, a lot of companies actually buy this sort of thing so that they can run their business.
It always means that they are able to use whatever vehicles they want, and it helps to keep the price down. For an RV user, it will just save you a ton of headaches.
Installation Instructions: CURT 51180 Echo® Mobile Brake Control >> Check out the video below:
How Do You Configure a Brake Controller?
Brake controllers are not going to work as soon as you plug the trailer in. They will need to be configured. In fact, they will need to be configured each time your vehicle is connected up to the trailer.
This is because the trailer will weigh different amounts each time, and thus the settings of the brake controller will be slightly different.
Now, for the most part, if you have a modern brake controller, then it will be able to calibrate itself. It is able to measure the weight of the trailer and come up with some settings.
In order to ensure that the vehicle’s brake controller gets the correct settings, then you will need to park your vehicle on a flat road.
👉 When the trailer is hooked up, the brake controller will automatically determine the settings for the braking system.
If you have a wireless device, then you may be able to save these settings for later use. This means that if you are always carrying the same loads, then you will be able to skip the calibration process.
👉 For the most part, the brake controller is going to get the numbers correct and you will be able to drive on the roads without any issues.
However, if you do have a brake controller, we do urge you to still keep an eye out for the way that the trailer behaves when you are driving.
👉 Your main concern will be something known as ‘gain’. This is the amount of force that the brake controller tells the electric brakes to brake at.
The higher the gain, the more intense the braking process is. Of course, the higher gains are going to be used for trailers that weigh a lot more.
👉 If the trailer is stopping too slowly, then chances are that the gain on the brake controller is set a little bit too low.
To counter this, many people suggest that you drive up and down a flat surface at no more than 25mph.
As you drive up and down the flat area, you will want to keep an eye on the speed at which the trailer brakes. If it is slow, then turn the gain up.
You will want to keep turning the gain up until the trailer seems to be braking roughly in line with the actual vehicle.
👉 If the gain is too high, then you will find that the brakes of the trailer will keep locking up. This will often happen if the gain is high and the weight of the trailer is very low. Thankfully, switching the gain up shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
This is actually less of a problem than having a gain that is too low. Obviously, brakes locking up will always be a bad thing, but having a trailer that brakes too slowly, particularly when it is heavy, is always going to be far worse.
Do You Have to Adjust Brake Controller Settings as You Drive?
Probably not. Most modern brake controllers will be able to easily adjust the way in which they work based upon the road conditions i.e. if you are driving uphill or downhill.
👉 The only time that you should be paying attention to the brake controller settings and whether you may need to adjust them is if you find that the brake is either locking up or not stopping the trailer fast enough.
We have already talked a little bit about how you can rectify problems like that.
👉 Obviously, braking is going to be incredibly important. It helps to protect you, your vehicle, and other road users. It will also help to protect your trailer.
So, you should give at least a glance to how the brake is functioning every so often, particularly if you are traveling up or down hill.
You may also want to pay attention if road conditions change e.g. rain or snow will result in a trailer braking a lot slower, which means that you may have to change the gain to compensate for the slower braking conditions.
You can tow a vehicle with electric brakes without a brake controller. However, the brakes won’t actually work.
There won’t be a system telling them when they should be engaging. This means that the only time that you should be using a vehicle without a brake controller is if the law allows you to do so.
The law will vary from state to state, so we won’t really be able to give you that much advice here.
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