How Much Can You Tow Without Trailer Brakes? (Explained)


How Much Can You Tow Without Trailer Brakes

Have you ever wondered how much can you tow without trailer brakes? Look no more. We´ve got you covered.

While light trailers can often be operated without any sort of independent braking system in place, as you start to get into the larger trailers, in particular mobile homes, it is likely that you will need to have some sort of independent braking system available.

So, how much can you tow without trailer brakes? The amount that you can tow without trailer brakes will actually vary from state to state. However, on average you can expect from 1,500lbs in California up to 5,000lbs in Alaska.

Many other factors will determine the amount that you can tow without trailer brakes. Here below you can find the most common:

  1. Pull weight
  2. Weight Of Your Vehicle
  3. Age of trailer
  4. Speed vehicle is traveling at
  5. Items Being Hauled
  6. Hitch Type
  7. Number of Wheels

What is the purpose of having trailer brakes?

Trailer brakes help to ensure that you have full control over the trailer that you are pulling. This means that you have to worry less about it swinging from side to side which can, of course, cause a danger for the other road users.

Trailer brakes work in sync with your standard vehicle brakes. This means that if your vehicle brakes, the trailer will be braking at exactly the same time.

This means that you do not have to worry about the trailer crashing into the back of the vehicle if your vehicle stops suddenly. Obviously, that is the last thing that you want if you are towing a heavy load.

Trailer brakes can also help if your trailer manages to pull free from the vehicle. Obviously, that will still cause a ton of issues, but the trailer brakes should still help to keep the damage to the minimum.

Read also: What Is The Average Cost To Install Trailer Brake Controller – (Facts & Numbers)

How much can you tow without trailer brakes?

In theory, you could tow up to the maximum weight of your vehicle without independent trailer brakes. It wouldn’t be the most sensible decision in the world. It is neither legal nor safe, but it is possible.

The amount that you can tow will actually vary from state to state (we will give a few examples shortly). This means that you will need to look into your state’s legislation to find out exactly what is expected of you.

Remember, if you are traveling from state to state, you will have to consider the rules of the state that you are entering. So, while the rules of one state may be more relaxed, if you are traveling to a state with stricter rules, then your trailer brakes will have to conform to those stricter rules.

In our opinion, you should always have trailer brakes anyway. They are not that expensive to have installed and, to be honest with you, the whole driving experienced will be a lot safer.

If you always have trailer brakes installed, then you won’t have to worry about the rules in various states too.

In the next couple of sections, we want to go through a few of the factors that will dictate whether you need brakes for the trailer or not.

Remember, the rules will vary depending on the state that you are in. Not all states will consider all of these factors. Some will actually just have a weight limit for driving without brakes.

Read also: Can I Tow A Trailer With Electric Brakes Without A Brake Controller?

Pull weight

In almost all cases, pull weight will be the deciding factor as to whether you need to have brakes installed or not. The rules between the various states can vary quite wildly here too.

👉 Take Alaska, for instance. You can pull up to 5,000lbs without having an independent braking system for your trailer installed.

👉 If you were driving through Arizona, then this may be as low as 3,000lbs. In California, in some instances, you will have to have at least a couple of brakes on the wheels if the vehicle weighs over 1,500lbs. 

It is this weight issue that means that we really do suggest that you have an independent braking system in place at all times.

It will give you a little bit of leeway if you want to load up the trailer with various pieces of equipment.

Towing weight – capacity – 10 Popular Vehicle Models

In the table below you can find the towing weight or maximal towing capacity of 10 popular vehicle models:

Vehicle Model and TypeAverage Towing Weight / Capacity Max. (lbs)
Toyota Camry1,000 lbs
Chevy Cruze1,000 lbs
Honda CR-V1,500 lbs
Toyota Rav43,5000 lbs
Sedan1,000 to 4,000 lbs
Toyota Priusunder 1,000 lbs
Toyota Corollaunder 1,500 lbs
Subaru OutbackUp to 3,700 lbs
Buickup to 1,500 lbs
Kia Sorento3,500 lbs
Small (Quarter-Ton) Trucks6,500
Half-Ton Trucks8,500
Three-Quarter-Ton Trucks15,000
Full-Size SUVs7,200
Towing capacity chart

Weight Of Your Vehicle 

The weight of the vehicle won’t dictate whether you need to have brakes, as such. Instead, it will correlate with the maximum pull weight that you are allowed to pull without brakes.

👉 For example, in Florida and Arizona, you will need to have a braking system if the weight of the trailer is more than 40% of the gross weight of the vehicle.

This means when you have everything loaded into the vehicle. That includes people.

👉 Again, this is a reason why it is almost always suggested that you have an independent braking system in your vehicle.

The number of people in your vehicle can vary quite wildly, as will the amount of equipment that you are bringing along on your trips. 

Age of trailer

As near as we can tell, there is only one state that stipulates the age of a trailer in working out whether you need to have an independent braking system or not.

👉 In California, you only need to have an independent braking system if your trailer was built after 1945.

If your trailer was built before that, then there is no requirement to have an independent braking system.

However, let’s be honest, this is the type of thing that isn’t really going to be applying to the vast majority of people. Almost all of us will be hauling trailers that were built well after 1945.

Speed vehicle is traveling at

California is also one of the only states that will have a minimum speed for you to be traveling at before you need an independent braking system.

This is 20mph. If you never travel over 20mph, then you will never need to have that independent braking system installed.

Of course, this is not really something that is going to be impacting us RV users all that much. Instead, it is going to be more the domain of those that are working on trading estates or farms where they are never going to be driving onto public land.

Items Being Hauled

States like Missouri do not actually have a maximum tow weight before you need an independent braking system.

The only time weight is mentioned is when it comes to hazardous materials.

If you are hauling more than 3,000lbs of hazardous materials in the state, you need an independent braking system. Hazardous materials weighing less?

You don’t need anything. Non-hazardous materials? You do not need anything.

Hitch Type 

Again we want to draw attention to Missouri here. As we just said, there is no requirement to have an independent braking system unless you are hauling hazardous materials.

However, this is not strictly true. Missouri also requires you to have an independent braking system if you have a 5th wheel hitch.

Number of Wheels

Mississippi is the only state to have a requirement here. In this state, any trailer with more than 2 wheels will need to have an independent braking system.

If the trailer is under 2 wheels but weighs more than 2,000lbs, then it will also need to have an independent braking system.

Best Trailer Brake Controller

I really like the Curt TriFlex Brake Controller. It’s not terribly expensive but gets amazing reviews. Just follow the link to Amazon where you can see current pricing.

👉 Purchase: If you are interested in this Curt TriFlex Brake Controller then just follow the link to Amazon where you can see current pricing.

Trailer Brake Requirements By State

In the table below you can find the trailer brake requirements and regulations by state:

StatesTrailer Brake Requirements
ALABAMAIndependent braking system required over 3,000 lbs, if weight of trailer exceeds 40% of tow vehicle weight.
ARIZONAIndependent brake systems are required when the gross weight is 3,000 lbs. or more.
CALIFORNIAEvery trailer and semitrailer manufactured after 1940 with a GVW of 6,000 lbs. or more and operated at a speed of 20 mph or more must be equipped with brakes; trailers and semitrailers built after 1966 and with a GVW of 3,000 lbs. or more must have brakes on at least 2 wheels; every trailer or semitrailer built after 1982 and equipped with air brakes must be equipped with brakes on all wheels.
Every trailer coach or camp trailer with a GVW of 1,500 lbs. or more must be equipped with brakes on at least 2 wheels.
DELAWAREEvery motor vehicle when operated on a highway shall be equipped with brakes adequate to control the movement, and to stop and hold such vehicle and any trailer attached thereto, including 2 separate means of applying the brakes.
Brakes are required for any vehicle and load with a gross weight over 4,000 lbs.
FLORIDAEvery such vehicle and combination of vehicles shall be equipped with service brakes adequate to control the movement of and to stop and hold such vehicle under all conditions of loading, and on any grade incident to its operation.
Every vehicle shall be equipped with brakes acting on all wheels except trailers, semitrailers, or pole trailers of a gross weight not exceeding 3,000 lbs., provided that the total weight on and including the wheels of the trailer or trailers shall not exceed 40 percent of the gross weight of the towing vehicle when connected to the trailer or trailers; and the combination of vehicles, consisting of the towing vehicle and its total towed load, is capable of complying with the performance requirements of the law.
Pole trailers with a gross weight in excess of 3,000 lbs. manufactured prior to January 1, 1972, need not be equipped with brakes.
Every towing vehicle, when used to tow another vehicle equipped with air-controlled brakes, in other than driveway or tow-away operations, shall be equipped with 2 means for emergency application of the trailer brakes.
ILLINOISEvery trailer or semitrailer of a gross weight of over 3,000 lbs. must be equipped with brakes when operated upon a highway. Such brakes must be so designed and connected that in case of an accidental breakaway of a towed vehicle over 5,000 lbs., the brakes are automatically applied.
MINNESOTAA trailer or a semitrailer with a gross weight of 3,000 lbs. or more, or a gross weight that exceeds the empty weight of the towing vehicle, must be equipped with brakes that can adequately control the movement of and stop and hold the trailer or semitrailer.
A trailer or semitrailer with a gross weight of 6,000 lbs. or more, must be equipped with brakes that are constructed so that they can hold the trailer or semitrailer if it becomes detached from the towing vehicle
NEW MEXICOTrailers must be equipped with brakes if they have a gross weight of 3,000 lbs. or greater.
In any combination of motor-drawn vehicles, means shall be provided for applying the rearmost trailer brakes, of any trailer equipped with brakes, in approximate synchronism with the brakes on the towing vehicle.
NEW YORKEvery trailer and semitrailer weighing more than 1,000 lbs. unladen and every trailer and semitrailer manufactured on or after January 1, 1971, having a registered maximum gross weight or an actual gross weight of more than 3,000 lbs. shall be equipped with adequate brakes in good working order.
TEXASA trailer or pole trailer is required to have brakes if its gross weight exceeds 4,500 lbs. A trailer with a gross weight between 4,500 lbs. and 15,000 lbs. is not required to have brakes if it is towed at a speed of not more than 30 mph.
VIRGINIATrailers must be equipped with brakes if the gross weight exceeds 3,000 lbs.
Trailers must be equipped with at least 1 red brake light on the rear of the vehicle.
WISCONSINAny trailer, semitrailer, or other towed vehicle with a GVW of 3,000 lbs. or more must be equipped with brakes adequate to stop the vehicle.
WYOMINGEvery combination of vehicles must have a service braking system that will stop the combination of vehicles within 40 feet from an initial speed of 20 mph on a level, dry, smooth, hard surface.
Every combination of vehicles must have a parking brake system adequate to hold the combination of vehicles on any grade on which it is operated under all conditions of loading on a surface free from snow, ice, or loose material.
Trailer Brake Requirements & Regulations By State

Can I Use Electric Brakes Without An Electric Brake Controller?

Can I Use Electric Brakes Without An Electric Brake Controller? >> Check out the video below:

Conclusion 

While it is always wise to have an independent braking system, you should still look into the rules for any states that you plan to drive in.

This way, you will know exactly what is expected of you. Remember, if you are required to have an independent braking system but do not have one, you will get a ticket. 

References

https://drivinglaws.aaa.com

https://www.etrailer.com

Mike Gilmour

Hi, I'm Mike, co-founder, and editor of RV and Playa. My passion is traveling (with my RV) and enjoying the day at the beach (Playa)! Well, I originally created this blog as a way to share what I've learned by experimenting with the RV lifestyle, and I want to help others develop in life through new skills and opportunities.

Recent Posts