Trailer Brake Controllers: 25 Facts You Should Know (Explained)


trailer-brake-controllers

Are you looking for trailer brake controllers?

If you are towing any sort of trailer with your vehicle, then you will almost certainly need to have brakes on the trailer. If you have brakes on the trailer, then you are going to need to pair them with a trailer brake controller.

So, what is a trailer brake controller? What do they do? How important is it to actually have one on your vehicle? Are there recommended trailer brake controllers to choose from? Well, luckily for you, every single one of those questions (and a little bit more) is going to be answered on this page.

We have a lot of information to cover. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride!

What is a Trailer Brake Controller?

What is a trailer brake controller? Well, to put it in the simplest way possible; a trailer brake controller is a small mechanism that tells the trailer on your vehicle exactly when it needs to be braking. It gets this signal from the braking motion of your own vehicle.

Basically, a trailer brake controller is all about ensuring that your trailer brake starts to slow down at exactly the same speed that your vehicle does.

Why Use a Trailer Brake Controller?

Why you need to use a trailer brake controller? In most states, it is actually going to be a legal requirement to use a trailer brake controller if your vehicle goes over a certain length or age. In some states, it is going to be based upon the weight of the trailer or the towing vehicle.

That is a pretty big advantage there. A trailer brake controller is going to prevent you from dealing with criminal charges, which can lead to fines.

Of course, there is a reason why all of these states have some sort of legal requirement to have a trailer brake controller installed. It is the fact that it is safer to use one.

curt echo wireless trailer brake controllers

Imagine if you are driving down the road and you brake suddenly while towing a massive trailer behind you. What do you think is going to end up happening to that travel trailer? Well, we can tell you, it probably isn’t going to be stopping anywhere near as fast as you think it will be stopping.

The trailer will likely swing wildly from side to side. This is going to be presenting a massive danger to the other drivers on the road. If there is enough momentum in the travel trailer, then it could also end up colliding into the back of your vehicle.

We can assure you, this is not going to be a pleasant experience for you in the slightest.

Even if there is no legal requirement to have a brake controller on the trailer system where you are driving, the safety advantages of having one will far outweigh all of the disadvantages.

Having one of them connected up to your vehicle truly is going to be giving you a lot of peace of mind while you are out there on the road.

How Do Trailer Brake Controllers Work?

How do trailer brake controllers work? How a trailer brake controller works will be dependent on the type of trailer brake controller that you actually have. This means that it is going to be almost impossible for us to tell you how every possible brake controller works, but we certainly can give you a little bit of an overview.

The trailer brake controller will be connected up to the brakes of the travel trailer through the 7 pin connector at the back of the trailer. When the brakes are applied, the brake controller will send an electrical signal up one of the pins of the 7 pin connector and the brakes will know they have to be applied.

How do trailer brake controllers work? >> Check out the video below:

So, how does the brake controller know that the brakes are being applied in the first place? Well, there is a small sensor inside of the brake controller. The sensor can detect when the towing vehicle starts to slow down.

The amount of pressure applied to the brakes will be dependent on the specific brake controller. Some use proportional braking (they slow down the same speed as the tow vehicle), and others require you to set the settings yourself.

How Do Wireless Brake Controllers Work?

In the past, all of the brake controllers on the market had to be wired into your vehicle. However, we are now starting to see wireless options.

These wireless options allow the brake controller to be moved from vehicle to vehicle.

So, how do wireless brake controllers work? In the majority of cases, they will connect directly up to either a remote control in the vehicle or a smartphone in the vehicle via Bluetooth. Everything is controlled from there. Power to the wireless brake controller will be sent through the 7 pin connector on the back of the tow vehicle.

Honestly, apart from this, how the wireless brake controllers work will be exactly the same. A small sensor inside of the wireless brake controller will be able to detect when the vehicle is braking.

When it knows it is braking, it will send the signal to the electric brakes in the vehicle and everything will end up slowing down.

Smart Wireless Brake Controller >> Check out the video below:

How to Choose the Right Brake Controller 

When you are looking for a brake controller, your main decision will be whether to go wired or wireless. Nowadays, most people go wireless as this is the sort of thing that you can install yourself. There are no major advantages to going wired.

After this, you will want to pay attention to the recommended trailer weight for a brake controller. You will want to ensure that you do not go over the recommended weight otherwise there is a risk that your vehicle will not be able to slow down the trailer quickly enough.

Of course, you will always want to read through reviews so that you know that you are ending up with the right brake controller for you.

3 Best Trailer Brake Controllers

What are the best trailer brake controllers on the market? The best brake controllers are listed below:

–       Curt TriFlex Brake Controller

–       Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller

–       Reese Towpower

Curt TriFlex Brake Controller

This is a highly sophisticated proportional brake controller. The Curt TriFlex Brake Controller is able to detect braking moment in three different planes.

What does this mean? Well, it means that once you have the brake controller installed, the brakes will work perfectly no matter what angle your vehicle is located at.

Remember, since this is a proportional braking controller, the vehicle braking adjusts based upon how hard to brakes are being pressed in the tow vehicle. It is highly convenient. 

With automatic leveling and calibration, you don’t have to worry about spending too much time getting the system set up either. It is just going to work!

When it comes to downsides, there are very few. The only real issue that people have is the brake controller draining power while the vehicle is switched off. However, all you need to do is disconnect the brake controller when not in use and everything is fine.

Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller

The Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller has been designed to be as easy as possible to use. From the very second that you plug it in, you will be able to enjoy the easy-to-read LCD screen.

This way, you have full knowledge of everything going on with the brake controller, especially the diagnostics of the vehicle. 

You have several different customization options here. This includes the ability to switch between controller electric brakes and hydraulic brakes, something that very few other brake controllers on the market allow you to do. So, you have a major plus there.

Downsides? Not very many. However, do bear in mind that this is a cheaper brake controller. This means that the durability is not that high compared to other models on the market. This means that you may need to go ‘easy’ when pressing the various buttons.

Reese Towpower

If you are looking for a budget trailer brake controller that can still pack a punch when it comes to quality, then the Reese Towpower may be for you.

It is not necessarily brimming with features. However, you do have the ability to adjust the gain and boost, which is pretty much all you need to do with a brake controller.

It is also self-leveling, so you don’t have to worry about that part either.

The only downside is that there is no automatic calibration here. However, we can imagine that the vast majority of people that are looking at the lower end of the market will be fine with this. It doesn’t really ever take that long to calibrate a brake controller anyway.

Brake Controller Manufacturers 

CURT Brake Controller Company

CURT is a subsidiary of Lippert. Curt specializes in the manufacturing of various trailers and towing accessories.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact location of CURT because of its extensive product range. They make use of over 90 different manufacturing centers all over the world. 

Before CURT was purchased by Lippert, they were a small manufacturing business. They actually got started way back in 1993 when they were selling parts out of the back of a vehicle.

They certainly have come a long way since then to become one of the top brake controller manufacturers in the world! 

Tekonsha Brake Controller Company

Tekonsha is a little bit smaller than CURT. This is because this company only offers brake controllers to the masses. However, they are really just a brand name for Horizon Global Limited, one of the largest manufacturing companies for trailer accessories around the world.

Tekonsha is currently located in Missouri, and this is where all of the Tekonsha brake controllers are manufactured. 

In addition to selling brake controllers, they sell spare parts for trailer braking systems, as well as all of the wiring that a person needs to get their braking system up and running.

Since this is just a brand, there is no real information about how they managed to get started. We can assume that one day, Horizon Global decided they wanted a brake controller brand with a cool name, and this is what we ended up with.

How to Install Trailer Brake Controller? 

How to install trailer brake controller is going to be highly dependent on the type of brake controller that you have, as well as the type of vehicle you are running.

Some will already have the connections that you need. In that case, it is really just a case of sliding the brake controller into place and you are ready to roll.

If you have a 7-way plug at the back of the vehicle already installed, then the process is simple. Things are going to be even simpler if all that you need to do is plug a bluetooth or wireless brake controller into the set-up.

Beyond this, we do not really recommend that you install a brake controller yourself. It involves some complicated wiring inside of your vehicle.

If you end up getting it wrong, then the brakes on the trailer may not end up working. Which, of course, is the last thing you want to have happened, right?

How to Install and Connect a Trailer Brake Controller >> Check out the video below

How Long Does it Take to Install a Brake Controller 

Honestly, this is going to be highly dependent on the type of brake controller that you purchase.

So, how long does it take to install a brake controller?  A wireless brake controller, for instance, can be installed in mere minutes. If you already have a 7-way connector installed on your tow vehicle, then the process may take 30-40 minutes, maximum.

However, if you need to have the 7-way connector installed on the vehicle, then we are talking several hours, and it is something that should probably be handled by a professional if you want to ensure that you get it perfect.

Although, without installing the 7-way connector, you can probably do things yourself.

How Much Does it Cost to Install a Brake Controller? 

It depends on the amount of work that needs to be carried out and where you are taking your vehicle to.

So, how much does it cost to install a brake controller? In most cases, you are looking at cost between $60.00 and $340 for the controller itself and up to $300 for labor on the most complicated installations. However, if you only need to have the brake controller wired into place, then it may set you back about $100 or so.

You will need to have to talk to various RV maintenance companies to get a feel for the sort of prices that you should be paying for the brake controller installation.

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

Trailer Brake Controller Wiring: What to Consider 

When you are wiring up your vehicle, you have to remember that all of the wires need to be connected up properly.

The trailer brakes are going to be looking for a very specific signal coming through the 7-way connector. If the trailer brakes are not receiving this signal, then they won’t function.

In most cases, you will probably need to purchase a specific wiring kit for your vehicle. The wiring can be different. Again, this is probably another reason why you should be going to a professional. You need to ensure that everything is done properly.

One problem that seems to happen a lot is an overlap of wires. People tend to strip their wires incorrectly. This can lead to short circuits.

Again, this may cause the brakes not to work at all. However, in many cases, it can lead to the brakes locking up, particularly when the vehicle is driven in reverse.

Trailer Brake Controller Kit: What You Should Know 

A brake controller kit will likely include everything that you need to install the trailer brake controller.

This includes all of the wiring that is required. This is probably going to be the quickest way that you can get everything that you need to install in your vehicle.

In many cases, you will be able to hand the trailer brake controller kit over to the RV maintenance team and they will be able to install it for you.

Do make sure that any kit that you purchase is compatible with the vehicle that you own. As we said, some may need specific wiring. 

Trailer Brake Controller for Ram 1500: What to Consider 

The Ram 1500 may already come with a trailer brake controller installed. It will be dependent on the package that was selected when the vehicle was purchased.

Many people will install their own aftermarket brake controller, though. For the Ram 1500, it seems that the Tekonsha Prodigy P3 is one of the more popular options. This could easily cost you a few hundred dollars.

Chances are that your Ram 1500 will already have a 7-way connector built into it. This means that the installation is simply a case of adding the controller into the vehicle and connecting it up to the power supply.

Although, we encourage you to work with a professional to ensure that this is carried out properly.

Electronic Trailer Brake Controller Installation on Ram 1500 >> Check out the video below:

Trailer Brake Controller for Ford F150: What to Consider 

The Ford F150 is one of the most popular trucks in the United States. Because these are built for heavy loads, many of them will already have a brake controller installed.

This means that you won’t have to worry too much about finding a brake controller to install.

If you want to install your own brake controller, then it is a case of switching out the old one and clipping the new brake controller into place.

This is a process that can take mere minutes, although some brake controllers may require a small amount of modification to the vehicle.

If you do not have a 7-way connector on the back of your Ford F150 already, then we do not recommend installing the brake controller yourself.

Instead, get a professional to do it. This way, the wiring is carried out properly.

Trailer Brake Controller Installation and Programming on Ford F-150 >> Check out the video below:

How to Troubleshoot a Tekonsha Brake Controller? 

To be honest, there is very little that can go wrong with a Tekonsha Brake Controller. We can give you a few hints on how to deal with any problems. However, do bear in mind that the vast majority of problems will need a professional looking at it.

So, how to Troubleshoot a Tekonsha Brake Controller? If you want to troubleshoot a Tekonsha brake controller, just follow the steps listed below:

  • If your brakes are locking up, then chances are that you will need to turn the gain of the Tekonsha brake controller down.
  • If the brakes seem to be not stopping the trailer too quickly, then you need to turn the gain up.
  • If the brakes appear to be locking up when the vehicle is in reverse, then it is likely that there is a short circuit somewhere in the cabling. You can check this yourself by looking at the 7-way connector and ensuring that there is nothing overlapping. However, if the wiring problem is not immediately obvious, then you will probably want to head to a professional to check everything over for you.
  • If the brake controller does not appear to be powered, then you will need to check that it is connected up to the battery properly.
  • In most cases, resetting your brake controller should be able to clear up most issues.

Diagnosing a Brake Controller Problem – Tekonsha Brake Controller Troubleshooting  >> Check out the video below:

How Do I Reset my Brake Controller? 

This is going to be dependent on the brake controller that you own.

So, how do I reset my brake controller? For the most part, you can rest the brake controller by unplugging it from the system for about 30-seconds. You can then plug it back in. The settings should have reset.

If this does not appear to work, then you can look through the manual for the brake controller that you own. This should tell you how you should be resetting that specific model of brake controller.

Do Electric Trailer Brakes Need Adjusting 

Do electric trailer brakes need adjusting? Yes. You will need to adjust the electric trailer brakes at least once every 3,000 miles. If you do not do this, then they will probably not be working as efficiently.

We do not suggest that you try to adjust the electric trailer brakes yourself. There is a lot that can go wrong with the process.

In the interests of safety, you will want to have everything looked over by a professional. It will only cost a $100 or so (and in some cases much less), but you will have the peace of mind knowing that your vehicle is safe to drive.

How Do You Adjust a Brake Controller 

Nowadays, the vast majority of brake controllers will be auto-configuring. This means that you will not have to worry about adjusting them yourself. However, there may be some times where you have to do a bit of adjustment on the brake controller.

How do you adjust a brake controller? The most important adjustment will be ‘gain’. You will need to adjust this if the following is happening:

  • The brakes are locking up
  • The trailer is braking slower than expected.

If the brakes are locking up, then you will need to switch the gain down. If the trailer is braking too slowly, then you need to turn the gain up.

As you drive, you may also notice that your brake controller has a boost button. Because brakes warm up as you drive, you may want to turn that boost button up every so often if the trailer is no longer reacting the way you expect it to.

Tekonsha Prodigy RF vs CURT Echo

There are a couple of differences between the Tekonsha Prodigy RF and the CURT Echo. They are both wireless brake controllers, but they work in slightly different ways. It is up to you to choose the one that is right for your needs.

👉 For example, the Tekonsha Prodigy RF is a proportional brake controller. This means that the trailer will have the brakes applied at roughly the same speed and pressure as inside of the vehicle.

The CURT Echo is not, and will just brake the trailers at the pre-defined settings whenever it detects that the towing vehicle is braking.

👉 Perhaps the major difference between the two, however, is the way that the two units are controlled. With the Tekonsha Prodigy RF, you will have a handset that you can install in your vehicle to control the brake controller.

✔️ With the CURT Echo, you will be controlling the brake controller using an app on your smartphone. In both cases, the connection will be carried out via Bluetooth.

✔️ Both of these are going to be fantastic brake controllers, though. Opt for the Tekonsha Prodigy RF if you want a Bluetooth or wireless brake controller that will pretty much always be used in the same vehicle.

✔️ Go for the CURT Echo if you change vehicles or trailers regularly.

Where Can You Buy a Trailer Brake Controller? 

Perhaps the quickest way to buy a trailer brake controller is to shop online at sites like Amazon. They will always have a massive selection of products available, often at affordable prices.

You can also check any online RV accessories websites. These will always likely have trailer brake controllers available as they are exceedingly important.

Trailer Brake Controller Near Me (Where to Find) 

Are there trailer brake controller shops near me? Yes, it is likely that any RV company in the local area will have trailer brake controllers for sale. You can also check your local mechanic. However, it is unlikely that they will keep trailer brake controllers as standard as they probably won’t get much trade for them.

Are Trailer-mounted Brake Controllers Legal?

This is going to be dependent on the laws of the state that you are driving in. This means that you will need to do your own independent research to find the laws for the states that you plan to travel through.

Are trailer-mounted brake controllers legal? Most people do not recommend that you use them on trailers over 3,000-4,000lbs, whether it is legal to do so or not. However, trailer-mounted brake controllers tend only to be legal for trailers up to a certain weight. In fact, they are only really suitable for the smallest of trailers.

If your trailer is too large, then using trailer-mounted brake controllers will likely be illegal in most states. Instead, there will be a requirement that you need to be able to control the brakes from within your vehicle.

Are Wireless Brake Controllers Safe?

Are wireless brake controllers safe? Yes. Wireless brake controllers are safe. Wireless brake controllers are able to sense your vehicle braking in exactly the same way that a wired brake controller would be able to sense the braking.

Wireless brake controllers also have safeguards built in so they don’t ‘fail’ if they suddenly lose the connection with the Bluetooth or wireless remote or cellphone inside of the vehicle.

Can You Tow Without Electric Brakes?

This is dependent on the size of the trailer.

You will have to look into the laws for your state or any state that you are driving through. The laws for whether you need electric brakes will be different.

While you can tow a trailer without electric brakes, it becomes more difficult.

Remember, without any sort of braking system, your trailer doesn’t know when it should be stopping. This can cause issues if the trailer is on the heavier side of things.

If you suddenly stop your vehicle and your trailer doesn’t have any sort of braking system, there is a risk that the trailer will collide with the back of your vehicle. There is also a small chance that it will rock from side to side. This can damage other vehicles on the road.

Even if there is no legal requirement for you to have a braking system, we still recommend you have one. It is so much safer.

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

Does a 7 pin Trailer Plug Control Brakes?

It depends on what is meant by ‘control brakes’.

So, does a 7 pin trailer plug control brakes? Yes. If you want your electric brakes to work, then they will need to be plugged into the 7 pin trailer plug. However, the 7 pin trailer plug isn’t really going to be doing any controller.

It is the brake controller that is doing the controlling from inside of the vehicle. Or outside, if you are planning on using a wireless brake controller.

Whenever the brake controller senses that the trailer needs to brake, then it will send an electrical signal to the 7 pin trailer plug. This electrical signal will then message the brakes saying “you need to brake” or “you can stop braking now”

If you do not have a brake controller, it doesn’t matter whether your trailer is plugged into the 7 pin or not. It won’t ever receive the signal that it needs to brake.

At What Weight Do You Need Trailer Brakes?

All states will have their own individual requirements when it comes to when you start needing brakes on your trailer. However, barely any states base their requirements upon the weight of the trailer.

Instead, it is, mostly, going to be based upon the length and, in some cases, the age of the trailer.

It is important that you look into the state requirements for wherever you plan to drive so you know whether you need brakes or not.

What Should Trailer Brake Gain Be Set At?

What should trailer brake gain be set at? Most modern brake controllers will automatically set the gain for you. You may need to do a little bit of adjustment, though. Trailer brake gain is determined by the weight of the trailer. The heavier the trailer is, the higher the gain needs to be.

If the brakes of the trailer are locking up regularly, then you may need to turn the gain down. If the trailer is braking far slower than it should be, then you will need to turn the gain up.

Do I Need Electric Brakes To Tow a Jayco Swan?

Do I need electric brakes to tow a Jayco Swan? Almost certainly, yes. While there are some states that may let you tow a trailer of this size without brakes, it isn’t really recommended.

The Jayco Swan will likely already have electric brakes installed in it. However, your vehicle won’t be able to control them.

In order to control the brakes, you will need to purchase a brake controller and have it installed in your vehicle.

This brake controller can either be wired or wireless. Once everything is connected up properly, the electric brakes on the Jayco Swan will trigger whenever your vehicle brakes.

Read also: Top 35 Best Pop Up Camper: Pop Up Trailer Tents You Need To Know

Conclusion

Hopefully, we have answered some of the more burning questions that you have about brake controllers and electric brakes here.

Trust us, they aren’t as difficult to understand as you may think. Once they are installed, you will barely know that they are there.

However, rest assured, those electric brakes will be working incredibly hard to keep you safe while you are navigating the beautiful roads of the United States of America.

Remember, always look into the laws of any state that you visit when you are pulling a trailer, travel, or otherwise. This is the only way that you can be sure that you won’t be breaking the law!

References

https://www.etrailer.com/

https://www.curtmfg.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.

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