Getting the Most out of Electric Brake Controllers

There are plenty of people in the U.S. who are well aware of the joy that comes with owning a recreational vehicle (RV). There is a certain sense of freedom that comes with having over 16,000 campgrounds throughout the U.S, where RV’s are free to park for weeks or months at a time. In addition to this wonderful sense of freedom, this is also one of the greatest ways to explore the outdoors. Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, and many other national parks are fantastic RV getaway locations.

Towing RV’s for Vacation

For those who pull their RVs behind a truck or another towing vehicle, it is important to have electric brake controllers for trailers installed. Electronic brake controllers are vital for road safety and make towing an RV much easier. Here are some general towing tips, as well as some maintenance principles for electric brake controllers for trailers during RV trips.

Tips for Towing

Backing Up A Trailer or RV: Backup cameras and other modern features have made handling a regular car very easy in almost any situation. However, backing up an RV is very different. The trailer will turn in the opposite direction of the tow vehicle when backing up. That means if you crank your wheel to turn left, the trailer will turn right. An easy way to master backing up is to start by placing your hand at the bottom of the steering wheel. If you want to move the trailer left, move your hand to the left (turning your car to the right, and the trailer to the left). Back up slowly and make small steering corrections each time. Slight movements in the steering wheel will result in a much larger movement in the rear of the trailer. Once the trailer starts turning, straighten out the wheel to avoid jackknifing.

Preventing Sway: It’s a bit spooky driving down the freeway next to a big trailer with strong winds. Seeing the trailer sway back and forth makes it look like the trailer is just extremely close to tipping. However, with the correct attention to weight limits and distribution, there should be very little trailer sway. A sway control hitch can also be used and is recommended for larger trailers. If you do experience swaying, stay calm. The worst thing you can do is slam on the brakes. Instead, gradually reduce speed, keep the steering wheel steady, and only apply the electric brake controllers. Do not try to steer out of the sway as this can end up creating what is called a “resonance frequency” and tip the trailer. If you are continuing to experience significant sway, pull over and do a diagnosis of the problem and correct it before continuing.

Adjust and Tune the Electric Brake Controllers: Electric brake controllers for trailers may need to be adjusted from time to time. This adjustment may be necessary due to a significant change in load when road conditions change significantly (i.e. slippery roads), or just as a part of general maintenance and safety. Adjusting electric brake controllers for trailers can be a bit daunting if you have never done it before. If you would like some help, we are happy to take a look for you. Otherwise, be sure to follow all steps for adjusting your model of brakes exactly to ensure safety on the road. Electric brake controllers that are not properly adjusted may cause the trailer brakes to skid, grab, or not work at all.

Be Familiar with the Settings: Most electric brake controllers have different types of settings that can be adjusted from within the cab. Become familiar with each of these settings and when they should be used. This will help ensure smooth rides especially for cross country trips where the landscape and weather changes often. Understand the differences between proportional mode and user-controlled mode. This can help prevent wildlife accidents (if you need to brake suddenly) and help ease the wear on your car and RV as you make your trip. The goal here is to have fun and enjoy your trip. The more prepared you are, the more you can relax.


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How To Choose The Best Brake Controller For Your Trailer

There are more than 50,000 accidents related to towing each year, according to the National Highway Transportation Administration. When towing, having the right brake controller is crucial to ensuring that your trailer braking system is always working properly. This will help to prevent accidents and damage to your truck or other vehicles. Brake controllers physically link your truck’s brake pedal with the brakes on the towed trailer.

If you have just bought a trailer, then you may be wondering, “What is the best type of brake controller to use for my new trailer?”

To choose the best brake controller, you should first understand your trailer brake system, types of brake controllers available, and when they are used. To that end, this article will guide you on how to choose the best brake controller.

Types Of Trailer Brakes

First, not all trailer brake systems will require controllers. There are two types of trailer brakes. The first, surge brakes, operate on an automatic hydraulic braking system. The surge brakes use the trailers momentum and own weight, which pushes against a hydraulic cylinder when you step on the towing vehicle’s brakes. Therefore, a surge braking system does not require a brake controller to function.

Next, there’s the electric trailer brake, which uses electric power to function. These brakes use electric power from the towing vehicle to operate electromagnetic brake drums. The electric brake must be activated to work. Thus, you will need to install a trailer electric brake controller to use the electric brakes at will.

Types Of Brake Controllers

An RV trailer brake control system is a small electronic device that connects the electric brakes of the trailer to a tow vehicle which allows the driver to operate the brakes. The brake controller has different controls that can be set by the driver as per his or her preferences.

A brake controller has adjustable settings, where a sliding button or wheel can be used to adjust the gain and sensitivity of the trailer brakes. There may also be a second sliding button which can be used to activate the electric trailer brakes without stepping on the brake pedals in case of emergencies such as trailer sway control.

Brake controllers are classified based on the activation method, and there are two types: proportional and time-based controllers. A proportional trailer brake controller utilizes an electrical accelerometer that senses the resistance or inertia of the tow vehicle and applies power to the brakes in proportion with the vehicle’s momentum.

The advantages of proportional brake controllers are that they provide smoother stops and efficient braking, especially on steep areas. When traveling downhill, more power is required as opposed to uphill. These controllers are able to sense the difference in momentum and apply power accordingly.

On the other hand, time-based brake controllers power the trailer brakes based on the preset brake settings as soon as the driver steps on the brake pedal. They are effective, responsive, and easy to use, but not as flexible as proportional brake controllers.

What Is The Best Type Of Brake Controller For Your Trailer?

What is the best type of brake controller depends on the type and purpose of your trailer. Before choosing a trailer brake controller, consider the type of trailer you will be towing and the frequency you will be traveling. If you will be towing heavy cargo such as livestock, construction materials, or any other fragile cargo, go for the proportional brake controller. They are best suited for heavy-duty towing as they perform smoother stops which minimize stress on the cargo.

When towing lightweight trailers such as pontoon boats or popup campers, a time-based brake works just fine. The time-based brake controller will perform well and is also affordable. Time-based brake controllers are also good for people who travel a few times in a year, while proportional brake controllers should be used for frequent or commercial towing, as they are more dependable and accurate. All these factors will help you decide what is the best type of brake controller to use for your trailer.


How to Troubleshoot Your Brake Controller System

Trailer brake controller issues could cause all manner of dangerous circumstances on the road. braking power to fail in the connected trailer’s brake system. Considering all the other forces at play while your trailer is on the road (a 35-mph crosswind can exert as much as 3,440 pounds of force on your trailer), brakes are essential to maintaining control.

So how can you make sure your brake controller is in good condition? Here are a few tips.

How to Troubleshoot and Inspect Brake Controllers

First, connect the trailer to the tow vehicle in order to engage the brake controller. While inside of the vehicle make sure it is visible and easily accessible. Keep the manual close.

Second, examine the trailer brake controller. Make sure the in-cab control is installed correctly with reference to the owner’s manual determining if an adjustment is needed.

Third, look at the front of the controller; digital or LED screens commonly display troubleshooting codes. Take note and read up on the codes displayed with references to the owner’s manual. Make sure to adjust according to specifications.

Fourth and finally, check the brake controller wiring. Make the brake controller wiring is correctly connected. Check the continuity of voltage between the controller and the connector harness. Be sure to bring a 12 Volt test light.

3 Common Brake Controller Problems to Watch for

It is possible to be entirely done installing the brake controller and have an unrecognized issue. Consider these three issues as you move forward with your brake controller.

  1. Display shows trailer not connected: One solution is that the trailer brake system could have a short on the brake signal wire, trailer, or vehicle side. Another explanation could be corrosion in the trailer and/or vehicle plug.
  2. Controller loses battery ground connection: If a ground wire is not connected to a negative battery terminal or there is not a solid ground connection then an error could happen. Alternatively, adapter wiring might not match the OEM vehicle connector.
  3. Brakes apply too aggressively for controller settings: Two possible culprits are that the brake assemblies are not properly adjusted, or the boost/gain on the controller is set too high for the size of the trailer.

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