If you are planning on towing a larger trailer, one of the most important things you need to consider is being able to stop it. You might think you just hook your trailer up to the hitch and are ready to roll. But to tow safely, you may need some upgrades depending on your setup. If you are towing a trailer with brakes, one thing you must have is a trailer brake controller. Keep reading to find out what that means and what the best trailer brake controller is.
What Is a Trailer Brake Controller?
The best trailer brake controllers will keep you much safer when towing your trailer. Brake controllers first sense when you apply the brakes in your vehicle. They then automatically engage the brakes on your trailer or camper. This decreases your stopping distance because the trailer is slowing itself and not relying on the vehicle to stop.
How Do Trailer Brake Controllers Work?
There are a few different types of trailer brake controllers. They each operate slightly differently.
One is a proportional controller. A proportional controller senses how hard you are braking and applies a proportional amount of braking to the trailer. This ensures your tow vehicle and your camper slow down at the same rate. Most proportional controllers sense the motion of the vehicle with what’s called an accelerometer to determine how much to brake the trailer.
A less common proportional type taps into the vehicle’s hydraulic brake line and senses the actual pressure being applied to the brakes. This type is much less common due to its complexity.
Proportional controllers are considered the best trailer brake controllers. They are more specific and fine-tuned. Plus, they adapt depending on the braking conditions.
Another option for a trailer brake controller is a time-delayed controller. This method of braking is much simpler. It senses when you are braking in your vehicle and again signals the trailer brakes. Instead of being calculated relative to the force of braking, time-delayed brake controllers are pre-set. The driver will determine the desired time delay and braking force. These values will vary depending on the trailer weight and other factors.
Trailer brakes are most commonly electric brakes, however, some trailers use a hydraulic braking system that the controller needs to communicate with called “Electric over Hydraulic”. It’s important to know which type you have installed before purchasing a brake controller.
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.
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.
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. It will take some testing to see what boost is right for your trailer and to get it to stop the smoothest.
Pro Tip: We took a closer look at what is brake shudder. Get the inside scoop about why you’re experiencing Car Vibrations When Braking
Who Needs a Trailer Brake Controller?
There are several situations when you might need a trailer brake controller. First, if your camper or trailer has electric or “electric over hydraulic” brakes.
Without a brake controller, these types of brakes won’t work. Most state laws also require a brake controller if your trailer weighs over 3,000 pounds loaded or greater than 40% of the tow vehicle’s weight. Some fifth wheel trailers can double or even triple the weight of the truck towing them, so additional brakes are absolutely necessary.
Many new trucks and vehicles that are designed to tow trailers come with factory-installed brake controllers. These are built into the vehicle, and no additional controller needs to be added. If, however, your vehicle does not have a built-in controller, you will need to add one.
5 Best Trailer Brake Controllers for RVs and Campers
A brake controller is an important part of staying safe on the road. That’s why you need to get the best trailer brake controller. Here are our top recommendations.
1. Best for Most Situations – Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Controller
- Fits: '10 - '20 Lexus, GX460 ; '03 - '09Lexus, GX470
- Fits: '03 - '07Lexus, LX470 ; '08 - '11Lexus, LX570
- Fits: '13 - '20Lexus, LX570 ; '03 - '13Toyota, 4Runner
One of the best trailer brake controllers for general towing is the Tekonsha P3. This is the brake controller that we have used for years and have never had a problem with. This brake controller kit includes the controller and wiring harnesses needed to get up and running. You can use it with trailers that have up to 4 axles. It also works with both electric and “electric over hydraulic” brakes. Plus, you can customize braking to be the perfect fit for your trailer.
Our favorite thing about this brake controller is the screen that allows for easy diagnostics. Not to mention, the Tekonsha P3 brake controller received 4.7/5 stars on Amazon. Additionally, most users agree it is easy to use and good value for the money.
2. Best for Heavy loads – Tuson DirecLink
If your looking to get the best towing experience possible and to get the smoothest braking experience then take a look at the Tuson DirecLink Brake controller.
This unit integrates with the vehicle’s computer system to get speed and braking data which it uses to determine how the vehicle is slowing and matches trailer braking. This provides the smoothest and most seamless braking performance possible in an aftermarket controller.
The DirecLink Is the most expensive of our recommendations but if you want the closest performance to a factory installed controller this is controller is for you!
3. Tekonsha Primus IQ Brake Controller
- Utilizes Plug-N-Play port for 2-plug adapters.Fit Type: Universal...
- Self-diagnostics features will illuminate LED readout when issues...
- Requires T-connector to connect to vehicle (sold separately)
If you’re looking for something quality but at a lower price point, you’ll want the Tekonsha Primus IQ. This brake controller is easy to install and use with a plug-n-play port. It also has several other unique features. One has the self-diagnostics, which provides a readout when you have issues. Another is that it works proportionally, even in reverse. So backing up your trailer will be much simpler.
The kit comes with mounting hardware and the wiring harness needed to hit the road. Reviews for the Tekonsha Primus IQ are even better than for the P3. It earned a 4.8/5 star rating from over 3,000 Amazon customers.
4. Reese Towpower Brake Control
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Another one of the best trailer brake controllers on the market is the Reese Towpower. It is a proportional brake controller that operates for between 1 and 4 axles.
This brake controller also includes a boost feature. This allows for more initial trailer braking for a safer ride with heavy loads. It also provides a diagnostic output, making troubleshooting a breeze.
The Reese Towpower is also easy to use in multiple vehicles by adding another pigtail wiring harness. All you need to do is plug it in. It also comes with plenty of satisfied customers and a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon.
5. Draw-Tite 5535
- Requires no leveling with "up-front" buttons for easy access to...
- Proportional brake control means sure, even stopping power
- Boost feature gives the ability to apply more initial trailer...
The Draw-Tite 5535 is another solid choice for a trailer brake controller. It provides proportional braking for a smoother slowdown with a shorter stopping distance. There is also a boost feature for higher initial trailer braking when needed. You can use it with trailers up to 4 axles.
The Draw-Tite is easy to use. It requires no leveling and comes with all the hardware you need to install it. Like many of our other favorite trailer brake controllers, it also comes with diagnostics. Another wonderful feature for cross-country travel is the automatic adjustment for traveling over hilly (or mountainous!) terrain.
The price point is right and with 4.8 out of 5 stars, you really can’t go wrong with the Draw-Tite 5535.
6. Curt Time Delay Brake Controller
- RELIABLE SAFETY. The Venturer electric trailer brake controller...
- EASY TO USE. This trailer brake controller features an...
- POWERFUL. The simple controls of the Venturer brake controller...
Last is the Curt Time Delay Brake Controller. Although proportional brake controllers are superior, the Curt is a good time delay option. And if you’re looking to cut costs, a time delay brake controller is the best way to save money.
The Curt brake controller lets you control settings and sensitivity for smooth braking. It also works with any vehicle and just needs to be plugged in. You must buy the wiring harness separately though! Since it has a simple design with no moving parts, it is less likely to break as well.
Its reviews aren’t as high as the other brake controllers we have covered, but it still gets 4.4 out of 5 stars. The ratings are actually pretty impressive, considering the natural limitations of a time delay controller.
This brake controller is a great option for towing a lightweight trailer. But if you tow more often or heavier loads, we recommend spending the extra money on a proportional trailer brake controller.
A Safer and Smoother Ride
If you are looking for the best trailer brake controller, we’re confident you’ll love our top 5 choices. Choosing a brake controller is an important task. This little device helps keep you safe on the road and makes the ride much smoother. Luckily, brake controllers are usually easy to install and operate. So once you get yours set up, you’ll be ready to take on any road.
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