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Why Your RV Needs a Trailer Breakaway Cable & How to Use It

A trailer breakaway cable is an underappreciated piece of equipment. These devices can save the day when things don’t go to plan. Our boat trailer jumped off the hitch once after going over a huge bump, and it was scary! Fortunately, our safety chains and trailer breakaway cable kept the damage to a bare minimum by staying with the vehicle and braking on its own.

Unfortunately, some people may not know how to connect a trailer breakaway cable or why they need to use it. Today, we’re sharing all you need to know about a trailer breakaway cable.

Let’s dive in! 

Tom Talks About Trucks & Towing - Our Experience and Tips on Towing Heavy

What Is a Trailer Breakaway Cable?

A trailer breakaway cable (also called a safety cable) is a piece of safety equipment found on pretty much every trailer or towed vehicle with brakes. The connection is used in conjunction with safety chains (if used) as an emergency measure to control a trailer if it detaches from the vehicle.

It connects from the trailer to the tow vehicle using a pull-pin or latching mechanism that activates the brakes when pulled. It acts as a last line of defense to help stop a trailer that could be freely rolling down the road.

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Towing set up with Trailer Breakaway Cable
A trailer breakaway cable is essential gear for your towing setup.

Do You Need a Breakaway Cable on Your Trailer?

A breakaway cable is not only nice to have, but it’s also the law on many trailers. Typically, states require trailers exceeding 5,000 pounds or having brakes to use a breakaway cable. However, it doesn’t hurt to have one even if you’re under the weight limit. If you’re in a situation where you need it, you’ll be glad it’s there.

Nobody plans for their trailer to detach from their tow vehicle while traveling. We sure didn’t! Even if you ensure your hitch is securely clipped, a major bump in the road can put a lot of force on the hitch connection and loosen it. Accidents can happen for various reasons, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The last thing you want is for you or your trailer to be in a potentially severe accident. If your trailer didn’t come with one of these cables, we recommend installing one.

Should You Pull the Trailer Breakaway Cable When Parked?

Disconnecting the breakaway cable causes the trailer brakes to lock up, which is why it stops when you pull on it. You might wonder: Should you pull the trailer breakaway cable when parked? No, this is one mistake that you want to avoid making.

You can pull the cable briefly to test the system. However, unplugging it for an extended time can do severe damage. Electric brakes are applied at full force if the system is activated and can sometimes overheat wires or burn out magnets if left on. Once the breakaway cable has been activated for any significant length of time, the brakes will have to be inspected, and magnets tested.

Pro Tip: Stay safe on the road with these 13 Most Important RV Safety Devices You Need For Your Camper.

towing a vehicle breakaway cable
Even when flat towing vehicles brakeaway cables are used. In this shot the small coil is the safety cable.

How Do You Attach a Trailer Breakaway Cable?

Typically, connecting a trailer breakaway cable is a very simple task. The trailer side of the connection has a small box attached to the frame or other solid structure. 

A carabiner or other fastener is on the opposite end of the trailer breakaway cable. These devices make it easy to attach to various surfaces. Most hitch receivers have holes where safety chains can be clipped or a designated breakaway cable hole to attach it to. Just be sure that it has enough room to move normally with the trailer without tension or accidental deployment.

Trailer Breakaway Cable on rig
Give yourself peace of mind in the event that your trailer and tow vehicle separate from one another by using a trailer breakaway cable.

What Should You Do If a Trailer Detaches from a Tow Vehicle?

You may not plan for your trailer to detach from your tow vehicle, but knowing how to respond is a good idea. When our boat trailer detached, it was a jarring experience, but fortunately, we were able to safely pull to the side of the road without issue.

Don’t Hit the Brakes Too Hard

Unless your trailer has detached from an accident, its likely that it will still be held on by safety chains, or even the bed of a truck if its a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer. This is a very loose connection however and the trailer will be moving around. Slamming on the brakes can cause it to push forward into your vehicle in a way that could cause a loss of control. Instead, gently apply the breaks and slow down as you assess your situation.

Continue to do all you can to stay calm and take deep breaths. Keep your hands firmly on the wheel and in control. Use your mirrors to keep an eye on what’s going on around you. You’ll need to be aware of what’s happening behind your vehicle and in front. However, you don’t want to be so busy looking back that you miss something more dangerous in front.

Signal and Move Over Slowly And Come to a Stop

Once you’ve quickly assessed and taken control of the situation, you need to move over to the side of the road. Turn on your emergency flashers and move over quickly and safely. Other vehicles on the road will likely see what’s happening and make room for you. However, don’t assume anything and always check to ensure the coast is clear. 

Pro Tip: Need to quickly find a spot to pull over? We uncovered Can RVs Use Runaway Truck Ramps?

Activate the Emergency Brake Controller

Some RVs, like travel trailers, have safety chains to help in these situations if a trailer breakaway cable isn’t present. If the trailer detaches from the tow vehicle, the safety chains catch the trailer. This ensures the trailer remains semi-attached to the car. Slamming on the brakes will cause a tremendous amount of damage to your vehicle and RV.

Instead of applying the brakes on your vehicle, squeezing your emergency brake controller is more effective. This activates the electric brakes on the trailer and causes the trailer to slow down. You can then slowly use a combination of the trailer and tow vehicle brakes to come to a complete stop.

trailer towing set up
Safe driving is essential while towing a trailer.

Inspect for Damage

Unfortunately, you’ll likely do some damage to your camper if it detaches from your vehicle. Accidents happen, so it’s crucial to have a quality insurance policy.

Inspect the damage first. You need to assess whether you can safely get back on the road or if you’ll need to call a tow truck. If you’ve damaged the frame, especially the tongue, it’s best to call roadside assistance and get a tow. A bend in the steel could cause it to be unsafe to haul.

Reattach and Test Lights and Brakes

If the damage doesn’t prevent you from returning to the road, you need to start reattaching it to your vehicle. The first step is to secure your RV with chocks to prevent it from rolling when you raise and lower it while reconnecting it.

Once you reattach it, go through the safety checks to ensure everything works. If your wiring has damage, it could cause your lights and brakes to experience issues or not work correctly. Test your turn signals, brake lights, and the brakes. Once you confirm everything is working, you can return to the road.

Pro Tip: Before you hitch up and head out, learn more about Trailer Safety Chains 101: Your Guide for Safe Use with Bumper Pulls and Fifth Wheel RVs.

Break-Away Cable - Your Trailer's Emergency Braking System

A Trailer Breakaway Cable Has an Important Job

Your trailer breakaway cable keeps you, your loved ones, and others on the road safe. However, you must know how it works and how to use it correctly. If you don’t, you could end up in a hazardous situation. Do yourself a favor and check your cable regularly to ensure it’s in good working order.

When was the last time you checked your breakaway cable? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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