One of the most common questions RVers have is whether they need a brake controller. This device can be installed for anywhere from $200 to $300 and sends a signal when you apply the brakes through the 7 pin connector to the trailer’s brakes. In newer vehicles the brake controller plugs into an area in the fuse block under the dash. Even if your tow vehicle comes with a tow package you’ll still need to get a brake controller installed, as tow packages typically only provide wiring from the dashboard for the brake controller, the hitch, and the transmission cooler. The brakes on trailers are electric, which means when you hit the brake pedal, the magnets on the brakes are engaged. The brake controller engages this action.
If your trailer has brakes you will need a brake controller. Unlike travel trailers and fifth wheels smaller trailers, like utility trailers, don’t typically come with brakes because of their small size and load limits.
There are several types of brake controllers – proportional brake controllers, also known as pendulum brake controllers, and time delayed brake controllers.
Proportional brake controllers (pendulum brake controllers) use motion sensors to detect how fast your vehicle is stopping. When you apply the brakes, the same pressure applied to your car’s brakes is applied to your trailer’s brakes. The proportional brake system decreases the amount of wear and tear on your tow vehicle’s brakes, while providing the smoothest braking possible. These are also known as pendulum brake controllers because they sense the motion of a pendulum to activate. These usually need to be calibrated before use. While you’re driving on level road the pendulum points straight down and does not trigger motion, however, when you brake the pendulum swings forward and, depending on how far it swings, sends a degree of power to the brakes.
Time delayed brake controllers are less intuitive than proportional brake controllers, however, allow the driver to designate a specific amount of power to the brakes based off of the tow weight. This brake controller will always have a delay for engagement, however, this can be modified by the driver using a sync switch. The time delayed brake controller is less expensive and easier to install, however, puts more wear on your tow vehicle’s brakes.
Determining which type of brake controller will work for you will largely depend on the vehicle you’re using to tow your trailer, the size and type of trailer you have. Contact our experienced RV parts team for answers to any questions you have about brake controllers and for help determining which one would be best for you.