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The 10 Best Trailer Brake Controllers  Dec 2021

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Best Trailer Brake Controllers - CURT 51120 Discovery Electric Trailer Brake Controller, Time-Delay Review CURT
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9 . 2
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Your Guide To Buying a Trailer Brake Controller

By #<Author:0x0000562e23c15398>

    Let's say you're going camping, and you want to pull a trailer or a boat. The tow vehicle—your car or pickup truck--has its own brakes. But if you want to maneuver with a trailer, or back up, you'll find it very difficult. It's convenient to have a brake system for the thing in tow.  A trailer brake controller is meant to make it easier.  But it’s not only a question of convenience--there is safety involved as well. It is required by the law in most states to use an electric brake controller for a trailer weighing over 3000 pounds. And since most trailer brake controllers go for around $100 or less, it’s not a big investment to ensure your safety when towing a recreational vehicle or flat-bed trailer. A trailer brake controller provides a way of passing a signal from the tow vehicle to the trailer. When you apply the brakes in the towing vehicle, the trailer brake controller will relay the braking information and stop the trailer as well. There are a variety of mechanisms available—and which one you should buy will depend on a number of factors. There are time-activated controllers and proportional activated controllers, as well as air, hydraulic, or electric controllers.

    To help you make the right choice, we have put together this buying guide including everything you need to know about trailer brake controllers to make the correct purchase. It'll help you:

    • Choose the right type of trailer brake controller,

    • See useful tips about that type of trailer brake controller,    

    • Read reviews of different brands of trailer brake controllers, and what customers are saying,

    • Select the right brand of trailer brake controller, and

    • Compare prices and find the best deals.

    • Time-Activated/Time Delayed Controller: In this design, you set the controller to a predetermined speed. When you hit the brakes, this controller gives a signal to the trailer to brake as well. The controller applies a pressure that increases gradually, independent of how hard you press on the brakes. There are two things that you must set:

    1) How fast should the brakes come on (“ramp time”), and

    2) How much power the controller will provide to stop the trailer (“the output”). You set the controller somewhere between 10 (for light loads) and 100 (for heavy loads).The controller will apply this pressure on the trailer until you let your foot off the brake. You should test out this setting: if you notice the trailer skidding, it indicates that the setting is too high. Put it at a lower setting.

    • Proportional Activated Controllers:  This is an electronic device that matches the braking of the trailer to be the same as—that is, proportional to-- that of the towing vehicle. This can be:
      • Inertia-activated: When you hit the brakes, a pendulum swings forward by inertia, and activates the trailer brake controller. The harder you slam on the brakes, the faster the pendulum device swings forward, and the more power is sent to the brakes on the trailer. The result is that the trailer stops together with the truck. (Before the introduction of digital brake controllers, going downhill would mislead the brake controller’s pendulum, so that it would send a weaker signal to the trailer brakes. But this has been corrected by and large.)

      • Pedal-mounted pressure pad proportional controller: These have a sensor mounted on the brake pedal in the tow vehicle that sends a brake signal to the trailer.Because both braking systems work simultaneously, there is less wear than in the time-delayed brake controller. But the proportional activated controller costs more to install.

      • Other types:  These are special controllers that depend on the brake system in your tow vehicle:

        • Air-actuated electric brakes: if the towing vehicle has pneumatic brakes, when you hit the brakes, a current is produced that applies the brakes on the trailer.

        • Electric and electric-over-hydraulic controllers: If you have hydraulic brakes, the controller uses the hydraulic pressure in the hydraulic brakes to make a current that operates the brakes of the trailer. A hydraulic controller is used primarily in boats that are towing cargo. An electric brake controller would not be useful here because you won’t want the electronics to be submerged in water (it can handle heavy rains, however). You will see that controllers can be set for either purely electric brakes, or electric over hydraulic brakes.

    Based on all the consumers' reviews we've scanned, these are the top things they mentioned about their new stuff:

    • Display: The proportional controller is a solid-state device, and it gives either a coded message that you interpret into braking information or an explicit message that tells you how much you are pressing the brake pedal and how much the trailer is braking. Some, like the Tekonsha Electronic Brake Controllers, will tell you the output current and voltage and have a warning alert if the trailer brake is not functioning. The Tekonsha Brake Controllers also allow you to choose the brightness and color of the display (with colors such as pink, blue, green, etc., which you can change according to lighting conditions). You can also toggle between languages, offering displays in English, Spanish, and French.

    • Get the right controller harness: Typically the controllers are good for a wide variety of trailers. But you’ll also notice that controllers will require a harness that is designed for specific models of towing vehicles and trailers. That’s why you’ll see Tekonsha controllers listed for the Dodge Ram, Voyager, Toyota, Lexus, Chevy, and more--there are several varieties of wiring harnesses available. Otherwise, the wiring can get complicated, requiring cutting and splicing wires.

    • Boost button: Some proportional controllers have a “boost” setting: this adds a brief burst to the trailer brakes to slow the trailer down more when you apply brakes on the tow vehicle. That prevents the trailer from bumping or pushing the tow vehicle. The boost button will add a brief burst to the trailer brakes for a fraction of a second, slowing the trailer more than the normal braking power. This will keep the trailer from bumping or pushing the towing vehicle. See the “Useful Tips for Shoppers” section regarding “Boost Levels”.

    • How to install the controller: The controller usually has a “plug and play” wiring harness that helps you hook up the trailer to the truck. Tekonsha, for example,  offers plug and play wiring harnesses. It will be suitable for most makes of trucks. There are usually 4 wires to attach: 1) 12 V from the battery, 2) Output to the trailer brake pin, 3) frame ground, and 4) from the tow vehicle's stoplight to the trailer's  stoplight. But the actual plug to which you hook up the controller can be in a number of places. It is recommended to search for it between the parking brake and the steering column, in the primary electrical harness, under the dashboard.

    • Setting the controller: After having connected the wire harness and the brake control, then connect the trailer to the tow vehicle. The Tekonsha controllers recommend the following procedure to calibrate the controller: Squeeze the manual override control on the controller near your dashboard, setting the power to 6.0. Then tow the trailer to a level area. Drive your vehicle at 25 mph, and reactivate the manual override again. If the wheels lock up, then reduce the number from 6.0. If the trailer's wheels keep turning, increase the controller power to slightly less than 6.0.

    Note: The proportional controller will not operate correctly if it tilts to the sides.

    • Activating the controller: The button that activates the controller device will be situated near the steering wheel in the towing vehicle. (Typically it will installed to the right, for easier access.)

    • The frequency of use: The major factor in knowing what type of controller to buy is how often you plan to go camping with a trailer. If you'll do a lot of camping or towing—use the proportional activated controller for better performance. It has a more smooth braking action when the brakes of the trailer is engaged. But if you need a trailer only two or three times a year, and/or you generally go on short trips—you can settle for the time delay controller. Also, some drivers prefer the less sophisticated time delay controller, since they feel the response of the trailer brakes more.

    • Boost levels: As we mentioned, the boost levels let you adjust the braking ability according to the weight of what you’re towing. The Tekonsha trailer brake controllers have three "boost levels", where you can select a boost level according to the weight of your trailer. The levels are B (normal setting, without boost), B1 (where the brakes are applied initially with a 13% increase more than the predetermined brake power setting), B2 (25% increase), and B3 (also 25% increase, but for trailers that weigh 40% more than the tow vehicle. B3 will brake more aggressively, reaching the maximum braking power more quickly.). If you're towing a particularly heavy load, it's recommended to activate the trailer brake with 25 percent of the full intensity at the outset. This way, the trailer will reach its maximum braking more quickly, and allows you better control of the trailer. If the trailer is not so massive, or if the trailer weighs less than the towing vehicle, you may not need any boost at all. You press the blue button several times until the "b." appears in the LED display. You then toggle with each successive press of the button, to b.1, b.2, and b.3. You can also disable the boost, for instances in which you don’t need it, such as when backing up.

    • Safety considerations: Never pull a trailer whose weight exceeds the manufacturer's gross maximum weight rating. You can’t assume that a trailer brake controller will prove effective in such a case!

    • The number of axles to the trailer: You’ll notice that trailer brake controllers are said to be suitable for a certain number of axles in the trailer. The Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electric Brake Controller is suitable for a trailer that has 4 axles. Others will be suitable for anywhere from 1 to 4 axles. The Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control is suitable for 1 to 3 axle trailers.

    • Setting the controller to the weight of the trailer: Your controller must be set to the weight of the trailer. You may have several things that you may tow: a horse trailer, a flatbed trailer, a boat, a mobile home, etc.

    • The angle of installation: Since the time delay controller has predetermined settings, it can be installed in any configuration to the trailer tongue: upside down, at an angle, on the side. But the proportional controller depends greatly on the angle at which you attach it (otherwise the pendulum mechanism that gives the signal to the brakes will not operate properly). Some proportional controllers allow you an angle of up to 70°-90° in the forward direction, or 30° in the backward direction.

    Tekonsha: is a registered brand of Cequent Performance Products, which is based in Plymouth, Michigan. They started in 1964 by making RV stairs and steps—they presently make brake controllers, electrical wiring, and trailer brakes.

    Mopar:  was founded in 1937, and is a division of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. They provide equipment parts and accessories for Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Fiat vehicles. Their name is composed of the words "Motor" and "Parts". They make parts for fuel systems, transmission, steering, suspension, and brakes.

    Ford:  was founded by Henry Ford in 1903. They were originally based in Detroit, but now they have their headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. They were innovators in large-scale manufacture of cars using assembly lines. They are the second-largest U.S. based automaker, selling automobiles and commercial vehicles.

    eCustomHitch: is a division of eCustomRim, selling products for a variety of trailers, tires, towing devices, truck accessories, and other performance car parts. They were founded in 1991, and have their headquarters in Naples, Florida.

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