Trailer Brake Basics

Trailer Brakes Play a Vital Role in Your RV Experience.

You count on them to help bring your tow vehicle/trailer combination to safe and controlled stops. Even though trailer brakes may be quite effective, braking distances almost always are increased. Maintaining longer following distances is one of the most important towing-related driving habits. Train yourself to watch traffic conditions farther down the road so that you can anticipate changes in speed and avoid the need for abrupt stops.

Trailer Braking Systems

Electric braking systems are the most common type found on trailers today. A brake controller inside the tow vehicle senses the braking force of the tow vehicle and signals the trailer brakes to activate electrically.

For electric brake systems to operate properly, the trailer wiring end plug on the trailer must match the wiring pattern of the mating plug on the tow vehicle. The most common plug types for electric brake trailers are the six-pole round pin and seven-pole RV flat blade connectors.

Depending on the design, the controller may have specific requirements for how it must be positioned on the dash area of the tow vehicle. Each controller’s owner’s manual gives specific instructions on how the controller should be mounted including allowable mounting angles.

The brake controller allows for adjustment of braking power and for how quickly the braking power is applied. It also offers a manual brake control for emergency braking. Some controllers are available with a pre-wired quick connect plug for easy installation on selected late model vehicles that have a factory tow prep package. Be certain to follow the installation instructions and to use the proper gauge wire and circuit breaker size when installing a brake controller on the tow vehicle.

The trailer side of an electric brake system consists of left and right side electric brake assemblies, drum and hub assemblies, emergency breakaway kit (battery with box, breakaway switch and trickle charger), and end plug connector.

Trailer towing tips

While RV brakes are adequate for most situations, care is necessary to avoid overheating, which can lead to brake fade. If brake fade occurs, it will likely be on steep downgrades. If this happens, friction will raise the temperature of brake pads and linings to extremely high levels, resulting in temporary loss of braking.

The cure is prevention: downshifting to a gear range that is low enough to retard speed sufficiently that brakes don’t need to be used more than occasionally. Thus, enough braking performance is reserved to make an emergency stop.

When braking on a grade is necessary, apply the brakes intermittently with moderate pressure and release the pedal to allow the brakes to cool.

Action of electric trailer brakes should be apparent to the driver and sufficient to handle the trailer’s weight. The controller should be adjusted so maximum braking action does not cause trailer-wheel lockup. Improper controller adjustment is a major cause of inadequate braking, so it’s wise to study the manufacturer’s instructions.

You should have confidence in your trailer’s braking performance. If you have any questions or concerns, contact the service manager at your local ROUTE 66 RV dealer.

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