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Driving trailers is quickly becoming the new trend for a number of people. You can see a number of these vehicles on the road, on any given day. But people driving these vehicles for fun need to understand the safety measures required for them.
Brake controllers are one of those essentials that you absolutely need to have if you own a trailer.
If you are not familiar with these tools, this article will help you figure it all out for the best interests of your vehicle.
Comparison of the Best Trailer Brake Controllers
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What is a Trailer Brake Controller? How Do They Work?
For those who do not know what these devices are, they are units wired to a vehicle in order to guarantee the safety of the vehicle. While towing a car, if the brakes are pressed in the trailer, a signal is sent to the car being towed, allowing its brakes to engage in order to stop it from moving any further.
If a brake controller isn’t used, both vehicles would be at risk of crashing against each other. A car being towed cannot stop on its own and it would continue moving even if the trailer has stopped. The result of the situation would be something that anyone would want to avoid. And for that reason, brake controllers were created.
How to Choose a Trailer Brake Controller
There are a number of trailer brake controllers, but you can’t pick one at random and expect it to be the best. There are a few specifics of these units that need to be evaluated before you make your final choice.
This is the most important factor while considering any sort of product. These units can vary in range depending upon the features they offer and the brand that produces them. It is entirely up to you to decide how much you want to spend on these devices. Just enough to get the right amount of features to save your vehicle from damages? Or a fancy, more expensive one with all the exclusive features? The choice is yours.
Voltage is an essential element when considering a brake controller. These devices are available in either 12 volts or 24 volts, and you need to pick one that matches with your vehicle's electrical systems. Failure to do so may render the device useless and leave your vehicle prone to accidents. So make sure the voltage of the unit is compatible with your device.
A unit needs specific mounting hardware to be wired into both vehicles. Looking for these separately can be a painstaking task. It is, therefore, better to ensure that the model you pick comes with all the necessary mounting hardware.
Aspects to Consider Before Buying
Finding trailer brake controllers on the market isn’t hard at all. The real task is choosing the right one for yourself. There are a few aspects you must consider to ensure you are picking the right one for you and your usage.
Types of Trailer Brakes
Before you make a choice, you need to know about the different types of these devices. It is important to have a basic idea of all the features each offers in order to make the right choice for yourself. Look through all the different types and decide which one works the best for you.
Number of Axles
Different units allow you to use a different range of axles. The best ones are obviously those that allow you to choose from the full range to ensure you can use the one that works the very best. So, ensure that the unit you find provides the liberty of choosing from a wider range.
The display type offered also differs from unit to unit. The best type of display offered by these devices is LED monitors. These are the most reliable and convenient displays and are offered by the best of units. Other types of displays are also frequently used and may work in your favor.
Review of the Best Trailer Brake Controllers
In order to pick the absolute best for yourself, you need to ensure the units you are considering are on the top of their game. To help you with that, we’ve made a list of some of the best brake controllers and reviewed them. So you can dive into these devices, go through their features, and pick one yourself.
Tekonsha Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control
If you are looking to equip your unit with the absolute best, you can stop right here. This electric unit by Tekonsha will ensure that your vehicle is safe when towing. Allow your vehicle to enjoy the smooth and instant braking regardless of the tough terrain you drive in.
This Tekonsha Prodigy P2 is designed to provide you with its absolute functioning using a hydraulic electric over-brake system. The complex functionality of this unit ensures you are never threatened by a failing brake, even when faced with the toughest of situations.
What’s more, this unit is capable of automatic adjustments, so you do not have to get involved in the hassles of manual adjustment and control. What we love about it is that due to its special functioning, it allows greater braking power while you are towing heavier vehicles. This simply makes the unit more efficient at its job.
Topping the list, this unit is simply the best of the best. Finding a brake controller that is as efficient as this one with all its given features is probably close to impossible, which is why we find this unit to be the best overall.
Reese Towpower Brakeman Brake Control
Reese features some of the very best accessories for your vehicle and this brake controller is a perfect example of the excellence that is exhibited in the brand’s products. This model proves to be remarkably different from other units you will find on the market, earning it a place as the runner-up on this list.
The unit isn’t one with up-to-date technology. In fact, it doesn’t even feature a screen or any buttons. It is controlled by a small plastic slider, giving it a classic touch. But does that have any impact on its functionality? Absolutely not. One may doubt its efficiency at first glance, but once you’ve experienced how it works, you will find yourself recommending it to others.
The unit is extremely easy to install and you do not have to worry about watching a number of tutorials to get it right. And given the compact size of the unit, it can be placed just about anywhere. With a time-based design, you get an anti-lock compatible unit which will efficiently keep your vehicle from crashing while towing.
If you are not one to keep up with the latest tech but do not want to compromise on functionality, this piece will provide you exactly what you need. It is a perfect example of how sometimes, simplicity is key. No screen and no buttons, yet it works better than a number of other units we’ve tested.
Best for the Money:
Reese Towpower Brakeman IV Digital Brake Control
Here’s another unit by Reese. Why? Because products by Reese are that good and we wouldn’t want you to miss out on them. This one features a lot more of the modern touch and improved features, but that’s not the best part. What really puts this unit on the list is the value it provides for the money.
The easy installation is something we already know Reese incorporates into its products. It comes with a very helpful installation harness that will make the installation of the unit even more convenient for you. It’s functioning is just as easy. With the plug-and-play model, all you need to do is put the unit in place and let it do its job. It’s as simple as that.
What Reese further offers is high-end construction. With this unit, you can rest assured that it will provide you with great quality design and durability. It will last longer than standard models and even longer than you would expect it to. What more does one want out of any product then for it to be long-lasting?
Save yourself the cost of investing in a fancy unit when you can get the same functionality, if not better, at a much cheaper rate. This unit will provide you with the best of functionality, convenience, and is a good value for your money. That checks off all the features that make a great product.
Best Electric Model:
Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
Electronic brake controllers are some of the most convenient types of models to use. They are simple and efficient. And if you want to experience the best of electronic units, then this model by Draw-Tite should be your pick. It is a simple, proportional model that is efficient at what it does.
This unit will allow you to control up to three braking axles, which is ideal for providing the best of functionality in most trailer sizes. So no matter how big or small your truck is, this unit has got you covered. Like any other good unit, this one also provides you with plug-and-play operation, which makes its use very convenient.
What we love about this unit is its installation. It is extremely easy, like a good unit should be. But that's not all. It also comes with a snap in mounting clip. This makes it very easy to remove the device when you do not want to use it.
Electric models of brake controllers are designed for enhanced convenience and this unit will be sure to provide you with the best of that. From its bright display to easy installation, everything about this model will impress you, and in that, it does not fail.
Best Wireless Model:
Tekonsha Prodigy RF Electronic Brake Control
Wireless brake controllers take brake controlling units to another level. They provide an advanced form that will provide you with the same optimized functionality. So, if a wireless model is what you are looking for, then why not go with the best, which happens to be this model by Tekonsha? Tekonsha will, once again, ensure you get the best of all the features you need from this model.
This self-leveling unit spares you from the trouble of leveling the vehicle, making its use all that much easier. The wireless functioning of the unit will also spare you the hassle of dealing with wires and the installation process. So, the model is designed to provide you with the best of convenience in all aspects. And that is what a good model should provide.
The best part about the unit is that it uses a digital display to convey a number of display fault codes and diagnostics that will allow you to deal with any issues the unit might have and very conveniently so. Furthermore, it offers a boost feature that allows multiple levels of brake sensitivity, ensuring your vehicle is adjusted and functioning optimally.
Once the unit has adapted itself to the working of the vehicle, you will find that its functioning is just what you would expect from an ideal device. It not only provides enhanced adjustments but also with great convenience in terms of installation, set up, and control.
Best from Tekonsha and Best Ford Trailer Brake Controller:
Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control
Tekonsha serves as the benchmark of quality and functionality when it comes to car accessories, which is why we found it necessary to introduce to you the best brake controllers by certain well-known brands. Being the absolute best by one of the most renowned brands, this unit will be sure to feature all of what you look for in an ideal one.
The convenience of this unit begins with its bright LCD display, which makes it considerably easy to read all the information the unit conveys to you. And the degree of convenience extends to providing you with diagnostic reports. These reports allow you to know that something is wrong with the unit before you have to encounter it on the road.
It excels in its function, being compatible with electric and hydraulic braking, featuring controls in three languages, a brake boost feature, and the ability to control up to four braking axles. And if you still need one extra feature, it is capable of saving settings for five different trailers. All of these functions combined are much more than any other unit would offer you.
For a unit loaded with features, it is only fair that you give it time to figure out its working. After all, in the end, all the outstanding features the unit provides will be worth it. All in all, this unit is bound to amaze you with its functionality and features and earns its place on this list.
Best from Curt and Best Proportional Trailer Brake Controller:
CURT TriFlex Electric Trailer Brake Controller
Curt is yet another reliable name when speaking of car accessories. It is only fair that you know of the best trailer brake controller this brand has to offer. Just like all the outstanding products on this list, this one, provides you with a number of features that will ensure the ideal functionality of the unit.
The best feature of this model has to be its accelerometer. This built-in motion sensing features will sense the acceleration of your vehicle and adjust the brakes accordingly. All of this is done automatically, so you don't have to do any extra work.
But that's not all that this device can do. It is also further capable of telling the pitch of the box. This allows the unit to sense if the vehicle is going uphill or downhill and adjust the brakes accordingly.
The unit allows you to adjust between nine different levels of braking sensitivity, which allows your device to switch between the ideal sensitivity given the motion of the vehicle. What's more, it is also capable of performing well with trailer brake lights.
This is perfect for all those that need a device that adjusts to all sorts of motions of the car. It is a smart device that provides you with the best of the features that you need. Bottom line, you will not regret investing in this device.
Best from Hopkins:
Hopkins Reliance Plug-in Simple Brake Control
Hopkins may be the last brand on this list, but is by no means the least. The best brake controller by Hopkins provides the user with features that prove to be great competition for other brands. All these features combine to provide functionality that is matched by very few.
The unit is extremely easy to set up and equally easy to operate. You will find yourself at ease with these processes and they will pose no issues. The simple plug-and-play design will allow you to install it and put it to use right away. So, the main feature of this unit is the remarkable convenience it provides you with.
It also provides a time-based control system. This can be set using the digital display provided on the model. This makes adjusting the unit considerably easy. The efficiency of this model is truly outstanding and one that you need to experience for yourself.
The unit is efficient at the job that it does. It will provide you with great functionality, if you don't mind resetting it every time you need to use the unit. But that wouldn't be such a great problem since the setting itself is considerably easy. So, all in all, it promises convenient use and outstanding functionality.
Best Reese Trailer Brake Controller:
Reese Towpower 8508211
What Recent Buyers Report
Most buyers absolutely loved this product and found installation to be very easy. They stated that quick changes and fine-tuning could be performed on-the-fly, and said the device was automatic and intuitive. One user even reported that braking was very easy and they were able to drive through the mountains without breaking a sweat.
Why it Stands Out to Us
Boasting large buttons and a clear, LED display, this unit is easy to install and use. It doesn’t need leveling and is designed with a diagnostic mode to help solve any issues that may arise. It also comes with a boost feature that can be used to apply more initial braking, making it ideal for towing heavy loads.
A popular proportional brake controller, the Reese Towpower can send braking power to a total of four axles. With reverse battery protection and an LED display, it’s great for those looking for a reliable and affordable option.
When is it Time to Replace My Trailer Brake Controller?
If your trailer brake controller stops operating properly, then it’s time to replace it. A failing controller can apply brakes continuously or intermittently, drag brakes, or even fail to apply brake functions.
If your brake controller stops working, then it’s highly probable that these issues are caused by a wiring problem or by the device not being level. You can use a circuit tester to test the red wire at the back of the controller to determine whether it’s a wiring issue. However, make sure you properly check your controller to determine the true cause.
How Long Do Trailer Brake Controllers Last?
Trailer brake controllers can last anywhere from four to eleven years. Their lifespan depends on several factors, including voltage, type, number of axles, size, and maintenance.
What Are The Components of a Trailer Brake Controller?
A trailer brake controller usually includes a four-wire configuration that can be connected to the wiring of the braking system. The main components of this device include:
This wire supplies the trailer connector with brake power.
This component establishes a connection between the controller and a negative, grounded source.
This wire transfers power when a driver presses the brake pedal.
As the name suggests, this wire transfers power to the controller.
Brake controllers typically have some kind of built-in monitor, which, if positioned correctly – usually beneath the instrument panel, close to the driver’s right leg – is clear and viewable to the driver. Digital screens display the amount of voltage that’s being transferred from the controller to the brakes.
The more pressure you apply on the brake pedal, the higher amount of voltage will be transferred to the brakes. Similarly, if you press down on the pedal lightly, less power will be transferred. To put it simply, the LCD screen or brake controller monitor displays the amount of power and pressure a driver is applying to the brakes.
Are Trailer Brake Controllers Universal?
Although most trailer brake controllers are not designed to be vehicle-specific, the parts needed to install the device can still be specific to a model/make/year. Every brake controller is connected to the vehicle with a four-wire setup, but the technology of every model is what makes them different.
It’s also important to remember that there are different types of trailer brake controllers. Make sure you consider how much you’ll be traveling and the type of trailer you’ll be towing before you make your decision.
Trailer Brake Controller Proportional vs. Time Delay - Comparison Overview
There are many different styles of trailer brake controllers, but the device can be simply divided into two groups – time-delay controllers and proportional brake controllers. To help you make the right decision, we’ve compared the two types:
Proportional Brake Controllers
These controllers boast a motion-sensing component that detects the speed of a stopping tow vehicle. As soon as the driver presses down on the brake pedal, the controller transfers the same pressure and power to the brakes of the trailer.
Thus, if the truck or RV stops quickly, the controller will cause the trailer to stop at the same speed.
In other words, a proportional unit will stop the trailer at the same speed and time as the RV or truck. These controllers deliver smooth braking and reduce the wear on the braking system of both vehicles.
Time Delay Brake Controllers
This type of controller delivers a set amount of pressure and power to the brakes of the trailer once the RV stops. The amount of power is determined by the driver beforehand and depends on the weight of the trailer he’s towing.
The controller causes a delay once the brakes are applied, but drivers can adjust and determine the delay’s length with the included sync switch. Although a time-delayed brake controller puts more wear on the braking systems, it’s simpler to install and less expensive than a proportional brake controller.
Type of Trailer Brake Controllers
Trailer brake controllers are not all the same if you look close enough. They are of different types and offer a number of different features. In order to decide which one is right for you, you need to have a clear understanding of the different types of these units.
Proportional Brake Controller
These units provide proportional braking in the vehicle being towed. It senses the speed of the preceding vehicle and adjusts the speed according to it. The braking effect of both vehicles is then in equal ratios.
The plus for this type of brake controller is that its working is much simpler, easier, and faster. So in case of emergency brakes, a proportional brake controller wouldn't work the best.
Time Delayed Brake Controller
A time delayed brake controller works in a different way. It sends signals to the vehicle being towed ahead of time, rather than at the immediate moment. It does so by predetermining a rate of intensity of the preceding vehicle. The rate can be adjusted by the user based upon the conditions of the vehicles, as well the user's personal preferences.
These models are considerably easier to install and use compared to the proportional brake controllers and are cheaper too.
How to Install a Trailer Brake Controller
Installing brake controllers is not a task that most of the population is familiar with. For some, it might be completely unheard of. For all those who need a step-by-step guide to install these devices, here is exactly what you need.
Find the Right Place
The first step is to figure out where you want to mount the device. There are a couple of factors that could play a role in the final decision, the most important one being the length of the wires. The usual place of installation is on the driver's side, to the right.
Install the Brackets
Once you've figured where to mount the device, mark the spot for drilling. Begin drilling and eventually installing the bracket at the decided spot.
Once the brackets have successfully been installed, you can go ahead and mount the device to the bracket. It is as easy as sliding it into place. Ensure that the jack for the wires is located away from the front view.
Wiring the Device
Open the junction box and fit the cord of the controller into it. The cord usually fits into the second socket from the left. If you are not sure, get professional help instead of poking wires in random sockets. That's never safe. Once done with the junction box, fit the other end of the cord into your device.
Secure the Wiring Away
The wiring of the device should not be left hanging. Instead, pull it up and secure it with a zip tie using the fang framing provided in the vehicle.
And you're done! Wasn't that simple? If you need further assistance with the process, you can refer to the video linked below.
How to Use a Trailer Brake Controller
Once the device has been installed, you can finally move on to using it. The unit needs to be set up before it functions and if you need help with that, do not be worried. We've got you covered.
The standard unit usually features two buttons, one with a plus, and the other with a minus. In addition to these, there is usually a squeeze button that you can squeeze together between two fingers.
In some units, the plus and minus buttons are replaced with a dial that provides the same functioning.
The unit can be set up using the two plus or minus buttons. The plus button will increase the braking power and the minus button reduces it. The faster you go, the more braking power you will need and the slower you go, the less braking power you would need.
The squeezing buttons provide the greatest safety feature of all. It is an override feature that greatly helps in cases of the towed vehicle being fishtailed.
Not all, but some units feature a digital display that initially requires set up, too. It will require you to input the weight of the towing vehicle and the vehicle being towed.
There are state laws regarding the use of brake controllers. The rules are regarding various aspects such as height and weight of the vehicles. In order to make sure you're abiding by the rules, you should look up the rules relevant to your state.
That's the basic functioning of all the standard trailer brake controllers. If you think you still haven't gotten the hang of it, you can refer to the link below for further guidance.
Trailers are great to drive but road safety comes first. You need to have brake controllers installed in your vehicle to ensure complete safety. All you need to do is figure out the right type yourself and pick the best model for yourself. And you can get back to enjoying your vehicle.
People Also Ask
This article attempts to provide you with complete knowledge that a general person needs to have about brake controllers. In case there are some questions you still have, here are some questions frequently asked by users.
How Does a Brake Controller Know if a Trailer is Connected?
Brake controllers check whether a trailer is connected by sending a small amount of voltage through the brake output wire. If the trailer is connected to the RV, the magnets in the brake assembly will generate a power draw. The brake controller will know the trailer is connected once it detects this power draw.
How to Remove a Trailer Brake Controller
The wiring harness included with a trailer brake controller should have a release tab on the ends of the brake controller and the vehicle. To remove the brake controller, press down the tab and pull the connectors apart. Different controllers will have different connectors, but almost all of them will have a press-down release tab.
How to Wire a Trailer Brake Controller
Connect the four-pole adapter of the seven-way connector to the four-pole trailer connector of the vehicle.
Twist in the white wire to the vehicle’s frame.
Cut open the duplex cable’s sheath and separate the two wires present inside.
Connect the duplex cable’s black wire and the 12V hot lead with a butt connector.
Repeat the above step for the brake wire and the duplex cable’s white wire.
Move the duplex cable underneath the vehicle and route it to the engine compartment.
Route the brake wire into the vehicle and connect it to the controller.
Connect the brake controller’s black wire to the battery’s positive post and the white wire to the negative post.
How Do You Troubleshoot a Trailer Brake Controller?
Engage the unit by connecting the trailer to the tow vehicle.
Check the brake controller’s position, and make sure it’s positioned at the mounting angle that’s suggested by the owner’s manual.
Models with LED or digital display screens will identify and display troubleshooting codes if the controller is not working.
Check the wiring of the device and the voltage continuity between the connector harness and the controller.
How Does an Integrated Trailer Brake Controller Work?
An integrated trailer brake controller enables drivers to manually or automatically activate the EOH trailer brakes or the Electric Trailer Brakes for enhanced braking performance. They offer four different options for different types of trailers.
How Much to Install a Trailer Brake Controller?
The cost of installing a trailer brake controller depends on the type of device and can range anywhere from $75 to $800.
How Much Does a Trailer Brake Controller Cost?
Low-quality brake controllers are priced under $50, whereas high-grade units cost as high as $150.
At What Weight Do You Need Trailer Brakes?
A trailer requires brakes if the gross weight is more than 4,500 lbs. If a trailer weighs between 4500 and 15,000 pounds, it does not need brakes if it’s towed at less than 30 mph.
Do I Need a Trailer Brake Controller?
Yes. These units are very crucial for your trailer when on the road. While towing vehicles, braking of the vehicle can cause the two vehicles to crash. In order to ensure that you avoid such unfortunate mishaps, it is vital that you have a brake controller installed in your vehicle.
Can I Tow a Trailer With Electric Brakes Without a Brake Controller?
Trailers are ideal vehicles for towing, so yes, you will be able to tow vehicles with your trailer even without a brake controller, but the brakes won't work on the towed vehicle. The electric brakes on a trailer are powered by a brake controller, so due to the absence of the device, there will be no brakes. And that is not safe at all, so it is not recommended.
How Do You Test a Trailer Brake Controller?
To test the proper functioning of the unit, set the power gain to the maximum limit. Apply the manual override on the device and use a circuit tester to test the pin at the trailer connection. The circuit tester will let you know if the brake controller is sending electrical signals to the other vehicle.
How Do You Test a Brake Controller Without a Trailer?
The brake controllers can also be tested without a trailer itself. The first thing you do is press down on the brake pedal while observing the lights on the device. If functioning, the lights will turn on.
If the lights don't light up, try checking the fuse and replace it if need be. If even that fails, use a multimeter at your tow connection while pressing down on the brake pedal.
How Do You Test Trailer Brakes With a Multimeter?
For this, you will need the help of an extra person. Ask your helper to push down on the brake pedal while you go behind the vehicle with your multimeter. Probe the terminal that is connected to a blue wire in the connector. If your brake controller is working, you will be able to detect some voltage on the multimeter.
How Do I Know if My Brake Controller is Bad?
To test the brake controller, you can opt for any of the above-mentioned methods to check for functioning. But in order to completely ensure that it is the brake controller that is faulty, perform a bench test.
Using a circuit tester, check the red wire that exits from the brake controller. If the controller works, the wire will go hot only when you have the brakes on the vehicle pressed.
How to Adjust Trailer Brake Controller
The brake controller can be adjusted using the buttons or the dial present on the unit. You can use the plus side to increase the power gain and the minus to decrease it. Remember that the gain needs to be increased when going at higher speeds and decreased when going at lower speeds. The squeeze button or lever can be used to switch the device into override mode.