Trailer brake controller

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

A brake controller is usually an OEM or aftermarket installed device or module. It is mounted to the tow vehicle's driver's-side dashboard area, and engages a trailer’s electrical braking system either time delayed, or in proportion to the tow vehicle's brake engagement when slowing down or coming to a halt. A brake controller is not needed with a trailer surge braking system unless using modern electric over hydraulic devices. The trailer in this case usually has either electric friction brakes or Electric-Hydraulic Trailer Brake Actuators.

Most basic brake controllers will generally have a +/- gain adjustment. The tow vehicle operator would set the gain as high as possible but without the trailer brakes locking-up after making a few test stops. The heavier the trailer, the higher the gain adjustment would be set and therefore the less chances of wheel lock-up.[1]

A wide range of trailers will contain trailer brakes (for example; larger boat trailers, horse trailers, covered utility trailers, enclosed trailers, travel trailers including small 10-foot and longer tent trailers and car carriers). Smaller trailers may not contain trailer brakes (for example; basic 4'x8' utility trailers). It is highly recommended that, if the total trailer weight is over a couple thousand pounds, the trailer have some sort of braking system, and the tow vehicle be equipped with a brake controller.[2][3]

Controller Types[edit]

There are a few different types of brake controllers that are currently or previously on the market.

No actual brand preference is intended here, just be aware that the sooner the trailer brakes are applied after the pedal is pressed the shorter the braking distance will be.

Air Actuated Electric Brake Controller[edit]

This controller uses the air pressure of the brake system on a vehicle with pneumatic brakes to provide a current to control the electric brakes of a trailer.[4]

Hydraulic Over Electric Controller[edit]

This controller uses the hydraulic pressure of the brake system on a vehicle with hydraulic brakes to provide a current to control the electric brakes of a trailer.[5] Some truck manufacturers offers this as an OEM option, like Ford with its Ford TowCommand.

Pedal mounted pressure pad proportional controller[edit]

A separate sensor is mounted on the brake pad to connect to the controller.[6]

Proportional Brake Controller[edit]

Senses the deceleration of the vehicle through a pendulum or similar device to apply a suitable current for braking of the trailer.[7][8][9]

Surge Brake[edit]

When the tow vehicle slows down the trailer pushes against it an actuator applies force to its master cylinder and the hydraulic pressure is transferred to the brakes[10]

Time Delayed Brake Controller[edit]

Applies brake current with a ramp-up over time to a certain level set by the driver.[8][9][11]


  1. ^ "How to adjust a trailer brake controller". 
  2. ^ What You Should Know About Trailer Brakes 1951 Popular Science article that covers the basics very well. 
  3. ^ What You Should Know About Trailer Brakes, Popular Science, July 1969, pp. 111-113, an update of the 1951 article.. 
  4. ^ "Hayes Air Actuated brake controller". 
  5. ^ "Maxbrake controller". 
  6. ^ "AL-KO Sensabrake controller". 
  7. ^ "Tekonsha proportional brake controllers". 
  8. ^ a b "Curt brake controllers". 
  9. ^ a b "Draw-Tite Proportional brake controllers". 
  10. ^ "Hydraulic Surge Trailer Brake Actuators". Retrieved 2014-11-21. 
  11. ^ "Hopkins brake controllers".