This post comes from Alex at hitchanything.com; I know for a fact that this could be a longer conversation, so feel free to join in with a comment or two :)

Many people have fond memories of camping – whether it be campfire stories, s’mores, fishing, or hunting, etc., people often look back upon their trips to the great outdoors with great nostalgia. While most camping memories can and will last a lifetime, it is imperative that you leave the comfort of your home knowing that you have the right tools to ensure the safety of both yourself and your loved ones. As such, we at HitchAnything would like to share some information with you about one of the most interesting topics in all of camping – brake controllers.

Ok, while that “interesting” line may not necessarily be true for everyone, a properly functioning brake controller is an imperative tool to have for many campers who opt to leave the standard tent behind in favor of something a little bigger – i.e. an RV.

Overview

Simply put, a brake controller supplies power from the tow vehicle directly to the brakes of the trailer you are hauling. Without proper brake controllers on a trailer, there is significantly less handling capability when towing and both the towing vehicle and the trailer can become difficult to control in certain situations. In many instances, a properly calibrated brake controller can mean the difference between a successful tow and disaster.

Legally Required

Besides the obvious safety implications, a brake controller is also mandated by law in all 50 states – which require brakes on trailers with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) greater than 3,000 lbs. Additionally, some states even have requirements for trailers with GVWRs greater than 1,000 lbs. Make sure you know the law in your state before heading out to the campground.

Options

Regardless of whether you’re towing a heavy piece of equipment or a small trailer brake controllers are available with a wide variety of options and functions to fit any of your towing needs. When looking at brake controllers, there are a lot of factors to consider like price, safety and ease of installation. There are two primary types of brake controllers: time delayed and proportional.

A timed brake controller

A timed brake controller

Time delayed brake controllers are programmed by the user with a predetermined amount of braking power; when the towing vehicle’s brakes are engaged, that pre-programmed level of power is then sent to the trailer’s brakes as well.

Use of a time delayed brake controller gives you complete control over the amount of braking power in your trailer. This allows you to take into account the weight of your load, the length of your trip, your speed, and even the condition of the roads you’ll be taking. When you’re planning your trip, you can always change the amount of power applied to your trailer brakes based on terrain or speed.

Time delayed brake controllers are often preferred by two groups of people: those who tow lighter loads once or twice a year and commercial drivers.

Why is this the case? Well, towing lighter loads on well-maintained roads or only towing a couple of times a year is the ideal situation for a time delay brake controller. They are easy to install and maintain with little calibration. You can just set it and go. The reason commercial drivers have been known to prefer time delay brake controllers is because they usually have preset speeds on their trips. This allows them to program their controller to match their speed and they can regulate it according to the kind of conditions in which they’ll be driving. It gives them more control over how the brakes are applied on their trailers.

It is important to note that the time delayed brake controller is designed to stay within the presets that you program. This means that if you need to stop quickly or apply the brakes outside of those parameters, the trailer’s brakes will not respond to this urgency. If you think that you would prefer a more organic, sensor based system, consider the following.

A proportional brake controller

A proportional brake controller

Proportional brake controllers use sensors and inertia to determine how quickly the tow vehicle is stopping and apply an equivalent amount of power to the trailer brakes. When the brakes are engaged in the tow vehicle, a pendulum sensor swings forward and measures both speed and braking power. It then matches the trailer’s brakes to that of the towing vehicle, making the trailer and the vehicle work in sync.

If you have slippery road conditions or end up in a fast braking situation, a proportional brake controller will control the brakes on the trailer to match that of the towing vehicle. For many, this is a comfortable option because it makes the trailer more of an extension of the towing vehicle. A slow stop in the truck will mean a slow stop on the trailer brakes as well. Likewise, an emergency stop can be conducted faster for both the trailer and the towing vehicle.

Using a proportional brake controller usually provides a smoother ride and has been shown to create less wear and tear on the brake systems of both the trailers and the towing vehicle.

There you have it. Hopefully this helped you understand the difference between the two types of brake controllers. Of course, if you have any questions you can always get in touch with us at hitchanything.com Happy Camping!