How to Choose a Trailer Brake Controller

How to Choose a Trailer Brake Control

Trailer brakes are essential components for your safety and the safety of your RV. When towing your travel trailer or fifth wheel, the brake controller is responsible for activating the brakes in your trailer when you go to stop. These devices are installed in the cab of the tow vehicle and come in two main groups: time-delayed or proportional. Each of these types is designed for different applications and has its own benefits.

Before we begin go into the differences between the two it is important to understand the laws governing trailers and trailer brakes.

fifth wheel rv


Trailer and Trailer Brakes Laws

AAA has a handy guide on the trailer brake laws in the United States, and RVDA provides a similar guide for Canadian RVers.

Every US State and Canadian Province has a law governing the requirement of trailer brakes and brake controls for recreational trailers that exceed specified weights. Some states like Delaware, Kentucky, and Rhode Island, are not specific about what equipment you can have, so long as you can stop your tow vehicle and trailer within legal limits.

Yet other states such as Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, go one step farther and specify the stopping distance from a specified speed. Even more specific still, the laws on the books in New Jersey and New Mexico specifically require a proportional brake control device. Missouri only specifies the need for a brake control if you are towing a Fifth wheel.

While you may be legally allowed to tow your travel trailer in Missouri without a brake control, it is not recommended. Towing without a trailer brake control system will increase stopping distances, wear on your tow vehicle’s brakes and suspension, and reduce the amount of control you have over your towed vehicle.

Now that we’ve touched on some of the laws about trailer brakes and their controls, we can cover the types of controls themselves.

Time-Delayed Trailer Brakes

Time-delayed trailer brakes offer a basic amount of control. They include the ability to adjust the power output and rate of application. Your RV will slow down at the same rate, with the same intensity, every time, without regard for speed or intensity of your tow vehicle’s braking.

As the name suggests, it is set to have a time delay between the application of the brakes in the tow vehicle and when the towed vehicle reaches it set braking force. Both the delay time, and braking force can be adjusted before setting off on, and during your journey.

It’s important to note, though, that there will always be a slight time delay despite the ability to adjust it. The time delay can be beneficial because it always applies the trailer brakes with the same slow delay, making it a reliable option.

This type of electric brake controller features an easy to install design and user friendly application. On the other hand, the time delay can actually lead to uneven brake wear between the vehicles.

Proportional Trailer Brakes


These travel trailer brake controllers are more adaptable and can be safer in emergency situations. They provide consistent, predictable braking coverage in slow braking, emergency braking, and regular braking situations. They are different from time-delayed trailer brakes in that they break at the same manner as the tow vehicle.

For example, if you slam on your brakes your trailer’s brakes are applied simultaneously, if you coast to a stop, your RV will do the same.

The lack of delay also means less pushing and pulling between the vehicles, which leads to less wear and tear on the brakes and a better overall towing experience. Overall, this option offers a higher level of efficiency when braking. Since they are tied into the braking system on your tow vehicle proportional brakes can be more expensive and difficult to install than time delayed brakes.

Despite their small cost disadvantage, a majority of the aftermarket brake controllers installed today are of the proportional variety.

Integrated Trailer Brakes

Many modern pickup trucks and full sized SUVs have an optional towing package. Some of those towing packages include a factory integrated proportional brake control.

These work just as described above, in addition to applying brakes with the same urgency and force as the tow vehicle, they are usually tied in to the heads up display or navigation infotainment system allowing the driver to easily see how much braking force is being sent to the towed vehicle.

integrated brake control


Join us next week as we take a look at hitches.


Contact RV Wholesale Superstore

The professionals at RV Wholesale Superstore are ready to help you find the perfect RV for you and your family. Visit us in-person at 5080 W. Alexis Road, in Sylvania, OH or call us at (855) 629 3326.


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