A trailer brake controller is a piece of equipment that is installed inside the cab of a tow truck or other vehicle. It gets activated by the driver when they hit the brakes in their towing vehicle. Whether the brakes are electrically powered or the electric-over-hydraulic type, either way, the braking signal is sent from the towing vehicle to the trailer behind to confirm that the brakes have been activated.

There are many types of braking controllers on the market which deliver varying amounts of braking power to one or more brakes. Trailer brake controllers are divided into proportional brake controllers and time-delayed brake controllers. Each type is different from the other and buyers need to be aware of the differences before making a product purchase.

A proportional brake controller works by using sensors in the towing vehicle that detect when the motion is slowing or the vehicle is coming to a complete stop. In either case, the trailer’s brakes will be applied in proportion to the speed change in the towing vehicle to keep both the towing vehicle and the trailer moving at the same constant speed relative to each other. It is possible to make adjustments to the responsiveness of the braking, making subtle changes to account for the weight of the trailer and braking aggressiveness.

A time-delayed brake controller works differently. It activates using a preset level of intensity and a sync control with the trailer. Each of these settings is adjustable by the driver of the towing vehicle. With this controller, there is a noticeable delay between when the brakes in the towing vehicle are first applied and when brakes come on in the trailer. This time delay can be adjusted by the driver using the sync controls.

What’s Included With The Best Trailer Brake Controller

For several models of trailer brake controller, only the central unit is supplied. The customer is able to order fitting arrangements, like harnesses, separately.

For many units, an easy to read LCD display displays critical information to the driver. There will commonly be various buttons that help to adjust the settings between the proportional brake controls and time-delayed brake controls. A refinement of brake settings within these systems is also performed using the single buttons and the core LED display. A majority of the current trailer braking controllers can show information in one of several languages.

Provided instructions with each unit sold to explain how it operates, what to do to wire it correctly up in the cab, and how to use the control system with the command buttons and LED display. Installation is also explained with diagrams and explanations to help the individual who wishes to install their trailer braking controller themselves.

Most braking controllers will include a diagnostic system check that will output various critical information to verify that everything is setup correctly and safely. An alert system will usually also be present to inform drivers when the brakes appear not to be operating.

What To Know Before Making a Purchase

There will be many different mounting options with most brake controllers for the trailer; above the dash, below it, and some mounting positions offer 360-degree angle positioning and complete removal of the equipment when leaving the cab.

A boost feature is present in a few models. Drivers can use this option to deliver greater braking power for trailers that are heavier than the average. For drivers who will be towing a heavier trailer, look for a trailer brake controller with a boost facility.

Other Considerations

A trailer brake controller may use an internal pendulum or a digital G-sensor to detect movement changes. Issues have arisen in the past when traveling downhill because it could throw off the swing system or analog sensors that fail to pick up the degree of deceleration happening and not pass on the braking command at the right power level to the trailer.

Digital accelerometers work to sense correctly the amount of deceleration happening. The correct voltage needed and current required to transmit the information to the trailer brakes is determined based on the maximum setting allowed.

With the advent of digital g-sensors, instead of older analog sensors, this issue has been mostly resolved with downhill travel. Digital units have now been in production for over a decade, which has confirmed that the original issue is no longer a problem for modern trailer brake controllers sold today.

Best Brands

Tekonsha is one of the Cequent brands from Reese Brands. They have one of the largest ranges of trailer brake controllers on the market.

Reese Towpower is a consumer brand of Reese Brands, which includes specialist Horizon Global, and Cequent Consumer Products in their collection too.

Draw-Tite focuses on towing trailers and associated accessories for the consumer market.

What Consumers Say

Taking a look at consumers’ reviews, these are a few of the opinions most often voiced by buyers:

Manual override: A manual override lever can be pulled, in models that have one, to exert a greater braking force than the current default setting.

Installation: A wiring harness is sold separately for many brake controller systems. Alternatively, plugs are attached from wires on trailer braking units that will connect directly with systems in the cab that permit this. Each installation is a little different, so drivers need to refer to the manual for the make and model to get precise instructions.

Post-installation: Run any diagnostic system that the trailer brake controller has to determine that the unit is installed correctly and is capable of reading all the brake settings properly.

Period of adjustment: It is a good idea to play around with the settings for the braking system to see which will be most suitable. Perform a driving test in a quiet area, out of the way of other vehicles, to test the relative responsiveness of different brake settings between the towing vehicle and the trailer until achieving a comfortable level that will give confidence while driving.