What are Electric Brake Controllers?

By far the most common trailer brakes are electrically operated, and these are controlled by an Electric Brake Controller.

In Australia, any trailer that weighs more than 750kg must have brakes fitted, and operational. There are two types; mechanical and electrical. Mechanical brakes use a system that is compressed which makes the brakes come on as the vehicle brakes. Electric brakes use a controller in the vehicle to apply the trailer brakes, as it brakes. Electric brake controllers are the most common option today for caravans and camper trailers.

Safety Concerns

If you have ever towed a heavy trailer, you’ll understand the need for brakes on the trailer itself. Put simply, a vehicles brakes are not capable of reliably, and quickly stopping a combination moving down the road. If you take a 3 tonne 4WD, and put a 2 tonne trailer behind it you have some significant extra force that needs to be slowed down, and the vehicles factory brakes are not up the task.

Combined with extensive hill driving, or traffic, and you need the extra braking power. Set up correctly you have the potential to make the braking time almost the same as if you were not towing. Trailer brakes also share the load, and keep the whole setup braking evenly and proportionally so the trailer stays behind you and nowhere unexpected.

What are electric brake controllers?

When you are towing a caravan for the first time, safety is one of the most important things to
consider. Therefore, electric brake controllers are an absolute must. An electric brake controller is a device that is installed in your vehicle and activates the brakes of
your caravan when the towing vehicle’s brakes are applied.

When you are towing a caravan or trailer, you carry along lots of extra weight, which can make slowing down or stopping your tow vehicle dangerous under some circumstances. When you have your electric brake controllers applied, you eliminate the chance of your caravan or trailer being smashing into your towing vehicle or causing a sway, as the brake controllers activate the caravan’s brakes whenever you need to brake with your towing vehicle.

How do electric brake controllers work?

The electric brake controller senses how much pressure is needed to slow down and stop your caravan. If you suddenly hit the brakes hard on your towing vehicle, the brake controller will activate the caravan’s breaks just as hard. Long story short, a brake controller is a fairly small investment, that will keep you and your family safer when you are towing a caravan. All you want is enjoy your trip, and a caravan that is just cruising steadily along behind your car without humping, thumping or swaying.

Some trailers have hitches that incorporate brakes, so when your vehicle slows down, the hitch compresses and this pulls the brake cable on. In terms of caravans and camper trailers, the most common brakes that you will see are drums, controlled by an electromagnet, which receives its signal from the brake controller in your vehicle. This is important as you cannot tow a trailer that has electric brakes unless you have a brake controller that will talk to it.

Redarc is the most common, and probably the most recommended. They make the Tow Pro Series, which is installed behind your dashboard and you have a small knob sticking out that tells you what the controller is doing, and allows you to set the brake strength from 0 – 10. These work off a GeForce meter, and need to be secured properly under the dash or they will not work properly. The harder your vehicle brakes, the harder the brakes are applied to the van progressively, but also based off the setting that you have the controller on.

On a trailer that is well made and adjusted, if you have the brake controller set to 5 or above and you brake hard in the vehicle, it is not uncommon to have the wheels on the trailer lock up. When set up well, these really pull a vehicle up quickly.

Electric brake modes

Brake controllers work in a variety of ways. Redarc’s has a gyro inside that detects a change in motion, and when it’s in auto it proportionally applies braking power based on how hard your vehicle is braking. If you just lightly touch the brakes, it will brake lightly, but if you brake harder, it will apply a much higher force to the trailer brakes. You can put it in manual mode too, which is useful for going down a hill as you can slow the vehicle down without using its own brakes, ensuring they don’t get too hot. Essentially, the Redarc unit, which makes your trailer react in the same way the vehicle does.

If you are getting yourself a trailer, boat trailer, or caravan, seriously consider a decent brake controller, and make sure it all works properly. There’s no better reassuring feeling than being able to pull up in a hurry when towing.

You can rely on our experience

Towing accessories, like Brake Controllers offer many advantages to travellers either on or off the road and Autospark have always been at the forefront of the latest innovations.

Autospark stocks some of the most popular and best of brand versions to choose from like Redarc and they are experts at fitting them for you too. If you need advice, you can always rely on the professionals at Autospark for the best in Towing and Electric Brake Controllers.