You’ve looked at your fluid levels, had your oil changed, checked your tire pressure. You’ve meticulously packed and mastered the delicate art of loading up the car. You’ve even got your road trip snacks riding shotgun. But if you haven’t had your trailer brakes checked, you might be in for an unexpected stop.
In most states, drivers are required to equip their trailers with brakes and brake controllers, devices which let the know trailer’s brake system know how much braking power is needed to stop the trailer. Without trailer brakes to help compensate for the extra weight, slowing your car becomes more difficult. We’ve broken down the types of trailer brakes for you to help you understand the best type for your trailer. Before you hit the road, make sure your trailer is equipped to get you where you need to go.
Electric brakes: most recreational trailers use electric brakes. These require a brake controller in the cabin of the tow vehicle. Electric brakes use electromagnets to actuate the drum brakes and control electricity to the brakes with the brake controller and brake light circuit on your vehicle. While other types of trailer brakes cannot actuate the brakes if the trailer is swaying, using the brake controller will allow the driver to apply a small amount of braking force if the trailer begins to sway.
Surge brakes: the second most common type of trailer brakes, surge brakes are hydraulic and use the trailer’s natural momentum to actuate the brakes. As you slow, the hitch puts pressure on the trailer to slow it, compressing the braking actuator. The more you slow down the vehicle, the more pressure is put on the trailer; however, surge brakes cannot actuate if the trailer is swaying.
Air brakes: usually found in large fifth-wheel trailers, air brakes use compressed air to actuate brakes. These require extensive additions to the tow vehicle.
Trailer brake pads and rotors wear just like your vehicle’s, so be sure to have them examined routinely!