Choosing the Right Brake Controller

Electric brakes are one of your trailer’s top safety features and come installed on tandem axle models. While not a requirement in all states, trailer brakes are an extended insurance policy to protect yourself, your gear and others while on the road. But here’s the important piece of info: you can’t operate your trailer brakes without first installing a brake controller.

Trailer brake controllers vary in the number of brakes they can power and other types of functionalities. But to simplify the conversation, there really are just two main types of brake controllers to choose from: time-delayed (or stable state) brake controllers and proportional ones.  

Time-Delayed Brake Controllers

This system functions on pre-determined braking capacity that is set by the user and is based on the weight of the trailer plus the weight of the anticipated cargo. The amount of braking force and timing can be adjusted with a “sync” switch available on most time-delayed brake controllers.

When the pedal of the tow vehicle is compressed, a predetermined amount of braking capacity that the user sets based on anticipated load weight is sent back to the trailer. If the sync is set too low, the tow vehicle will do the majority of the braking. Conversely, if the sync is set too high, the trailer will provide the majority of the braking power. This pre-fixed, less-responsive system typically causes uneven wear on tow vehicle and trailer brakes but is the most affordable option and perfect for the occasional tow.

Proportional Brake Controllers

The more expensive of the two options, proportional brake controllers trigger the pressure of the trailer brakes at the same ratio as the tow vehicle. The main benefit to this control system is that it provides the least amount of wear and tear on both the towing vehicle’s brakes and the trailer’s brakes. It’s also the fastest and most responsive system that you can install and, in this way, it’s also the safest.

Here is the basic breakdown of the two types of brake controllers, their similarities and differences:

Overall Similarities

–       Wiring for installation is the same.

–       Trailer brakes’ signal can be manually overridden by user with both controllers.

–       User can adjust the maximum braking power depending on the weight of load.

Overall Differences

–       Cost; proportional controllers are more expensive. 

–       Braking power varies between the two controllers. Proportional controllers provide a smoother experience and have less wear and tear on brakes than time-delayed controllers that administer a preset amount of force.

–       Time-delayed controllers typically don’t require calibration and can be installed anywhere. Proportional controllers have self-calibrating models or need to be calibrated. They must be installed in a specific way and tend to be larger in size.

–       Proportional controllers are the safest and most responsive braking system you can install.

–       Time-delayed controllers are for the occasional user and proportional ones are best for the heavy trailer user. They operate better under various conditions and produce less wear on tow and trailer brakes.

When you order a Complete Trailer, know that you’ll need to arrive with your brake controller already installed in order to utilize your brakes if required in your state. Here are some other tips from a previous post on what you’ll need to have ready to go when you pick up your trailer.

Still have more questions about brakes and controllers? Give us a call and our service pros will troubleshoot with you.