controllers for caravans, travel trailers and camper trailers. What are
brake controllers and do you need them?
Do I need electric brakes
The braking system required for a camper
trailer, travel trailer or caravan depends on
the type of RV and its weight as well as
the weight of the tow vehicle. The electric
brakes, stop and indicator lights and
accessories all run through the plug and socket
from the tow vehicle.
Australian Design rules state that trailers over
750 kg GTM must have an effective brake system
fitted (irrespective of the vehicles towing
capacity or unladen mass).
An electric brake controller must be installed
in the tow vehicle to enable the electric
trailer brakes to function. Its placement
should be readily accessible by the driver and
most brake controllers are mounted under the
dashboard. Most controllers have a manual
over-ride. Correctly set up
stop the effect
of the (weight of the) van pushing the tow
Caravans and trailers over 2000 kg usually have tandem
axels and must have brakes operating on all wheels
whereas caravans and trailers under 2000 kg must have
efficient brakes operating to at least two wheels of one
The most efficient type of brake controller has a motion
sensing device. Some have features such as a self
adjusting sensing device to compensate for various
terrain, self-levelling device and digital displays plus
the ability to report electrical fault conditions such
as power loss and short circuits. Once the brake
controller is set up and adjusted correctly the driver
will be able to slow the vehicle and caravan or trailer
combination with smooth proportional braking.
inertia-activated brake controller applies power to the
trailer brakes in proportion to the tow vehicle’s
deceleration. The Tekonsha Prodigy has a self adjusting
sensing device, a digital display showing voltage level
delivered to the trailer brakes plus a ‘boost’ feature
that gives the user the ability to apply more initial
braking power when towing heavier trailers. The Prodigy
can brake up to four trailer axels but it is not
designed for use with electric-hydraulic trailer brake
all electric brake controllers features a sensing device
that measure and automatically monitors the tow vehicle
deceleration and applies the trailer brakes in direct
proportion and ensures controlled, smooth stops. It is
suitable for all single and tandem axel trailers
equipped with electric brakes.
digital display brake controller has the ability to
sense deceleration of the tow vehicle and sends a
proportional amount of power to the trailer brakes to
provide premium braking. The manufacturer states this
is the top of the line in brake controllers for use with
electric and electric over hydraulic braking systems and
handles up to 4 axles.
brake controllers are a compact, slim-line controller and can be easily
installed with a conventional 4 wire hook up. The Hayman Reese electric
brake controller features a ‘Sync –Control’ for the output for the timing of
the brakes as well as the power. A manual control is also located on the
front of the unit.
Most brake controller manufacturers have installation
instructions available on their websites.
For caravans and trailers over 2000 kg GTM (2 ton) a
breakaway cable/device is mandatory. This is required in
the awful event that the RV parts company with the tow
vehicle. When the cable is detached the trailer brakes
are operated automatically. These heavy type caravans
or trailers will also have two safety chains which must
meet Australian Standards.
The electric connection between the tow vehicle and the
caravan is with a seven pin round or flat plug
(compulsory in Australia) and socket. This connection
operates the lights, stop lights and indicatory lights
on the caravan or camper trailer.
When the wiring is being installed in the tow vehicle it
may also be a good time to consider installing an
auxiliary wire as most caravans have a 3 way
refrigerator (240V, LPG gas and 12V) and this will allow
the RV refrigerator to operate on 12V whilst you are
driving and if needed the internal lights of the van to
work from the vehicle battery. However, if you stop for
a lengthy break it is a good idea to disconnect the
cable from the vehicle so as not to drain the vehicle
battery and remember to reconnect before recommencing
your journey. If stopping for a considerable time it
may be wise to switch the fridge over to gas and reverse
the steps taken again before driving off. Another
option is to have an isolator installed in the tow
vehicle to ensure the vehicle starting battery never
Heavy duty cabling is required through a separate socket
(usually an Anderson plug) to charge the battery if one
is installed in the caravan boot or trailer. There is
usually a need for a battery management system in the
tow vehicle to protect the vehicle’s alternator and
For those caravans or trailers with solar panels the
power from the panels will charge the battery so there
may be no need for the heavy duty cabling to the caravan
or trailer. The battery management system may still be
required if you wish to run a portable
as a Waeco or Engel in the back of the tow vehicle.
caravan and trailers in excess of 2,000 kg there will be
Break Safe brake control unit in the front boot
of the caravan with its own 12V battery.
The Break Safe breakaway kit is designed to activate the
caravan or trailer electric brakes and lights if the
caravan or trailer becomes separated from the tow
vehicle. This battery should be checked from time
to time by pressing on a ‘test’ button on the front of
The trailer plug wiring to the tow vehicle should be
disconnected before you do the test. A green
light should glow if all is well.
Brake controllers are available from RV
accessory stores and eBay.