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Electric Brake Controllers

Electric brake 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 wiring 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 electric brakes stop the effect of the (weight of the) van pushing the tow vehicle along.

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 axle.


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.


For example:

Tekonsha Prodigy 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 systems.


Hayes Energize III 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.

Hayes Endeavour 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.

Hayman Reese 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 runs flat. 

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 computer system.

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 chest refrigerator such as a Waeco or Engel in the back of the tow vehicle.

For 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 unit.  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.






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