How Do Trailer Brake Controllers Work? – Detailed Explanation

how do trailer brake controllers work

If you are towing vehicles you definitely have a tow package with you. One of the inclusions of this package is a trailer brake controller. It is a device that controls the brake of the trailers.

A trailer brake controller dictates how smooth, slow, or how fast the trailer will stop. This gives the driver control over the momentum of the trailer.

Read more and discover how do trailer brake controllers work.

What is a Trailer Brake Controller?

Trailer brake controller system – source:

A brake controller for trailer is a small wireless device used when towing vehicles. It activates your trailer brakes when you apply brakes to your tow vehicle through an electrical signal.

By synchronizing the brakes on the tow vehicle and the trailer so that they both engage when necessary, wireless brake controller can reduce stopping distance and reduce trailer movement. Your trailer’s size, load amount, road conditions, etc. can all affect how hard you brake and how quickly you press the brake pedal.

Additionally, brake controllers have a manual override feature that enables you to depress the brakes on the trailer without pressing the trailer brake system.

Towing brake controller is classified into two main types: proportional brake controllers and time-delayed brake controllers.

  • Proportional Brake Controller

A proportional brake controller also known as pendulum brake controllers is the type of trailer brake assist that is now widely used. This gives the proportional amount of energy you put on the brake pedal to the trailer.

  • Time-Delayed Brake Controller

The second type of brake controller is the time-delayed brake controller which is also known as user-controlled. This truck trailer brake controller is easier to install and way cheaper compared to the first type.

A time-delayed brake controller is the older type of brake controller. It is the opposite of the proportional brake controller because these require manual operation and adjustments.

How Do Trailer Brake Controllers Work?

Proportional vs time delay brake controller – source:

The two types mentioned above differ only on how to use the trailer brake controller.

  • Proportional brake controller

Many people opt to use this type of braking system because it immediately delivers the same amount of braking force to the trailer’s brakes as the driver does. This allows a smooth stop and effective brakes.

Apart from being the most efficient and new, this is easier to use and more convenient than the time-delayed brake controller.

A tow vehicle’s brakes have an impact on how quickly your trailer brakes. For example, if the truck quickly stops, the trailer will stop quickly as well. Likewise, a soft stop will cause the trailer to stop slowly and smoothly.

This happens because this brake controller uses a device called an accelerometer which can sense the momentum of the vehicle. It works independently and not directly connected to the vehicle’s brake.

  • Time-delayed brake controller

A time delay brake controller functions based on relatively basic electrical concepts. This brake controller activates the trailer brakes as soon as the driver presses the brake pedal, gradually delivering more and more force called gain.

Unlike the proportional brake control, this gives the driver control over how much trailer brake gain will travel to your trailer. This will always be the same when the truck stops unless the trailer brake system is changed.

Steps to Adjust Trailer Brake Controller

In most cases, you will tow different vehicles in different areas or situations. Hence, you must change them regularly.

Here are the steps on how to adjust the electric brake controller:

Step 1: Drive to an open place where you can drive and halt without encountering any obstructions or traffic.

Then, hook up electric brakes on a trailer by plugging them into the electrical cord found in the vehicle.

Step 2: You must adjust the trailer brake controller after connecting the trailer. Self-calibrating brake controllers typically flash a light or indication to show that calibration is in progress and completed.

  • Note: Some others, on the other hand, do not even require calibration.

Step 3: Make sure you adjust the brake controller settings before you begin driving. Adjust the following features, if available:

  • User interface angle
  • Screen brightness level
  • Brake controller location

Step 4: You must set and alter it to the maximum output depending on the amount of the load. It is the maximum force that the brake controller can apply to the trailer brakes.

Look up the suggested starting value in the instructions. Then, press and hold the brake pedal to change the output of your car’s brake controller to the suggested output.

Then, you can proceed with testing by driving ahead at roughly 25 mph while using the brakes. Lower the output value if it freezes up or suddenly stops, and do the opposite if it stops a bit too slowly.

Step 5: It’s time to adjust the brake controller’s sensitivity.

Press the brake pedal as you move ahead at a speed of roughly 25 mph. Increase the sensitivity setting if the car stops slowly, and vice versa. To ensure smooth stops, test braking at varied speeds.

Step 6: Use the manual activation button to engage the trailer brake.

This button is essential for engaging the trailer brakes without having to slam on the car brakes. You can use this button to correct minor wobbles and gradually slow down.

Is a Trailer Brake Controller Necessary? Why Do You Need It?

You will never want to keep your vehicle driving continuously and no stops at all. That would be dangerous and terrifying.

Trailer brake control is necessary for safer, smoother, and more efficient stopping. Due to the additional weight of the camper, the tow vehicle will experience difficulty stopping or slowing down. The momentum of the trailer towed can cause an accident and danger.

For example, if you are going down the mountain with no brake assist system for towing, the trailer will continue going down due to the momentum. However, if there is a trailer brake controller kit, the camper trailer will stop the same way the tow vehicle stops.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you calibrate the trailer brake controller?

There are brake controllers that are self-calibrating. However, there are also brake controllers that require manual calibration.

You must take the tow vehicle to a level surface area and plug in the harness to the trailer. After this, the brake controller will begin calibrating.

Suppose you notice that there are adjustments that should be made to have a smoother and more efficient stopping and to slow down. In that case, you must adjust the settings of the brake controller.

Is the Reese brake controller good?

Reese brake controllers are noted for being inexpensive, compact, and simple to use. The good news is that it is also well-liked for its dependability and compatibility with compact campers and light equipment.

What is the best setting for the trailer brake controller?

It is critical that the setting corresponds to both the load size and the trailer. This is done to guarantee that the trailer can slow down or stop safely and smoothly. Different settings are required for different automobiles. The parameters are still affected by the size of the load.

However, the trailer brake controller’s recommended beginning setting was “6.”

Without a brake controller, is it possible to tow a trailer equipped with electric brakes?

No. A brake controller is necessary in order to tow safely and smoothly. A tow controller contains the settings and buttons of the brake, which will enable the driver to control it.

Without a brake controller, the electric brake will not function and will only endanger you and the other vehicles on the road.


Trailer brake controllers work to help the towing process of the vehicle. It works in a very simple way and all you need to know is the weight of the load. Make sure that you adjust its settings if you tow different vehicles.

Knowing how do trailer brake controllers work would allow you to drive smoothly and safely. So don’t neglect the importance of a trailer brake controller to an electric brake.

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