OK, more noob questions- Electric brakes

Anything electric, AC or DC

trailer brakes

Postby Joe Samp » Sat Oct 23, 2004 4:43 pm

unless your towing @ least 5000 lb you not need trailer brakes. Also i would never tow a trailer with a car. But i have drove trucks all my life though and have no use for a car the family vehicle is full size 4 door pickup
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Inspections Required

Postby Dee Bee » Sat Oct 23, 2004 6:28 pm

In Pennsylvania the Dept of Tranportation requires that electric brakes be inspected annually. I don't think trailers wlo them do not have to be inspected once they are licensed.

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Postby mikeschn » Sat Oct 23, 2004 6:40 pm

As one who used to live in Pgh, I'm glad we don't have annual inspections here in MI.


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Postby darkroomsource » Thu Oct 28, 2004 12:20 pm

I have no breaks on my trailer.
Neither do I have brakes on my trailer.

The trailer does not sway at all in the wind, over passes, alongside semi trucks. It is extremely stable, I guess that's cuz it's a teardrop shape?

Anyway, I've got about 5000 miles on it so far this summer, and never had a problem needing brakes.[/code]
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Postby BoilermakerFan » Fri Oct 29, 2004 5:48 pm


From your avatar, it looks like your towing with full-size truck. Your tow vehicle is significantly larger than my Jetta. If I was towing with a full-size vehicle i would probably skip the brakes as well, but in my case, I definitely need them.
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Postby David Grason » Tue Nov 16, 2004 6:08 pm

Well, I'm bumping an old thread here because I've just become a member and haven't seen this discussion before. But here are my 2 pennies worth and this from someone who has pulled a trailer every working day of his life for the last 14 years.

Of the 2 systems on the road geared for RV use, the surge system is best used where the the trailer will be soaked in water such as when a boat is launched from it. Obviously, dunking your trailer in the lake to launch or retrieve a boat would create havoc with an electrical system. This is why you always see surge systems on the heavier boat trailers.

The other area which makes the surge system shine is among rental fleets where the trailer will be pulled by a wide variety of tow vehicles - many of them probably not even set up to pull at all. The surge system can be completely self contained on the trailer and requires nothing from the tow vehicle other than lights and hitch. I've read this entire thread and I don't think anyone has actually explained exactly how surge brakes work (maybe I missed it) but here's my explanation:

On a trailer with surge brakes, the tongue is designed to compress into a hydraulic master cylinder just like pushing your foot onto the brake pedal in the car. The tow vehicle starts slowing down and the inertia of the trailer compresses the tongue applying the trailer's brakes. It's a simple system but it is not without its flaws. They are:

It's really quite grabby. There is always something of a delay from the time that the tow vehicle's brakes are applied to the time that the trailer's brakes engage. It can be pretty uncomfortable until you get used to it. In a panic stop, it can really get your panties wet because for all the world, it doesn't feel like it's going to do anything and then WAM! It comes in like gang busters..... and not one darn split second too soon either.

Once the brakes have been applied, if the trailer's brakes are not adjusted properly, they can release as soon as the trailer's brakes apply enough braking pressure to extend the tongue which will take pressure off of the master cylinder. For this reason, surge brake systems are usually set up so that a considerable amount of pulling by the tow vehicle is required to release the brakes again. Surge brakes are NEVER smooth. But how could they be?

The final problem with surge brakes is that they are not only worthless in reverse, they can actually set when you try to back up. For this reason, every system I've ever used had a hole on the tongue that you could stick a bolt through to keep the brakes from setting when you were ready to back up. But then this has its problems too. When backing a heavy boat down a steep launch ramp, it's really easy to start sliding the front wheels on the tow vehicle and you quickly become a passenger at that point.

Now on to electric brakes. Electric brakes have an electric magnet that lives on the end of an arm that is virtually identical to the arm that most cars use for the parking brake. I'm talking drum brakes here NOT discs. When you apply your tow vehicle's brakes, you energize that magnet and it sticks to the inside of the brake drum causing the brakes to be applied. It's really a good system all in all and no one's ever come up with a better mouse trap, but like surge brakes, it can be a little grabby and quirky. But unless you're going to dunk your trailer in water all the time, it's WAYYYYYY better than surge brakes. In a pinch, anything you do to energize that magnet will get you home. One time several years ago, I had to pull a trailer with a vehicle that didn't have a control box. The trailer was much too heavy for the vehicle unless we could control the brakes. So I ran the wire from the trailer over to one of the running lights on the tow vehicle and when I needed to stop, I just turned on the parking lights. It wasn't smooth but we got home.

A lot of improvements have been made to the control boxes in the last 10 years. In the past, you've had to run a hydraulic line from your tow vehicle's master cylinder to the brake box so that when you stepped on the brake, the control box recieved that pressure too. IMHO, this is a great way to go once it's installed, but installation can be a nightmare and requires bleeding the car's brake system. NO FUN. If you're shopping for control boxes and this is what is offered, go on down the road and keep shopping. Don't spend dollars to save pennies. Shake loose with more money and buy better.

IMHO, there are only 2 boxes to even consider. They are the Tekonsha Sentinel and the Tekonsha Prodigy.

The Sentinel is a pendulum system. It uses the pendulum to sense inertia and applies whatever amount of electricity is required for each situation. It's reaction time is really fast so you don't get any unexpected thrills like with older systems or surge brakes. A really slick personality trait is that it hooks up to the tow vehicle's brake lights but it will also apply brakes simply on the decision of the pendulum. So if your wiring connection goes haywire, you don't lose trailer brakes. That makes it a redundant system and while it can slow things when you really don't need it, it's sure nice to know that it's there. It feels kind of funny when you go around turns because the pendulum swings out instead of just back and forth. Then the control box is like wondering: "Do you want brakes right now or don't you?" So it gives you a little just to be safe. As far as wiring up the Sentinel, you simply hook one wire to ground, one wire to hot, the correct wire (red) to the brake lights and the blue wire goes all the way to the back of the car and on to the connection.

The only quirkyness to the Sentinel is that it needs adjusting depending on the load of the car and trailer. To do this, you need to park on a level area and you use the lights on the face of the Sentinel to get it right. It only takes a second or two and there you go. If you get going down the road and it doesn't feel right, it's an easy matter to dial in a little more or a little less, depending on your personal tastes. Obviously, loading the car down or unloading it would change the attitude at level and hence the adjustment changes.

The Prodigy is Tekonsha's newest control unit. It does away with the pendulum and uses a micro processor instead. In a word, this baby is SLICK! It doesn't need to be adjusted like the Sentinel and it doesn't have any kind of tendency to brake except when you need it. One nice feature is that if you lose the electrical connection between car and trailer, it has a warning light that will alert you. Best of all, it wires into the vast majority of new trucks and cars (most 1998 and newer) with the tow package option without any kind of mental figurement. You simply plug it in to the now standardized connection that virtually all of the new trucks and many cars have. This unit is also more expensive but I think it's really worth it although I'm perfectly happy with the old Sentinel.

I hope this wasn't too long and I hope I've helped.
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