After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Brakes

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After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Brakes

Postby Dusty Mark » Thu Mar 01, 2018 10:15 pm

We've been real lucky/blessed driving all over with our overloaded 2009 Subaru Forester (manual transmission) and a 1,400# homebuilt teardrop without trailer brakes these past two seasons (60 nights of camping ranging from Minnesota to Ontario to Maine.)

As I began planning our upcoming Alaska adventure, I couldn't shake how foolish I would be to attempt this trip without trailer brakes. Unfortunately, there was no good way to accurately mount a brake flange to our existing 2,000# Dexter Torsion axle. I ordered a new axle with brakes today. I got the axle for only $320 before shipping! The dealer misquoted, but honored the low price since I drove two hours to place the order.

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Now I'll feel safer going down the road loaded down like the "Clampetts!" That's a 22.5' Seascape 3 kayak on our roof! We find ourselves mostly using our teardrop as a basecamp for our sea kayaking adventures. All the extra cold water kayaking gear adds up to both a lot of volume and weight. We plan a six-day kayak expedition in the middle of our Alaska trip, so we'll also be loaded with primitive camping gear.

Those rear racing springs sure do eliminate the "sag" in the back end!
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Re: After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Br

Postby camperRN » Mon Mar 12, 2018 12:12 pm

I've been debating trailer breaks. my donor trailer has them already installed but the previous owner "disabled them" (i.e. cut the wires going to them and installed a 4pin harness) The gross weight of the original popup camper was only 1700# so I'm not sure why they were needed to begin with. I plan on being under 1000# with my finished build and I'm towing with a honda pilot so I really dont think it will be an issue. I can see how towing with a smaller car it might be a good idea.
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Re: After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Br

Postby dancam » Mon Mar 12, 2018 1:10 pm

Update with what you think of the difference with the brakes!
I hear the alaska highway has a few hills :)
Do you ever hit the roof of your trailer with that kayak?

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Re: After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Br

Postby Kudzupatch » Thu Apr 05, 2018 7:49 pm

With proper brakes you will stop as if you do not have a trailer behind you. I was once towing a load of woodworking machines in Mississippi through a small town when the person in front of me stopped the instant the light turned yellow instead of going through it. My wife and I braced because we knew we were going to re-end her but even with all that weight we made a panic stop as if it wasn't there. That made me a total believer in trailer brakes on anything but lightest trailer. Had it not been for the brakes I would have just plowed into her.
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Re: After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Br

Postby working on it » Fri Apr 06, 2018 2:06 pm

  • I don't know if you have used trailer brakes before, but prior to going on your planned Alaska trip, you might take your trailer out to test the brake settings on different types of road conditions, at different speeds, to be able to stop without lock-up. I use a Hopkins Impulse time-delay brake controller http://www.tnttt.com/viewtopic.php?f=67&t=68341&hilit=+brakes#p1202292 on my '04 Chevy 2500 HD pickup (which could easily stop my 2025 lb TTT, without needing assistance from trailer brakes), and have a memorized set of gain adjustments for towing my car-hauler trailer, when loaded with a car or truck, but not for my TTT, yet. That trailer has tandem axles, with brakes on each, so my memorized settings (gained from many miles and years of towing on all sorts of roads) didn't apply to towing my smaller trailer.
  • My first trip out (225 miles each way) with my squareback TTT, after installing the 3500 lb Dexter axle (ordered with brakes) was interesting, because I hadn't bothered to roadtest it first, and get another set of controller gain settings for the lighter trailer, but only had manually adjusted the brakes themselves, and only tested their effectiveness in my hard-packed sandy/roadbase as I pulled the trailer from its' bay in my garage. I experienced several stopping situations where I reverted back to settings (shown in digital numerals, as a percentage of total braking power, on the controller face) that I had memorized for the heavier trailer, in the past. Several times on the trip out from home, I had adjusted it to too high of a setting, in response to sudden braking situations, and I heard the tires squeal from premature lock-up. On the return trip, I only locked them up once, during a sudden transition from highway to gravel, as I turned into a service station. When the tires slid over the gravel, then back over to the concrete drive at the station, there was a very loud (and embarrassing) squeal that startled other customers at the pumps. I then used about 1/3 of the settings I had memorized for the heavier trailer, on the rest of the return trip, with better results.
  • I once had a trio of trucks I would use to haul my racecar on the big trailer, each with different brake controllers installed, and needing different gin settings. I used a post-it note stuck on the controller on each of the other trucks ( a '69 C-10 and a '75 C-10, both Chevy), in order to get it right, without trying to memorize settings for all three, since I rarely towed with the older trucks, after I bought the '04 heavy-duty pickup. I also used a post-it note on the '75 pickup for converting RPM's-to-MPH, after the speedometer broke! And also on my Chevelle, when it was still streetable, and I was swapping transmissions, without re-connecting the speedo cable.
  • I made another post-it note for tow settings for my TTT, on that return trip, and used them on subsequent trips thereafter, without ever memorizing them. But now, I can't find that settings list, nor do I still have the memorized settings from my racecar huling days (10 years ago). Old-age CRS creeping in, I guess, and infrequent towing. I'll be sure to have a notepad and pen handy (or my cellphone's memo app), and learn to re-adjust my brake settings on my next trip, later this month.
2013 HHRv a "squareback/squaredrop" 4x8 TTT,
semi-offroad?, at barely under 2000 lbs travel weight
  • 3500 lb Dexter EZ-Lube axle, w/brakes
  • 27x8.5-14LT all-terrain tires (x 3)
  • LED lighting, triple fans. Pioneer stereo
  • A/C & heat, Optima AGM, inverter & charger(s)
  • extended-run, on-board, 2500w generator
  • Coleman dual-fuel stove & lantern, Ikea grill
  • zinc/stainless steel front racks
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Re: After Two Seasons... Wising Up and Installing Trailer Br

Postby noseoil » Mon Apr 09, 2018 7:48 am

Mark, I just did the brake setup on our teardrop after several years & 13,000 miles of towing. Finally got around to weighing it & was much heavier than I had figured originally... Got a 3500# axle with brakes & a proportional controller to manage the weight better. It's a night & day difference in towing & braking, much better, with no "pucker factor" when stopping now in any condition. Highly recommend you do the same, especially on a trip like you have planned. It only takes one time of making a "panic stop" & it will pay for itself.

I had also upgraded the discs & pads on the truck before doing any towing, which helped a bit, but nothing like what the setup on the trailer has done. I added cross-drilled rotors with better ceramic pads, another big improvement in the front, but if your vehicle brakes are still good, wait a bit to upgrade & then do it when it's time. Hoping you have a good safe trip!
Build log: viewtopic.php?f=50&t=60248
The time you spend planning is more important than the time you spend building.........

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Installed Autowbrake Controller Today

Postby Dusty Mark » Wed May 02, 2018 8:54 pm

I finally got around to installing the new axle and wiring the brakes. I opted for the Autowbrake controller which mounts on the camper. That made sense for us since my wife occasionally takes the teardrop out with her car. Any car that is wired with a four-pin plug for towing can tow our unit and the brakes will work since the controller stays on the camper. I couldn't see making the exterior any busier looking than it already is, so I mounted the junction box and the brake controller in the battery compartment inside my bulkhead between the galley and the main cabin. The whole process was pretty straightforward.

My wiring job delayed my wife's camping trip with her daughter a few hours today. The last items I needed to complete the project included replacing the battery, wiring an inline fuse for power, and then calibrating the brake controller. I did that in a parking lot of a restaurant they stopped to eat at on their way out of town!

My wife reports that the camper stops a lot better with the new brakes! I'm glad I did the brake install since we're towing with a Subaru Forester and a Subaru Crosstrek and we're right at the tow limit for the Crosstrek. Our Alaska trip will be much safer with trailer brakes.

*No, we haven't hit the roof of the teardrop with the kayak yet. I'll remove the rudder for longer trips. However, we've taken the ferry to Madeline Island a couple of times with this rig and we never hit, even with a pretty steep approach angle.
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