Trailer Camping

Tow Vehicles

Trailer Hitches

Loading Trailers and Tow Vehicles

Backing a Trailer

Vehicle Electrical Hookups

Trailer Brakes

Sign up to get updated family camping tips emailed to you

Trailer Brakes

The type of brake system will depend on your tow vehicle and the type and fully loaded weight of your trailer. Most states require a separate braking system and a breakaway switch, located on the tongue of the trailer, to activate the trailer brakes in the event the trailer separates from the tow vehicle.

Most popup style and light trailers have surge brakes on the trailer tongue. This is a self-contained system that doesn't require any tow vehicle modifications. These systems work by having a slide linkage on the trailer tongue. When you hit the vehicle brakes, the trailer pushes against the hitch, compressing a hydraulic master brake cylinder in the tongue that applies the trailer brakes. This system doesn’t work (correctly) in reverse, so care needs to be taken backing down steep grades. It can also sometimes be difficult to back these trailers up a steep grade as the brakes will tend to apply themselves. Part of the trick is to not backup quickly. Over time the linkage can rust and will tend to not work well when first used after a long winter, so be prepared for longer stopping distances first time out. This problem will generally work itself out after a few times braking. If it doesn’t resolve itself, have the trailer brakes professionally checked.

Larger trailer have electronically controlled brakes, usually provided with automatic and manual control in the tow vehicle. They require that the tow vehicle be equipped with a controlling device and additional wiring to the trailer for electrical power. These brakes typically have a control box installed within reach of the driver and can be manually or automatically applied. The control box may require adjustment or “tuning in” for variations in trailer load. Before traveling with electric brakes units, it’s important to test the system. Accelerate to about 35 mph on level ground and carefully use the manual brake control to apply the trailer brakes. Don’t use the vehicle brakes unless control is an issue. If everything is working correctly, you shouldn’t skid any trailer tires, and you will come to a stop.


Trailer Camping Home