So you have a caravan with electric brakes…..What now?
If you have just purchased a caravan that has electric brakes you might be wondering what are electric brakes, what is an electric brake controller or even wondering if you need electric brakes. There are so many articles out there about the legal requirements of electric brake controllers, but we often have customers whose trailer or caravan might be just under the legal limit. Often these customers question why they would install electric brakes or electric brake controllers if legally they aren’t required. We are going to run through some frequently asked questions about electric brakes and electric brake controllers.
Do I need Electric Brakes?
The legal answer:
Regulations state that trailers which weigh 750kg GTM* or less AND have a single axle will not require a braking system.
Anything – including trailers, horse floats, boat & trailers and caravans, which exceed the 750kg GTM limit legally require having an efficient braking system on at least one axle.
It is also a legal requirement that all caravans, trailers and floats exceeding 2000kg (GTM) are fitted with an efficient braking system on all wheels.
Electric brakes are the most common form of an “efficient braking system” and come standard on most camper trailers and caravans.
|750kg – 2000kg||2001kg – 4500kg|
|Electric Brakes Required?||No Brakes required||Yes – must be fitted with an efficient brake system considered to have brakes operating on the wheels of at least one axel||Yes – must be fitted with an efficient brake system must have brakes operating on all wheels|
|Brake Away Unit||NA||NA||The brake system must cause an immediate application of the trailer brakes in the event of the trailer becoming detached from the towing vehicle. Under these circumstances, the brakes must remain applied for at least 15 minutes.|
What are electric brakes?
On the caravan or trailer you have drum brakes – pretty much the same as drum brakes in a car – Check out this youtube video for a great explanation.
How do Electric Brakes & Electric Brake Controllers work?
The trailer or caravan brakes will not work unless you have an Electric brake controller in your car.
When the towing vehicle’s stop lights are activated, power feeds into the electric brake controller. A heavy duty circuit fed through the trailers connecting plug and socket then triggers the trailers brakes. This allows the trailer brakes to come on automatically when the vehicle’s brakes are applied. When adjusted correctly, the controller allows the driver to slow the combined tow vehicle and trailer just as smoothly as an uncoupled tow vehicle.
It’s important the wiring is heavy enough to allow the power to run through to the trailer. It also needs to have a good earth return, not just an earth to the body.
Proper maintenance of the brakes with regular adjustment of the shoes and care of the magnets is also important.
What do electric brake controllers do?
The in-car electric brake control units rely on a pendulum effect to detect braking. Deceleration swings the pendulum inside the unit forwards activating the electric brakes.
Earlier models and the current budget models have a manual adjustment for the in unit’s pendulum. The more upmarket models have automatic adjustment and tend to be smoother when the caravan/camper trailer brakes are applied. However, they do cost a bit more.
Why are Electric Brake Controllers so important?
Electric brake controllers ensure the safety of the occupants in the tow vehicle as well as other drivers on the road. They allow more control over the braking force of the caravan or trailer and limit the pressure on the tow vehicle’s brakes. Noticeable differences when driving with an electric brake controller include less push from behind, easier and quicker stopping. You should also notice a reduction in the jarring of the linkages. By using an electric brake controller, the likelihood of jack-knifing and being overtaken by own caravan or trailer is reduced.
Types of Controllers
There are two types of electric brake controllers. Motion sensing also called pendulum style and time delay activated or also known as solid state. Despite the controller’s methods being different, both types of controllers are very similar. Both types have the same wiring configuration and allow the user to adjust braking power. Both also have a pressure sensitive manual over-ride trigger. This allows the trailer brakes to work independently of the vehicle’s brakes.
MOTION SENSING (Or pendulum style controllers) are activated by a pendulum circuit. Enabled by the brake pedal switch, the controller senses the vehicles stopping motion and applies a proportional voltage to the trailers brakes. When configured correctly the trailer will decelerate at the same speed as the tow vehicle. This increases braking efficiency and reduces brake wear. Pendulum style electric brake controllers work well under adverse braking conditions and have a smooth braking action. However, most pendulum style controllers are bulky, expensive and must be mounted and calibrated on level ground.
TIME DELAYED controllers are inexpensive, have a low profile and can be mounted on any angle. They work by operating at a pre-determined braking rate and are designed to activate the brakes on a set delay. In some cases, the rate of brake application for a gradual stop or an attempted emergency stop is the same. So while time delayed electric brake controllers provide some braking they do not provide the most efficient balanced braking for combined tow vehicles and trailers.
Which is the best?
We’re huge fans of the Redarc Tow-Pro range. It can be set to both a motion sensing and time delay and due to its additional safety benefits.
The Tow-Pro™ Elite brake controller offers selectable Automatic or User Controlled trailer braking modes. This allows the user to choose the braking style depending on the road or terrain conditions, vehicle type, or driver preference.
The Tow-Pro™ Elite electric brake controller features Active Calibration which constantly monitors the direction of travel. The unit will even calibrate with no trailer attached whilst maintaining the ability to mount in any orientation.
If budget is a constraining factor then we’d recommend an entry level Tekonsha. I’ve currently got one installed in my Landcruiser and it does the job. It doesn’t provide the smooth driving experience like the Redarc Tow Pro, but we have found them to be totally trouble free. The Tekonsha units have a lot of fans.
Can I wire the electric brake to my foot brake to save some money?
No. This could cause accidents, void warranties and insurance policies and is illegal.
GTM: it is the weight of the fully loaded trailer (water, food, clothes, chairs, esky, dog, beers….) imposed on the trailer’s axle when it is coupled to the tow vehicle. The most accurate way to get your GTM is to load the trailer or caravan up and drive it onto a weigh bridge (vehicle wheels not on weighbridge).
ATM: The weight of a fully loaded trailer (or caravan, float, boat and trailer) when it is not coupled to a tow vehicle.
**GTM will always be less than ATM as some of the trailer weight is transferred to the tow vehicle when the trailer is coupled to it.
We have a brake controller installed on dash and it is set on a Number by installer. Just wondering, when trailer is hooked up do we need to do anything with the controller dial or will operation just become automatic
Hi Narelle, it depends on what the unit is, but most modern electric brake controllers should connect automatically. If it is a Redarc TowPro Elite you can learn more about how to operate it here: https://www.redarc.com.au/blog/how-does-the-tow-pro-elite-v3-work
I have a Mazda 3 and a camper trailer but have not tried towing the trailer with mazda three. The trailer has electronic brakes but the car is not fitted is the Mazda three too small to tow this trailer with electronic brakes fitted
Hi David, You will need to check your manufacturer’s specifications and tow rating of the vehicle. If the trailer weight exceeds your tow limit then it is illegal and unsafe to tow.
I had to have my caravan towed at night due to a turbo pipe leak in my Jeep Grand Cherokee, which caused the Jeep to revert to limp mode. The tow truck (this could have just as easily been a Caravan Club emergency driver I guess) only had a 7 pin flat socket so my 12 pin flat caravan plug could not be used, and the caravan was towed illegally and dangerously to the next town. For this reason, I resolved to make an adaptor that would allow the 12 pin plug to connect to a 7 pin socket, and keep in the van. When testing the adaptor, the brake lights did not work on the van, OK on the Jeep. I ran out of time to continue testing and brought the adaptor home to retest with a multimeter, and found that all checked OK, but there was no 12 volts on pin 6 from the Jeep. After reading some of these forums, wondering if there is something unusual about the wiring of the brake controller. Do these ever use pin 5 instead or this for something different again?
Thanks for your comment! Jeeps usually are fitted with a lighting control module that senses when a trailer is connected, You could possibly see no voltage on pin 5 (Brake light wire) with nothing connected due to this as some vehicles rely on the load of a bulb from the trailer to switch the module on and allow power to be present (A multimeter puts no load on a circuit). Pin 6 is used as the activation wire from your brake controller to the Electric Brake magnets situated in the drums and should be on its own circuit. Back probing wiring that is module controlled can be dangerous if not done correctly and we recommend that you take your vehicle to a Licensed Auto Electrician if you still are having issues with your trailer plugs.
Hi, if you are considering purchasing a trailer (float) that already has electric brakes installed, but you do not currently have an electric brake controller in your vehicle – do you need to know what make or type of electric brakes are installed on the float so you can buy matching controller unit? Thank you
This is exactly what I want to know as well 🙂
Not usually no, in almost all cases, the brand of the electric brakes doesn’t influence what brand of electric brake controller you use.
Hi I am looking at purchasing a 1999 Jayco Eagle with 1100 GTM. The seller believes there is no electronic braking system on this van, but somebody I spoke to today said they come out the factory with them installed. Can we still drive it home legally. Should it have one?. I am getting conflicting answers.
Hi Alex, Electronic brakes are most commonly used on caravans and trailers over 750kg and are legally required on all caravans and trailers where the GTM is more than 2000kg. If you are unsure about your caravan, we’d suggest contacting Jayco for more details on your specific van.
I have a Redarc Tow Pro Elite installed on my car – it’s been there for 2 years without being used.
I just had a 12 pin trailer plug installed And in checking the power for fridge, ESC etc using a circuit tester/volt meter I have noticed the following (it seems odd to me but it may be normal)
Pin 5 is the trailer brakes pin, Pin 6 is the stop lights pin
– Pin 5 has a constant 4.9v when nothing is being touched. Press the brake controller manual over ride button and this 4.9v doesn’t change, put your foot on the brake and it doesn’t change either
– Pin 6 has no power when no5ing is touched, If you put your foot on the brakes this goes up to 12v (give or take) and the brake lights on the car light up. If you press the brake controller manual over ride button then this pin gets 12v but the brake lights do not light up on the car.
My question is, is this correct or is there a problem somewhere in the wiring system? I went back to the controller box and the power coming out of it only happens when the manual over ride button is pressed (I didn’t check what happens if brake pedal pressed)
Hi Davin, 4.9v is for the unit attempting to sense a trailer as the unit does not fully power up unless it detects a trailer is connected.
When the manual override button is pressed it is designed to turn the brake lights on for the caravan to notify people behind you that a braking scenario is being applied.
If you are using a halogen test light this can simulate a load and give you power on the output wire at the unit where a voltmeter will not simulate a load down the rear.
If you are unsure of your Trailer brake operations we would recommend getting a Licensed Auto Electrician to inspect the system before towing any trailer as no brakes can cause a great safety risk.
Alternatively, if you are local to the Sunshine Coast we would be happy to inspect in our workshop in Maroochydore QLD.
Please forgive my ignorance but I’m new to 4×4 and camper trailers. How do you connect the electric brake controller to the trailer? Is it through the 7 pin plug or is there a separate another piece of wiring needed?
We run additional wiring to the 7 pin trailer plug to power the electric brake controller.
hi. how are doin? I have nearly 5 yr old van, tandem, fitted with electric brakes, I have a Redarc Tow Pro on the tow vehicle, in regards to the overide setup?, the electric brakes powered through the 7 pin plug, all good, lanyard for the overide switch. my question is DO you have to have battery backup in caravan? for the brakes.Im in WA
Hi Christo, There are two kinds of systems available. There are some breakaway units that have their own battery like the Tekonsha Shur-Set III® Breakaway System or you can use a system that utilises your existing battery like the BMPRO Trailsafe
Both systems are compatible with your tow pro you already have installed so it would really depend on your preference. If you have any other questions feel free to give us a call.
I have a Mazda CX5 and am looking at getting a forward fold camper with an ATM of 1500kg. What is the recommended brake system to have fitted and roughly how much would it cost all up to be fitted?
Hi Kevin, we always recommend the Redarc TowPro Elite, it’s the best brake controller on the market in our opinion. Currently, it is priced at $595 to supply and install.
i have a 2015 crusader 23ft 6 3.5 ton , bt50 auto up front , when i manually move controller to brake van only , nothing happens , any clues Tony
Hi Denis, without seeing the vehicle or caravan it is near impossible to diagnose a fault. It could be an issue with either the brake controller unit or the wiring. We would recommend taking the vehicle into your local auto electrician for a full inspection of the system.
I’ve recently had a towbar installed on my 2015 Mazda CX5 and it has a 7 pin socket. I’m buying a Jayco Eagle and it has a 12 pin plug. Would you suggest changing the socket on the car to a 12pin or changing the van to a 7pin as part of a redarc controller install?
We would recommend wiring it to suit your Jaycos supplied wiring diagram. Normally the 12 pin socket has extra power supplies for running the caravan’s fridge, stability control or charging batteries depending on what the van is equipped with. In most cases, we would recommend changing the vehicle to suit the van, not the other way around.
I have a 2014 PX Ranger and I am fitting a Redarc Towpro Elite. Was wondering to keep things tidy is there a spare fuse (25a) position in box under bonnet I can use instead of mounting an external one on the positive terminal of battery.
The TowPro Elite MUST be run through an auto reset circuit breaker rated at 30amp. This is a legal requirement as its a Braking system.
Hi I am looking to buy a 2nd hand camper trailer. The tare weight is 700kg. I would be towing it from Newcastle to Adelaide. Currently my vehicle isn’t fitted with an electric brake controller but the camper does have electric brakes. I would be installing a controller on my vehicle at some stage but wondering if I need to do this first or if I could tow the trailer (unloaded – below 750kg) without a brake controller fitted to the tow vehicle?
Hi Andrew, tare weight doesn’t include water, gas bottles etc. We would highly recommend getting an electric brake controller fitted to be on the safe side.
I’ve recently bought a caravan and need to have the brake controller installed into MY17 D-Max. I was quoted $704 for supply and install by an off road specialist, would you say this is a fair price or should I seek another quote?
Our standard price for installing a Redarc TowPro Elite on a D-Max is $695. However, we often run promotional offers so the price can vary slightly throughout the year.
I have a 2009 hilux dual cab with a teconcha controller.it is not producing sufficient braking effort to my caravan. I have the power coming fron the brake light switch as the manuel says ,Is this the reason im not getting enough braking effort? Should i be getting power from the actual stop light at the rear of the vehicle??It worked when i first put it on but now it doesnt
It sounds like you need to adjust the brakes in your van. If your controller is turned all the way up, you should have more than enough braking power.
i have a 7pin flat socket and anderson plug fitted to my Hilux.
The trailer i need to tow for work is approx 3t dual axle has a 12 pin flat plug and no anderson.
If i use an adaptor from 12 to 7 pin will i be able to tow and still have brakes working correctly? Or do i need to completly change the female socket and rewire?
Yes, the brakes should work if they are just normal Electric drum brakes. If the trailer has an assisted brake setup like the AL-KO IQ7 or similar the brakes won’t work. I would assume there is a reason why the trailer has a 12 pin plug so I would certainly advise to work out why and wire your vehicle accordingly rather than using an adapter.
I have just renewed the 7 pin plug on my Jackaroo and when disconnected the old plug there was a separate pair of wires one red and the other black. I’m assuming these are from the Hayman Reese brake controller fitted in 2003 when I purchased the caravan. The blue and black wires from the original 7 wire cable had been cut back out of the way. I connected the red wire to the Blue pin (5) and the black wire back to the black pin (2). Should the black wire been connected to the red pin (6) or as I did back to the black pin (2) as I did?
I have electric brakes fitted on to Mitsubishi Fuso Truck model 2010
Now no exhaust brake and also ABS light on dash, auto electrician did the work, said I will have to bring it back, any ideas where he went wrong
Hi Craig, sounds like it was not installed correctly. Without seeing the vehicle its hard to tell what exactly was done wrong. Best thing would be to take it back to get fixed.
I have a Tow Pro Elite fitted to a 78 series Toyota troopcarrier, which was working fine last time I towed, l plunged the trailer in, and now I’m getting a green flashing light on the Tow Pro since I tow last I had a rear wheel carrier fitted with LED light in it, could that be a problem
It is quite possible that during the fitment of the rear wheel carrier that the trailer plug has been disconnected causing the TowPro to reset itself. Green flashing is manual mode on the TowPro and no calibration present. Wind the TowPro to zero and with your foot on the brake press it twice, this will turn it into auto mode and should flash blue and green. Once this has happened, take your van for a drive and break as per normal and the TowPro should re-calibrate to your vehicle and van. Any further issues, or if this process does not solve the problem, please don’t hesitate to drop into our workshop or give us a call.
Thank you for that. But what i wish to know which wire going into the controller does the blue wire get its voltage supply from to apply the brakes.
Hi John, If we are talking the Tow Pro, The black wire is attached to the battery, this feeds power through the controller out to the Blue wire down to the brakes. The red wire is the stop light feed that the controller uses as a input to know when you apply the brakes . White is the earth. So in a nut shell, you put your foot on the brake, the brake light switch gives a signal to the controller. The controller modulates the flow from the black wire (battery) to the blue wire (brakes). Therefore it is very important that your black wire connection is solid and fused correctly. Hope this helps. If you have any further questions, please feel free to give us a call or send us an email. Thanks.
Thank you for that. I am putting in TEKONSHA PRIMUS IQ and was hoping not have to drill into cabin to put active wire as i have anderson plug at the back of the vehicle running under vehicle. Again thank you keep up the good work
Hi Tony thanks for that explanation so the Controller black wire actually goes to the Battery Positive terminal.
(bad color coding there but I guess we are stuck with that).
Re the comment Fused wouldnt that be dangerous ie if the fuse bew there would be no power to the brakes. Wouldnt a resetting circuit breaker be mandatory in this application?
Hi Bill, thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, although it says ‘fused’, an automatic resettable circuit breaker was fitted as per REDARC requirements.
Which wire from the electric brake controller feeds the blue wire to the brakes
Hi John, match blue to blue. The blue wire coming out of the controller is the output to the brakes.
A friend of mine was reversing his caravan down an embankment and said the caravan brakes did not work he said it is because the pendulum had moved out of line I cannot see any reason the brakes would not work on the caravan. He said the brakes on the car were working but the caravan was not and was pulling him down the hill. He had to use the manual control. Is this because his controller was not set agressive enough.(Slippery conditions)
It’s hard to say with certainty as it would depend on which controller he has as their operation/output varies and whether he has drum or disc brakes. Drum brakes do not work as well in reverse so that could be a cause. Either way, if it was down a slippery embankment upping the setting on the controller should have helped and would have been a good idea.