Electric Brake or Surge Brake? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 08-23-2006, 10:23 PM   #1
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Does anyone know if all 17' Bigfoot trailers came with electric brakes, or did the older ones (ie. 1985 year) have surge brakes?
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Old 08-24-2006, 11:20 AM   #2
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I looked at a 19-foot Bigfoot of the same vintage as the 1984 model shown in the FiberglassRV Bigfoot Album. It had electric brakes.

The couplers which incorporate a hydraulic surge brake master cylinder look quite distinctive, with a pile of hardware on them. The coupler for a cable-actuated surge brake system also looks unusual. It might be worth just looking, even at photos, for the tell-tale hardware; you can't see the brakes except from under the trailer, but the coupler is a lot more visible. There are various Bigfoot models and vintages in that album.

Unlike for those of us with Bolers (for instance), the ultimate expert is still around to consult: the manufacturer. Like the other current builders, Bigfoot is listed in the Helpful-Links section of this web site, under "Trailer Brands". I asked Bigfoot a question by e-mail once, and they did respond.

This does not say anything about 17' Bigfoot models specifically, but I have not noticed any reference in this forum to surge brakes on any travel trailer built in North America, other than the European-style Tab (which isn't moulded fiberglass, but gets discussed here frequently). By the way, the European trailers use cable-actuated surge brakes, not the hydraulic system.

Another non-Bigfoot observation: Bolers and Trilliums of the 1970's with brakes used electric brakes just like today, so 1985 is not old by the standards of this type of trailer, and electric brakes were common long before that year.
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Old 08-24-2006, 01:25 PM   #3
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I had a car dolly with surge brakes at one time.I was told that in some places they are illegal.I never did confirm that.
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Old 08-24-2006, 01:49 PM   #4
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Specifically in the province of Alberta (where Bonnie, Chester, and I are all located), requirements for brakes are given in Part 2 (sections 54 and following) of ALBERTA REGULATION 322/2002, Traffic Safety Act, VEHICLE EQUIPMENT REGULATION, the same regulation which covers things like lights and tires. It does provide trailer brake requirements, but I see nothing in it which would ban (or require) any particular braking technology.

If surge brakes were illegal - anywhere - what would happen with all of those boat trailers and rental cargo trailers which have surge brakes? U-Haul operates all over North America with units which circulate freely among their dealers (due to one-way rentals), and it seems that their trailers which have brakes (the smaller ones don't) are hydraulic surge systems. Even if there were some bizarre dependence on trailer type (e.g. no surge brakes on travel trailers), there's always the example of the surge-braked Tab. Despite logic, there could of course be a law...

Perhaps someone has confused a need for brake lights with the brake actuation method? Using that car dolly without proper lights would presumably be illegal, and with surge brakes some people may be tempted to skip the wiring entirely.

In the end, for Bonnie's purpose this may be entirely irrelevant, since my guess is that brakes on Bigfoot trailers have always been electric.
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Old 08-24-2006, 02:58 PM   #5
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I have a 1985 Bigfoot 17' and it has electric brakes. Surge brakes do not operate in reverse and as your vehicle brakes have very limited effect in reverse it can create problems with a relatively heavy trailer. In the province of B.C. and many other jurisdictions in North America, surge brakes are outlawed on new trailers.
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Old 08-24-2006, 02:59 PM   #6
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Thanks for the responses. My assumption would be that the Bigfoots would have electric, not surge, just thought I would ask.
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Old 08-24-2006, 05:31 PM   #7
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...In the province of B.C. and many other jurisdictions in North America, surge brakes are outlawed on new trailers.
That's interesting information. Tabs are sold in BC with (cable-actuated) surge brakes, which seems like a conflict with the law. Sam, do you know which law (presumably a provincial regulation) this is?

I suspect that this may be a reference to the B.C. requirement (which I have seen quoted on various web sites) for trailer brakes which can be controlled by the driver - and thus not surge brakes - on trailers over 2800 kg (6173 lb). It would be nice to know the specific requirement, especially for anyone considering one of the European fiberglass trailers with surge brakes.
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Old 08-24-2006, 06:12 PM   #8
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I would hate to see boat trailers with electric brakes...

*zap*
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Old 08-24-2006, 07:29 PM   #9
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I would hate to see boat trailers with electric brakes...

*zap*
I'm not sure I see any difference between electric brakes and electric tail, brake, and turn signal lights, all have to be water proof. Even the brakes on a red and white Burro I'm sure are water proof. Otherwise, hydroplaning Burro, apply brakes, *zap*, no more brakes. ....Shudder.....
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Old 08-24-2006, 07:44 PM   #10
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That's Gina's point, Byron. Lights on boat trailers are a nightmare to maintain. They're always corroded and don't work. Submerging the electric components of electric brakes such as occurs regularly on boat trailers wouldn't make for very happy nor long-term braking. Surge breaks, OTOH, while a less desireable braking system, generally work for years and with reasonable maintenane are fairly impervious to water damage to the actuation system.

The electric brakes on our trailers are reasonably water-resistent, but they still wouldn't do well being submerged.

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Old 08-24-2006, 08:29 PM   #11
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The electric brakes on our trailers are reasonably water-resistent, but they still wouldn't do well being submerged.
Roger
I haven't looked at magnets, but I would imagine they'd pretty well sealed. I know the kind of testing required for most automotive and truck components go through. They're usually sprayed with a salt water solution. If anything will get through the seals that stuff will. It'll also prove it's penetrated the seals by eating up the insides. Therefore I think it's a perception issue rather than a real life issue. However it might as well be real since the perception persists. Lots of things in this old world are like that. Not a biggy as far as I'm concerned.
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Old 08-24-2006, 09:29 PM   #12
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and perception vs. real world experience is another.

Altho I have personally never owned a boat, I am fortunate enough to have been around them and have many friends that do and I enjoy thier boats as much as they do.

I used to go with friends very near where Byron lives several times a month after work (Because in Oregon, you CAN )

As a "fee" for your enjoyment on thier dollar, if you are a nice guy, you learn to show up early and stay late, helping them launch, take out (and CLEAN!)

One thing I have picked up from everyone from being the nice guy is that no, you won't kill fish with an electrical shock from submerging electric brakes, but, yes, electric boat trailers brakes do not live long, especially in salt water. For what technical reason, I do not know, but my Dad dumped a trailer that did (It lived one summer and died) and so did one other friend.

I would imagine there is a difference in exposure from having road water splash up on the components vs. total submersion for several minutes, or longer, but I will have to defer to Byrons industry knowledge on that.

Anyway, My point actually was..

since MOST boat trailers are surge brakes (For whatever reason you may believe, it's still the reality that they are) that it would be hard to make a law against them without having some uproar from the boating community.
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Old 08-24-2006, 09:41 PM   #13
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I scrapped a 1974 Starcraft Galaxy pop up, and it was equipped with a hydraulic surge brake system....also a rental car trailer that I rented for a while had surge brakes....I suppose that many rental trailers of that type would have surge brakes for convenience as not every tow vehicle has an electric controller.....I found them to work well .....Benny
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Old 08-24-2006, 09:49 PM   #14
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I have towed other peoples trailers (Yeah, get a hitch on your car and all of a sudden everyones ignored trailers need to be moved.. ) and boat trailers with surge brakes.

I didn't have an issue with how they function, and the reverse thing is no big deal as long as you are reversing on the flat.

If the Burro had surge brakes, I would be fine with it. I just won't back down any hills
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Old 08-24-2006, 09:57 PM   #15
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About 10 years ago the local Air Force base rented 16' Casitas that had surge brakes. I'm sure they were sold as surplus and some may still be on the road. So you may see a Casita with a master cylinder and brake fluid reservoir on top of the tongue.
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Old 08-24-2006, 10:59 PM   #16
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I would greatly prefer a boat trailer with surge brakes over electric brakes -- Typically the electric brake installation has a splice within inches of the brakes (due to the short pigtail on the magnets) that would have to be waterproofed -- I doubt that corrosion on the inner face of the drum hubs where the magnets slide would do the system any good.

Surge brakes have some advantages, especially if one intends to pull the trailer with several vehicles because no brake controller or its wiring is required on the tow vehicle -- A Flat-4 connector for lights is all that's required -- Also, many have a parking brake feature.

The obvious disadvantage is that the driver can't activate the brakes separately from the tow vehicle, plus they don't work in reverse.

I don't know how one adjusts the surge brakes for the desired braking effect, or even if it's possible.

Regarding surge brakes in B.C., here are a couple of links stating they are OK up to a certain weight limit (in fact one says they MUST be used up to that limit, but I believe they meant 'may'), about 6,000 lbs -- I suspect the supposed prohibition against surge brakes comes from the folks towing weighty Bulgemobile 5W/TTs -- BTW, the law seems to want the big trailers to be capable of having the brakes applied independently by the driver:

http://www.rversonline.org/ArtFAQ10.html

http://www.britishcolumbia.com/infor...tails.asp?id=6

Here's a quote from a Jan 2003 post to a Fishing Group:

QUOTE
Any one else heard about the law in BC that surge brakes are not legal on trailers rated for more than 2800kg (6160lbs). I sent the enclosed e-mail to the RCMP on Vancouver Island, and received the attached reply. I am now looking at some sort of electrical/hydraulic system that can be actuated from the cab like electric trailer brakes. Anyone using these?


> Dear Sir,
> I heard that boat trailers registered in the United States, and equipped with
> surge brakes, are no longer allowed to enter Canada. Is this true?
> Thank you,
> Mitch Carroll
>
Mr. Carroll:

You have been mis-informed. Surge brakes are allowed here in British Columbia
until the trailer and it's load weigh more than 2,800 kg. (lbs = kg x 2.2) At
that point, a braking system is required for the trailer that will allow the
trailer brakes to be applied separately from the tow vehicle brakes by the
driver. A surge brake does not meet this criteria and cannot be used for
heavier loads.

Hope this helps.

Tim

--
Constable Tim Schewe
Webmaster
Vancouver Island Traffic Services
Parksville, B.C.
END QUOTE

I strongly suspect that all state and provincial restrictions on surge brakes have to do with heavy loads and perhaps commercial vehicles.
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Old 08-25-2006, 05:53 AM   #17
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Surge brakes have some advantages.........
The international perspective again: all European travel trailers use mechanical surge brakes - the same cable-operated drum brake technology used on cars in the 1930s!

I have learnt from this site and others that electric trailer brakes may be desirable and are probably superior to surge brakes. However the endless correspondence about brakes and controllers suggest to me that there are a lot of folks driving around without trailer brakes and maybe as many with inoperative or unadjusted trailer brakes and/or controllers.

So I've learnt that the huge advantage of mechancial surge brakes is that they work themselves (at least until lack of maintenance stops them working well) - no driver input, purchase or understanding is required!

Quote:
I don't know how one adjusts the surge brakes for the desired braking effect, or even if it's possible.
Surge brakes are, by their nature, self-adjusting - if the trailer tries to go faster than the tow vehicle, it increases the load on the brakes until the trailer is in balance with the tow vehicle.

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Old 08-25-2006, 07:10 AM   #18
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...the endless correspondence about brakes and controllers suggest to me that there are a lot of folks driving around without trailer brakes and maybe as many with inoperative or unadjusted trailer brakes and/or controllers.

Andrew
Byron, corrosion is the bane of electrical connections. Regardless of how well they're sealed, auto-style electrical connections that get submerged eventually corrode. That's a truism for boat trailer owners. Electrical connections get submerged on boat trailers regularly. Many are submerged in salt water regularly. Common sense tells us to rinse our boat trailers thoroughly with fresh water after every trip, and check our electrics regularly. It's called routine maintenance, but have you ever watched at a marina to see how often that's actually done by Joe Average boat owner?

Even surge brakes corrode inside the drums, but it takes them longer to stop working. The rust has to actually prevent the shoes from moving. On electric brakes, once a connection anywhere in the system corrodes enough for the resistance to be high enough to stop current, from the perspective of having trailer brakes, your brakes are done regardless of the condition of the drums, shoes, or magnets.

Andrew, I think that the sole advantage of electric brakes over hydraulics in an RV application is that they can be applied from the drivers' seat as the driver chooses, and prior to the tow vehicle's brakes being applied. As far as their stopping ability, I haven't seen much difference between them over the years. Both will stop the trailer.

There's the old saw "ignorance is bliss" that I'm sure covers many of them. There are many inaccurate assumptions, misinformation, and a lot of "Kentucky windage" assessments of trailer equipment needs out there by average folks who don't tow often or far. Fortunately, most folks "get away with it" most of the time. No one among us can guarantee that if you do something or fail to do something, it will result in a crash every time. We all know that's just not the case, but unfortunately some folks take that as validation that certain equipment and/or towing procedures are unnecessary, as proven by the fact that they've done it, or know someone who did it and had no problems at all, so it must be OK.

The type of brakes and their functionality for the towed load (as well as sway control, weight distribution, load distribution, suspension tuning, and appropriate tire pressures) isn't a huge issue until some unanticipated crisis occurs at highway speeds. THAT's when all of the extra 'stuff' that some of us insist on doing and/or having pays off.

Roger
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Old 08-25-2006, 01:05 PM   #19
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Great discussion on surge brakes!

Just by coincidence, I was looking at eBay ads (related to the current scam topic), and stumbled across a U-Haul with surge brakes. Here's the eBay listing link, but if you have limited network speed beware that this listing has 48 images, totalling 3.4 MB: 1986 U-Haul 16 Camper Travel Trailer Burro Casita Scamp (Item number: 230022333248).


Click image for larger version

Name:	UHaul16_surgeBrakes_472x360_80.jpg
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ID:	4678


I think this is consistent with the philosophy of using surge brakes to minimize tow vehicle requirements in a rental situation.

There are also a number of U-Haul features and quirks of this particular trailer which those interested in U-Hauls might want to look at, but they're outside the scope of the current topic.
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Old 08-25-2006, 01:38 PM   #20
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Byron, corrosion is the bane of electrical connections. Regardless of how well they're sealed, auto-style electrical connections that get submerged eventually corrode.
Roger
I'm going to have to disagree with you a bit here. In modern automobiles the "electric" fuel pump in submerged in the gas tank. My well pump is submerged in the well. Fountain pumps are submerged. There are lights submerged in swimming pools. The list goes on and on. We ran some tests on "auto-style" connectors, submerged in salt water. Lots of salt cyrstals formed on the outside of the connectors, but the connectors worked for over 2 years of submersion. As I stated earlier it's not a real issue, but a perception issue.
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