Adding brakes? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 10-09-2007, 10:57 AM   #1
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I have a deal on buying the Compact II I have been looking for. Does anyone know if it is possible to install brakes on one? I plan to take it to an RV place to do it ... I don't have enough skills to do something that essential myself.
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Old 10-09-2007, 02:49 PM   #2
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Since all the trailer manufacturers use commonly available axles from one of a very small group of suppliers, the answer to this common question is just about the same regardless of trailer make or model.

Most trailers with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating under 2000 lb didn't come with brakes, and they can't be added without replacing the main part of the axle; the most practical choice is to replace the whole axle with one that has brakes included.

Some have the place that the brake parts will bolt to, but so many parts need to be changed to accommodate the brakes, that again replacing the whole axle may be the least expensive and most sensible option.

Fortunately, complete axle replacement may not be necessary, and even if it is needed the job is routine.

Someone who is familiar specifically with the Compact II chassis can fill in which type and brand of axle is used, and whether or not it likely has brake mounting flanges... then a more specific answer can be given.
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Old 10-09-2007, 06:11 PM   #3
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You can perhaps eyeball the presence or absence of the brake mounting flange that Brian referred to by looking a few inches behind the wheel for a square of steel welded around the parts with four holes at the corners. Many of the camper builders routinely ordered all the axles with flanges for a number of reasons.
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Old 10-12-2007, 04:05 PM   #4
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Since all the trailer manufacturers use commonly available axles from one of a very small group of suppliers, the answer to this common question is just about the same regardless of trailer make or model.

Most trailers with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating under 2000 lb didn't come with brakes, and they can't be added without replacing the main part of the axle; the most practical choice is to replace the whole axle with one that has brakes included.

Some have the place that the brake parts will bolt to, but so many parts need to be changed to accommodate the brakes, that again replacing the whole axle may be the least expensive and most sensible option.

Fortunately, complete axle replacement may not be necessary, and even if it is needed the job is routine.

Someone who is familiar specifically with the Compact II chassis can fill in which type and brand of axle is used, and whether or not it likely has brake mounting flanges... then a more specific answer can be given.

You seem to know a lot about this. Could you tell me which is the best way to go ---- electic brakes or surge brakes? Weight of the Compact II I am going for is 1200 on the title. Which would be less expensive to install?
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Old 10-12-2007, 08:00 PM   #5
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In small trailers - anything less than a few tons - almost all trailer brakes in North America are electrically operated... except for two categories:
  • boat trailers, which use surge-activated hydraulic brakes because they handle getting wet better
  • rental trailers, which use surge brakes to avoid the need for a controller in the tow vehicle
An all-mechanical surge brake system - run by cables and called and "overrun" system - is normal in European travel trailers, but probably not a practical option here, except for the T@B, which comes with this system as standard equipment. I assume that people here mean a hydraulic system when they refer to "surge brakes".

Electric brakes are used because they are cheaper, because they work with weight-distributing hitch systems, and because they can be activated by the driver at will.

I believe that the surge system has some advantages as well, such as automatic proportioning to load changes, but it's certainly not a popular choice. Among our "eggs", only the ex-rental U-Haul VT (the 16' Vacation Trailer, not the 13' Camper Trailer) normally has surge brakes as far as I know.

One oddball combination: disk brakes are only commercially available in hydraulic form, and it's cheaper to run them with a surge coupler than the electric-to-hydraulic converter which is needed to run them from an electric controller. Disk brakes are rarely used on small trailers, although they are becoming more common on large trailers (such as six ton fifth-wheels).

So which is better? I think maybe surge brakes, but it's not likely to be worth the price difference to many people with small travel trailers.
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Old 10-20-2007, 07:24 PM   #6
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I actually don't know much about the performance differences between the standard electric brakes and the surge brakes, but I would presume that both perform well if the controller or surge mechanism is properly set up.

I suppose hydraulic surge brakes would be nice, but $$.

Electrical surge brakes are common on boat trailers, but may actually be illegal in some states
due to poorly worded laws regarding the need for in-the-cab brake controls for commercial trucking.

http://www.boatus.com/trailerclub/up...tricbrakes.asp

I didn't bother to get UHaul's take on this

Personally, I would continue with electric brakes with in-vehicle controller, rather than surge. Controllers have come a long way and allow lots of adjustment, whereas the surge stuf is relatively fixed. I can put on the brakes with my finger with a controller but that's not possible with surge. This can be especially important if one is changing often from city to highway driving or varying the weight of the trailer.

Also, the surge brakes require a working battery on the trailer for basic operation (both kinds need a working battery on the trailer for break-away brake operation).

Finally, the surge mechanism is outside in the weather, whereas my controller is inside.

That said, however, if I bought a used trailer with surge brakes installed, I would be unlikely to change them.

One advantage that surge brakes have, which is a reason that UHaul uses them, is that the tow vehicle needs nothing beyond its own brakes to activate the basic trailer brakes.
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Old 10-22-2007, 10:24 AM   #7
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...Also, the surge brakes require a working battery on the trailer for basic operation (both kinds need a working battery on the trailer for break-away brake operation).
Just for clarity... this applies only to electrically operated brakes (of any variation), not the much more common hydraulically operated surge brakes (like U-Haul and typical boat trailers), or the Euro-style cable-operated surge brakes. Although an electric controller just like the ones used in the tow vehicle can be mounted on the trailer (and I think they are not a good idea unless there's some remote way to adjust them), and I understand how a surge-activated electric brake controller could be built, I have never heard of one being available.

Cable and hydraulic surge brakes routinely have breakaway systems which are mechanically activated by the trailer pulling away from the tug, and involve no battery (or any electricity at all).
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Old 10-22-2007, 10:28 AM   #8
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...Controllers have come a long way and allow lots of adjustment, whereas the surge stuf is relatively fixed. I can put on the brakes with my finger with a controller but that's not possible with surge. This can be especially important if one is changing often from city to highway driving or varying the weight of the trailer.
One inherent advantage of surge-activated brakes is they are triggered by the force of the tug holding the trailer back during braking, which is naturally related to the mass of the the trailer. If you quadruple the weight of the trailer (not an abnormal thing for a cargo trailer, from empty to fully loaded), that force and the resulting braking will also be quadrupled for the same deceleration: they are self-adjusting to load, reducing the need for driver-accessible controls.

I agree with Pete that the "tuning" of a surge brake system is something that is set at the design stage (in the choice of braking system components and linkage design), so it needs to be done right them, because it can't just be tuned later.
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Old 10-22-2007, 10:31 AM   #9
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...surge brakes are common on boat trailers, but may actually be illegal in some states due to poorly worded laws regarding the need for in-the-cab brake controls for commercial trucking.
I can believe some laws present a problem for perfectly sound brake configurations. Here in Alberta there's no issue, but in adjacent British Columbia the rule requires that the driver be able to apply the trailer brakes if the trailer is over a set weight, which is beyond the weight of any our "eggs" (except the larger Bigfoot models), so it's not a problem. If I were concerned about this for a particular jurisdiction, I would check for a weight threshold.
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Old 10-23-2007, 07:36 PM   #10
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Brian, I read the boat trailer brakes site too fast; they were mixing electric with hydraulic and I mistakenly thought that electrical surge brakes had become common (haven't had a boat trailer for some years now).

The boaters, of course, prefer the hydraulic brakes for less corrosion damage to the connections, but of course both kinds are susceptible when it come to the brake parts. As you point out, the hydraulic surge brake break-away action is mechanical, so no battery is needed.

As to the legal stuf, apparently in 2002 at least one state, Maryland, had the brake controller in the cab requirement **without** specifying a lower weight limit, so it applied to private as well as commercial trailers. Apparently, surge brake users and manufacturers were putting pressure on the state to correct that, but I don't know the results.

One other drawback to surge brakes that I did stumble across is that they may be on during a downhill tow where the trailer is pushing on the tow vehicle, esp during engine braking. This would present drag and may possibly lead to hydraulic brake fading due to overheating.

All said, for a travel trailer I would prefer brakes with control in the cab over surge brakes, be they electric, hydraulic or photon-beam systems
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Old 10-23-2007, 09:26 PM   #11
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I plan to take it to an RV place to do it ... I don't have enough skills to do something that essential myself.
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Could you tell me which is the best way to go ---- electic brakes or surge brakes? ... Which would be less expensive to install?
I wonder if an RV place would even offer surge brakes.
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Old 10-24-2007, 06:14 PM   #12
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I wonder if an RV place would even offer surge brakes.
Good point. I suspect that most would insist that such a system does not exist, because it's not what they have seen before. In case it's not apparent, I've become a little cynical about RV service businesses.

I think that a better type of business for chassis work on trailers is a trailer shop... it doesn't matter whether it's a travel trailer coach, a cargo box, or a boat sitting on top, they're all trailers and there are businesses which do nothing but build and repair them. If the choice is surge brakes (which is unlikely), then the trailer guys will be familiar with them from cargo (especially rental) and boat setups.
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Old 10-24-2007, 06:24 PM   #13
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One other drawback to surge brakes that I did stumble across is that they may be on during a downhill tow where the trailer is pushing on the tow vehicle, esp during engine braking. This would present drag and may possibly lead to hydraulic brake fading due to overheating.
Yes, this is an interesting difference.
  • If you maintain speed downhill by any kind of braking (downshifting for engine braking, or just pushing the pedal to apply the brakes), the tug is holding back the trailer, and surge brakes will be engaged proportional to the holding back force.
  • If you maintain speed downhill by using the tug's brakes with a pedal activated (Jordan) or brake pressure activated (Ford/GM OEM systems) electric brake controller, the trailer's brake will be engaged in proportion to tug braking effort.
  • If you maintain speed downhill by any method with an acceleration activated (common modern proportional type) electric brake controller, the trailer's brakes will not be engaged, since there is no change in speed.
  • If you maintain speed downhill by using the tug's brakes with a crude (timer based) electric brake controller, the trailer's brakes will be engaged at full braking force after a short delay.
I think that if the trailer brakes are as capable (relative to the vehicle weight) as the tug's brakes, then the systems which engage them in a proportional way are fine. If the trailer brakes are crude and easily overheated (as they likely are), then maybe this is a bad thing. Crude electric controllers are just bad, any way I look at them.
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Old 10-24-2007, 06:40 PM   #14
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If you maintain speed downhill by any method with an acceleration activated (common modern proportional type) electric brake controller, the trailer's brakes will not be engaged, since there is no change in speed.
In the mountains around here you would never ride your brakes all the way down. If you attempted it you wouldn't have any brakes when you got to the bottom, if you survived until you got to the bottom.

With the Prodigy I've noticed when ever braking going down hill there is trailer braking power applied.

With engine braking going down hill the trailer brakes are not applied, and boy am I glad of that. If there were applied they wouldn't last very long around here.
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