Do I really need a brake controller? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 08-07-2011, 04:11 PM   #1
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Name: Roger
Trailer: 1979 Trillium Jubilee
New York
Posts: 33
Do I really need a brake controller?

I just bought this Trullium Jubillee. Brought it home from the point of sale with my Jeep. No brake controller, as I didn't even know it had brakes. The trip home was about 35 miles, and involved expressway travel at about 60 MPH. No issues whatsoever.

So now, after doing some reading, I discover it has brakes on it. And that I need some sort of controller for them. And that they are possibly powered by the internal battery? Correct me if I got this part wrong.

So, onto the questions:

#1, do I need the internal battery for the brakes? The place we do most of our camping has shore power, and I just planned on hooking up to that, and not getting a battery for now. Obviously if I need a battery, I'll have to break out the credit card.

#2 What kind of controller to get - inertial, time delay, other? What are the advantages of each type?

#3 Brands of controllers to get? Ones to avoid? Just go out and get whatever is cheapest? Is there any major difference between a $50 and a $125 unit?

If there is a thread on all this already, just point the way and I'll read that. But my search hasn't revealed much general info. Any help appreciated for this "trailer newbie".
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Old 08-07-2011, 05:26 PM   #2
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Roger, I'll leave all the technical stuff to the technical group, but my opinion is you have brakes on the trailer... hook them up. For me, it's a maintenance issue. You are pulling and stopping a ton of weight behind the tug, it's going to wear out your tug brakes much, much faster and trust me... tug brake are ALOT more expensive to replace than trailer brakes. Call me cheap... I have a Tekonsha Prodigy P2 brake controller. It's easy to use and works exactly as designed.
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Old 08-07-2011, 05:36 PM   #3
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Depends on your state's dmv rules. I think if it weighs more than a 1,000# you will have to get inspection and that probably means the brakes have to work and that means you will need a brake controller.
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Old 08-07-2011, 06:00 PM   #4
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Trailer brake controllers are really worthwhile. They allow you to activate the brakes without stepping on the tow vehicle's brakes. Useful if your trailer ever sways. Also the trailer brakes are definitely valuable on the inevitable steep downhill section.

In my mind if your trailer has brakes, a brake controller is a smart investment.

Norm
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Old 08-07-2011, 06:41 PM   #5
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Here in Virginia, if it has brakes it requires an annual inspection regardless of the weight.

If you want to stop in a panic situation, you need the controller.
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Old 08-07-2011, 07:04 PM   #6
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Absolutely, trailer brakes are worthwhile. A trailer battery should not be needed for trailer brakes; a batt would be needed if you had a breakaway switch, but that's a different animal. Best to get a controller that does not need to be mounted in any particular position, and if you want to sometimes remove it you can ask the shop to wire it up with a connector plug (like the 4-pin connectors used for brakeless trailers) under the dash... mine is like that. Many folks speak highly of the Tekonsha Prodigy, so they must be good.

Sure, you could get by without trailer brakes. But why just get by when you have such a great safety feature already installed on the trailer?
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Old 08-07-2011, 08:12 PM   #7
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Name: Roger
Trailer: 1979 Trillium Jubilee
New York
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Okay, I've done some searching. The Tekonsha Prodigy is about 1.5 to 2 times the price of the cheapest ones. Why is it considered so good - what makes it better than the cheap Reese ones?
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Old 08-07-2011, 11:53 PM   #8
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Name: Michael
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I've read owner's comments that it stops the trailer more smoothly, without jerking uncomfortably against the tow vehicle, compared to many others. It's been a while since I familiarized myself with brake controller build/performance differences, so I poked around a bit and found this helpful web page:
BrakeControllerSelection

One type is the time-delay controller. I have one now, a Drawtite Activator II. The local trailer supply/repair place sold it to me when I didn't know anything about controllers. It works ok but is jerky; when it kicks in the trailer pulls back noticeably on the tow vehicle. I can adjust the brake pressure lower to eliminate the jerk, but then it's not applying enough brake on the trailer to do justice. The time delay is adjustable and this helps some, but what if one gets into a panic stop situation? One would want full braking immediately, but those trailer brakes won't kick in for a second or two because adjusting them that way would cause a jerk.

The alternative is the proportional controller. The Prodigy P2 is one such, and it sells online for about $100-$120. These controllers gauge the amount of braking the driver is applying to the tow vehicle, and apply the trailer brakes in (more or less) a similar amount. It's supposed to feel much smoother. Depending on how long or often you tow, or how sensitive your 'significant other' is to the jerking motions, it may or may not be worth the extra money for the comfort level. In an emergency stop, though the proportional unit is an added measure of safety and will brake fully when YOU brake fully. (But for us who tow small trailers, this issue is somewhat minimized... which is probably why I haven't gotten around to replacing mine yet.)

Another great place to read up is rv.net posts on the subject. Here's a good thread:
RV.Net Open Roads Forum: Towing: More brake controller questions... argh
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Old 08-08-2011, 12:32 AM   #9
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I have a prodigy on my pickup and like it. There is one other type that might be better if you are towing much bigger trailers. I have used it with my brothers flatbed and considered it a step up from my old "cheap" controller. You should Google it.
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Old 08-08-2011, 04:49 AM   #10
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Name: Roger
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Mike, thanks for the links. Exactly what I was looking for.
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Old 08-08-2011, 01:39 PM   #11
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I would also definitely recommend the Prodigy. It costs more, because it is more. But, to my mind, it is well worth the difference. The entire user experience is smoother and more controlled.

With the cheap brake controllers (Towmaster, etc), the trailer brakes are either on or off, to whatever strength you have the controller set. If you set it high enough for high-speed braking on pavement, it can lock up the wheels at low speeds or on wet pavement or gravel. If you set it to not lock up at low speeds or wet pavement, it likely won't do you any good in an emergency. So, to use it properly, you have to re-adjust it before, during and after any trip.

The Prodigy can pretty much be just set to work with the weight of trailer you are towing. If you apply the brakes lightly, so does the Prodigy. If you slam on the brakes, so does the Prodigy. It can be installed in almost any place and any position.

In my experience, the differences between the two are more pronounced with lighter trailers and tow vehicles. A light tow vehicle can really notice the effects of a trailer.

It can be tough shelling out the extra money for the Prodigy, but you will never regret it. If you don't get a Prodigy, you will always wish you had every time the cheaper controller yanks you around. In any case, and whatever you choose, please do hook up the trailer brakes. You will be doing everybody on the highway near you a favor.
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Old 08-08-2011, 04:13 PM   #12
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There is one good point about the time based units, they can be located anywhere. Mine sits upright between the seat and console. If there is no good place (beneath the dashboard, etc) to mount a controller, this can be an advantage. I forgot to mention this earlier.
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Old 08-08-2011, 05:00 PM   #13
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The Tekonsha P-3 can be mounted straight up and down, but its not exactly cheap...

Tekonsha P-3 Trailer Brake Controller - Proportional Tekonsha Brake Controller 90195
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Old 08-08-2011, 05:14 PM   #14
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Trailer: 72 Boler American
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If my trailer had brakes i would add the controller.
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