Surge brakes or electric brakes? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 07-04-2019, 07:53 PM   #1
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Surge brakes or electric brakes?

I recently purchased a Hymer Touring GT. One of the unusual things about the Hymer is that they originally came with surge brakes rather than electric. Does anyone have experience with surge brakes?

https://www.felling.com/benefits-of-...ectric-brakes/
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Old 07-04-2019, 08:08 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Steve Hammel View Post
I recently purchased a Hymer Touring GT. One of the unusual things about the Hymer is that they originally came with surge brakes rather than electric. Does anyone have experience with surge brakes?

https://www.felling.com/benefits-of-...ectric-brakes/
that article misses a biggun... you can't manually activate surge brakes in an emergency situation. I've had my trailer come unhitched (EEEEEK!), and had to stop with it swinging wildly on the safety chains, engaging the electric brakes let me easily and safely come to a stop without the trailer ramming repeatedly into the back of my tow vehicle.
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Old 07-04-2019, 08:26 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by John in Santa Cruz View Post
that article misses a biggun... you can't manually activate surge brakes in an emergency situation. I've had my trailer come unhitched (EEEEEK!), and had to stop with it swinging wildly on the safety chains, engaging the electric brakes let me easily and safely come to a stop without the trailer ramming repeatedly into the back of my tow vehicle.
That is covered near the bottom. A single sentence under "How Hydraulic Surge Brakes Work" is dedicated to this major downside.
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Old 07-04-2019, 08:27 PM   #4
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So far, I have successfully resisted any impulse to back my trailer, with electric brakes, down a boat ramp.
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Old 07-04-2019, 09:43 PM   #5
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Being able to apply the brakes independently of the TV brakes is a huge safety bonus. That's how you stop an out of control sway. And, the brakes will apply if you get disconnected. But the simplicity of surge brakes is appealing.
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Old 07-04-2019, 09:52 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Glenn Baglo View Post
So far, I have successfully resisted any impulse to back my trailer, with electric brakes, down a boat ramp.
i learned the hard way, you should unplug the boat trailer lights before backing a boat into salt water. I had to replace all the fixtures and wiring on that hobie 16 trailer after that, so I used marine grade sealed LED lights, and I soldered all the connections, used liquid electrical tape under shrink-wrap (goo on the liquid 'tape', then slide the shrink wrap over the goo and heatshrink the tubing before the tape goo sets...). hobie 16's are light enough that no brakes are used or required (IIRC, its a 600 lb boat, and the trailer only weighs a couple 100 lbs, so well under the 1000 lb brakes-required-in-some-states limit).

the surge brakes I've seen on larger boat trailers had a breakaway wire that pulled a lever that engages the brakes via a spring on the master cylinder. a former neighbor had an enormous cabin cruiser he was hauling behind a Chevy C 1500, grossly overweight and oversize for that tug. he almost lost that whole rig on a boat ramp due to having stupid low profile sporty tires and no 4WD, the boat pulled the rig, trailer and all back into the water when he hit the slippery zone, but thankfully stopped when the boat floated, and someone got a snatch cable on his truck and pulled him back up with their 2500 4x4... He got rid of the boat and truck a few weeks later, hah hah. that dude was a idiot, kept all us neighbors entertained with his stream of near disasters and his revolving suite of bimbo girlfriends.
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Old 07-04-2019, 10:26 PM   #7
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I've towed a car on a tow dolly with surge brakes. While I do see the advantages of electric brakes, surge brakes do work. Mine had an emergency cable that would engage the brakes in case of separation. It also had a lever that would let you disengage for backing, not that I ever used it.

BTW: I've also made the mistake of leaving the boat trailer lights plugged in while loading. Had to buy some bulbs before I could take it back to the camp site.
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Old 07-05-2019, 12:03 AM   #8
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BTW: I've also made the mistake of leaving the boat trailer lights plugged in while loading. Had to buy some bulbs before I could take it back to the camp site.
in my case, the light fixtures were severely corroded, as were the kinda ancient crimp splices. I took that opportunity to completely rewire the boat using marine grade wiring, and waterproof LED light assemblies, and soldered the joints with shrinkwrap-over-sealant. hobie trailers are long and wide, so you need a fair bit of wire, even if they don't *weigh* much.


(increasingly off topic...)

I think that Hobie trailer was one of the first trailers I hauled more than once or twice, and got really good at maneuvering with it. I practiced backing it up, and got so I could do a reverse figure 8 around two cones. or back it neatly right into a parking space. was towing the hobie with my wife's old volvo 240 sedan, which had like a 30 foot turning circle, and was a RWD live axle vehicle, with a 2.3L 4 banger non-turbo, I think the car had a 30 or 32 foot turning circle. class II hitch rated to tow 3500 lbs (mostly limited by the stock rear spring rating, and the low horsepower motor, I think the chassis of that car could have handled a fair bit more with airbags or stiffer springs). that car had a half million miles on it when it was taken to the great car graveyard in the sky (still ran great, but the interior got all moldy when my then-college daughter couldn't deal with getting it sorted and was living in the PNW rain forest of Arcata, California (Humboldt County, just north of Eureka and even wetter). When the car got really wet, the engine electrics got unreliable, and since I was 500 miles away, I couldn't help much. We got our moneys worth on that 1987 white Volvo 240GL bought new for $19000 cash.

(July 2007, when I used the 240 as my daily driver for a couple years, and sorted it out after some neglect at around 300k miles)


(Sept 2013, my daughter leaves for Humboldt State U aka CSU Arcata)


(back sorta on topic of fiberglass trailers and towing)

its a fair bit harder to maneuver my F250 longbed diesel (62 foot turning circle) with the escape 21, but I'm getting better at it. I have a pretty gnarly umpteen point U turn maneuver I need to do in my driveway to get it back where we're parking the Escape, I only have about a 50 foot sorta-triangle to maneuver in so I can't do a full 360, and the combined rig is 42 feet long.

but hey, I have room for my trailer, our two older Mercedes, the F250, and a rotting 1965 F100, and plenty of guest parking when needed. thats way more than most folks that live in towns or near-town suburbia.

the back of my lot could probably hold a 20 site RV park, hah! but its all unimproved weeds-n-oaks.
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Old 07-05-2019, 12:34 PM   #9
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I've had two vehicles with surge brakes and have never considered going to Electric. There is a breakwaway cable which will activate the brake if the trailer disengages.

I might have a different opinion if I had a really large trailer but for most FBs, the surge is fine. I can feel it engage when I slow down or stop and it's very mechanical and uncomplicated. I like that.
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Old 07-05-2019, 01:29 PM   #10
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Coming at this from the other direction (many years of towing trailer with surge brakes in Europe) I would only add this:

I miss not having a "hand-brake" with the electrical systems.

Everything else works the same with the notable exception of not being able to manually operate the trailer bakes.
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Old 07-06-2019, 07:32 PM   #11
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Captain trailer surge brakes

We had Captain trailer from Poland (Predom Prespol) which had the brakes taken off when we bought it. The owner saved all the pieces so they were reinstalled. They worked fine except when backing up because they would then activate. Solved that problem by inserting a chunk of plastic pipe on the cylinder to prevent movement.

The Captain only weighs about 1700 pounds so stopping wasn't ever a problem. (No bathroom or wastewater tanks and the freshwater tank is only about 2 gallons). I am told the brakes would activate if the trailer disconnected from the tow vehicle.

PS. The Captain has a new owner so I can't go look at anything.
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Old 07-07-2019, 06:59 AM   #12
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Does your tow vehicle have electric brakes….No, why not???

If you have weight behind you and need to stop, you have serious stopping power with hydraulic surge brakes. They have the same master cylinder, brakes lines, brake shoes and drums or disks as any motor vehicle on the road.

No control unit or wiring connections to install and sensitivity and side-to-side adjustments to mess with. In an emergency, no need to worry about the magnets being strong enough or hope the wires and connections haven’t corroded or a wire broken off! Just hook up and you have reliable stopping power. U-haul has been using them on their vehicle hauling and larger trailers for decades. If you feel a need for a manually increase the braking power in the event of a swaying trailer, you have a more serious problem with weight distribution, not with the brakes.

There are electric brakes on smaller, lighter trailers because they are cheaper and easier for manufacturers to install and are adequate for the load.

I recently hauled a Ford 8N tractor and other loads with implements with my Toyota pickup from Denver to my river property in Colorado. They are the only type of brakes I want on the trailer when having to cross four mountain passes and descending Crow Hill, a 10% grade for 2 miles, that still required putting it in low gear to stay off the brakes and let it crawl down slowly.

Electric brakes … .yaaa, maybe on the RV portable tote!
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:29 AM   #13
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During an out-of-control sway event, one doesn't have the luxury of adjusting the weight distribution to get out of it. The only thing that matters at that moment, is getting it to stop swaying before you crash. Electric brakes do exactly that with the touch of one button in the cab.

It's also nice to be able to infinitely adjust how aggressive the brakes are. For instance, while in different traction conditions. Electric brakes are completely adjustable, from the cab.

A minor bonus is being able to back up without getting out to lock out the surge mechanism.

I never wait until there is an emergency, to worry about the magnets, or the wires. Every time I hook up and begin to pull away, I test them. Easy. By the time an emergency shows up, it has been clear for a long time that they are in perfect working condition.

Surge brakes are good for boat trailers, and trailers that get rented out. But for my travel trailer, and my utility trailers, I want electric brakes. If I happen to make a mistake when loading my tractor, and I don't have proper weight distribution, I don't want to pay for it by having my machine upside down on the highway, when the touch of one button could have saved it and allowed me to stop and correct the problem.
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Old 07-07-2019, 11:01 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Scamper Jim View Post
Does your tow vehicle have electric brakes….No, why not???

If you have weight behind you and need to stop, you have serious stopping power with hydraulic surge brakes. They have the same master cylinder, brakes lines, brake shoes and drums or disks as any motor vehicle on the road.

No control unit or wiring connections to install and sensitivity and side-to-side adjustments to mess with. In an emergency, no need to worry about the magnets being strong enough or hope the wires and connections haven’t corroded or a wire broken off! Just hook up and you have reliable stopping power. U-haul has been using them on their vehicle hauling and larger trailers for decades. If you feel a need for a manually increase the braking power in the event of a swaying trailer, you have a more serious problem with weight distribution, not with the brakes.

There are electric brakes on smaller, lighter trailers because they are cheaper and easier for manufacturers to install and are adequate for the load.

I recently hauled a Ford 8N tractor and other loads with implements with my Toyota pickup from Denver to my river property in Colorado. They are the only type of brakes I want on the trailer when having to cross four mountain passes and descending Crow Hill, a 10% grade for 2 miles, that still required putting it in low gear to stay off the brakes and let it crawl down slowly.

Electric brakes … .yaaa, maybe on the RV portable tote!
A long descending grade with surge brakes brings up a question.
How would you prevent overheating the trailer brakes and fading them to nothing?
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Old 07-07-2019, 11:37 AM   #15
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A long descending grade with surge brakes brings up a question. How would you prevent overheating the trailer brakes and fading them to nothing?
He covered that.. the same way you do with electric brakes...

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Originally Posted by Scamper Jim View Post
...... a 10% grade for 2 miles, that still required putting it in low gear to stay off the brakes and let it crawl down slowly. ...
I'll admit that surge brakes are less complicated and therefore probably less likely to fail, esp compared to electric brakes that are never maintained. But the thing that gets me is that surge brakes only work when you are already slowing down. They need deceleration to activate. If you do get get going too fast down hill and the tow vehicle brakes start to fade to the point they don't slow you down, or they fail altogether, the surge brakes wont do a thing.
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Old 07-07-2019, 11:47 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by gordon2 View Post
He covered that.. the same way you do with electric brakes...



I'll admit that surge brakes are less complicated and therefore probably less likely to fail, esp compared to electric brakes that are never maintained. But the thing that gets me is that surge brakes only work when you are already slowing down. They need deceleration to activate. If you do get get going too fast down hill and the tow vehicle brakes start to fade to the point they don't slow you down, or they fail altogether, the surge brakes wont do a thing.
Not clear on your answer, electric brakes only apply when you apply them or when you have rapid deceleration on newer types.
Surge brakes would apply as long as the grade presses the trailer against the coupler... if not, how does it prevent that from happening?
For instance if you are engine braking the TV.
It would seem that the Surge brake would apply just as it does when backing up, relatively the same effect.
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Old 07-07-2019, 02:08 PM   #17
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There are advantages and disadvantages to each. One system isn't head-and-shoulders better than the other.

Whatever you decide, maintain the system and make sure the brakes are working properly every single time you go out with your trailer!

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Old 07-07-2019, 02:09 PM   #18
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floyd,

You make an excellent point about the surge brakes applying while in a lower gear, holding back, on a grade. That looks like it could lead to them overheating and then not being there when the tow vehicle brakes are applied. There is no way I can think of to prevent that and it could lead to an unpleasant surprise when one steps on the brakes.

gordon,

Another excellent point. If the TV brakes fade out, you can't decelerate to activate the surge brakes, unless, maybe, by downshifting. The surge brakes only work if the TV brakes work.
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Old 07-07-2019, 04:51 PM   #19
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So what is happening with electric brakes during a long decent. Well, either nothing because they are off and therefore provide no control, or they are used along with the tow vehicle brakes that have to be applied more frequently or have to be constantly ridden to activate the electric trailer brakes to slow the descent.

At any time of the descent, even if the trailer with surge brakes should fail, the TV still has 100% of its braking power which along with downshifting as necessary, and if loaded properly will get you down safely. The amount of braking force acting on the drums is a function of the amount of stopping force desired and applied, it is not a set braking force, just as with TV brakes. You can have a little, or a lot, not either/or.

With the electric brakes, you can’t be sure how much you have left on either the TV or the trailer because both brakes are used more often, perhaps constantly, to slow descent. Substituting the manual control of the brakes for a system designed to work with the TV braking action and guessing how much force to apply is asking for trouble. Those trailer brakes will be overheated in a heartbeat.

For either type of brake, if you have the least hint that the brakes may be heating, or just for safety, you stop and let them cool off.
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Old 07-07-2019, 05:33 PM   #20
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Jim,

I've never had brakes fade in a heartbeat.

I'm sure you know, that electric brakes are proportional based on the TV brake system line pressure, or the deceleration rate of the TV. A completely adjustable proportion in both cases, that works seamlessly once adjusted to your liking.

I'd like to get your take on what Gordon and Floyd said. Both of those situations are real world dangers that you didn't address.

Since electric brakes can be applied independently, I've been able to test mine to the point at which they fade. I know how much they will do. And I know they are not dragging and heating up while I'm downshifting or holding back with my engine brake.

This brings up another point. Engine brakes on diesels. Mine, for instance, is capable of a retarding force of about 180 horsepower. That is a serious amount of braking that can be applied for the full length of any downgrade, for any number of miles. It cannot fade. But, when in use, the engine brake would definitely apply the surge brakes and overheat them on long grades. As far as I can tell, surge brakes are not compatible with engine brakes. And engine brakes represent about 1/2 of the overall braking the truck does. So, about half of the time, surge brakes would be wearing and heating when they should not be on at all. Then, if you do need them, they may already be faded.

Can you explain how surge brakes can work well with engine brakes? They seem best suited to rented utility trailers and boat trailers.
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