Safety breakaway switch? - Fiberglass RV


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Old 07-18-2020, 03:03 PM   #1
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Safety breakaway switch?

I'm a new Casita owner (bought a used 1999 Spirit Deluxe) and have very little experience driving trailers.

I've read conflicting opinions regarding the need for a safety breakaway switch. Do folks hauling trailers the size of the Casita's generally use/recommend adding a safety breakaway cable that actuates the trailer brakes?

RS
Lawrence, KS
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Old 07-18-2020, 03:27 PM   #2
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If the trailer comes loose, are you comfortable with it continuing on its own, into traffic, off the road, or whatever? Or would you want it to stop. In addition, assuming your safety chains are properly in place, stopping a disconnected trailer can be difficult. Imagine your tow vehicle stopping, but the trailer continuing on its way.

It happened to me once with a trailer that had no brakes (and no emergency brakes either). I had to slow down gradually, not panic, and keep a straight line. The safety chains held. Tongue came forward and impacted my rear tire (I was on a motorcycle). All this at 70MPH. Imagine getting rear ended by your trailer. Pretty scary situation.

Many states require them. Personally I cannot imagine someone being against them.

"In California every trailer weighing over 1,500 lbs Gross Vehicle Weight is required to have trailer brakes on at least two wheels and the brake system must also have a “breakaway” switch. In addition, all trailers except 5th Wheels must have safety chains. Most states have similar laws."

This map covers it well. Any state with a "star" requires breakaway switch.

https://www.readybrake.com/state-towing-laws.html
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Old 07-18-2020, 05:16 PM   #3
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Thanks for the reply Thrifty Bill. Iíll get one installed this week. I want to be both safe and legal.

RS
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Old 07-18-2020, 08:10 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by thrifty bill View Post
If the trailer comes loose, are you comfortable with it continuing on its own, into traffic, off the road, or whatever? Or would you want it to stop. In addition, assuming your safety chains are properly in place, stopping a disconnected trailer can be difficult. Imagine your tow vehicle stopping, but the trailer continuing on its way.

It happened to me once with a trailer that had no brakes (and no emergency brakes either). I had to slow down gradually, not panic, and keep a straight line. The safety chains held. Tongue came forward and impacted my rear tire (I was on a motorcycle). All this at 70MPH. Imagine getting rear ended by your trailer. Pretty scary situation.

Many states require them. Personally I cannot imagine someone being against them.

"In California every trailer weighing over 1,500 lbs Gross Vehicle Weight is required to have trailer brakes on at least two wheels and the brake system must also have a “breakaway” switch. In addition, all trailers except 5th Wheels must have safety chains. Most states have similar laws."

This map covers it well. Any state with a "star" requires breakaway switch.

https://www.readybrake.com/state-towing-laws.html
just a point of clarification... In IllAnnoy a breakaway switch is required only when brakes are required, so any trailer with brakes and below 3000 pounds does not require a breakaway switch.
Also, as long as the chains hold the cord would usually stay attached as well, allowing modulated braking.
The issue is not as simplistic as it would seem, too many variables...
The real lesson here is to double check your attachment, even better have your "copilot" check it too when applicable.
Also with most fiberglass trailers consider an upgrade of the chains and get attachment hooks with closures and separate attachment points on the tongue.
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Old 07-18-2020, 08:35 PM   #5
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Floyd,

Good point about the cord staying connected when the chains are tight during a disconnect. Much better to be able to apply the brakes carefully instead of simply having them lock up until stopped by pulling the breakaway switch.

I hope I'm never in that situation.

I've been wondering if there are regulations concerning the power source for the breakaway switch. I think the best power source is the onboard house batteries, but my Black Series had a dedicated battery and battery charger, just to run the emergency braking system. I removed it and connected everything to the house batteries. There was no easy way to know the state of charge of the emergency battery, and I saw no need for that extra stuff.
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Old 07-18-2020, 09:43 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by floyd View Post
just a point of clarification... In IllAnnoy a breakaway switch is required only when brakes are required, so any trailer with brakes and below 3000 pounds does not require a breakaway switch.
Also, as long as the chains hold the cord would usually stay attached as well, allowing modulated braking.
The issue is not as simplistic as it would seem, too many variables...
The real lesson here is to double check your attachment, even better have your "copilot" check it too when applicable.
Also with most fiberglass trailers consider an upgrade of the chains and get attachment hooks with closures and separate attachment points on the tongue.
Thats pretty much what the map shows, 3,000 pounds for brakes and a breakaway switch in Illinois. 1,000 pounds here in North Carolina. Every state has their own rule. In the case of my motorcycle trailer example, trailer weighed under 400 pounds, no brakes. But it gave me a snapshot on what it feels like for a trailer to unhook. And with a single track vehicle like a motorcycle, it can be more "exciting".

And of course, always check the connection between your trailer and the hitch ball to make sure it is secure.

The breakaway switch is just another tool in the arsenal. First is a secure ball/hitch coupling connection, then you have the brake mechanism on your trailer, then you have the safety chains, and fourth is the breakaway switch. Now again in the case of a trailer with no brakes and no breakaway switch, you just have the secure ball/hitch connection and the safety chains.
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Old 07-19-2020, 09:46 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by thrifty bill View Post
Thats pretty much what the map shows, 3,000 pounds for brakes and a breakaway switch in Illinois. 1,000 pounds here in North Carolina. Every state has their own rule. In the case of my motorcycle trailer example, trailer weighed under 400 pounds, no brakes. But it gave me a snapshot on what it feels like for a trailer to unhook. And with a single track vehicle like a motorcycle, it can be more "exciting".

And of course, always check the connection between your trailer and the hitch ball to make sure it is secure.

The breakaway switch is just another tool in the arsenal. First is a secure ball/hitch coupling connection, then you have the brake mechanism on your trailer, then you have the safety chains, and fourth is the breakaway switch. Now again in the case of a trailer with no brakes and no breakaway switch, you just have the secure ball/hitch connection and the safety chains.
Correct, but my point is that a breakaway switch is not required with brakes in IllAnnoy on a trailer under 3000 pounds, which means the majority of fiberglass trailers.

I understand the popularity of motorcycles and the sense of freedom they provide, but I won't ride one, even though I ride bikes a lot.
So you can understand why I can't imagine towing a trailer with a motorcycle.
I'm sure it is safe when done right, but I am equally sure that any comparison with a four wheeled TV is tenuous at best.


I have installed and connected breakaway switches especially on larger trailers, but I just think it is important to understand their effectiveness as well as their limitations....
not just their legal requirements (which as you say, should be known and complied with)
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Old 07-19-2020, 11:13 AM   #8
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[QUOTE=floyd;786056]just a point of clarification... In IllAnnoy a breakaway switch is required only when brakes are required, so any trailer with brakes and below 3000 pounds does not require a breakaway switch.

I live in Ontario Canada; we have a max weight that requires trailer brakes like above but also if the trailer is 50% of the weight of the towing vehicle electric brakes are required. Says above that brakes are required at 1000 lbs in some spots like Florida.

Any trailer with electric brakes is required to have a breakaway switch here by law regardless of weight.

Want to visit us then you will need to at least follow the local road rules.

We need to meet the requirements of all places we wish to visit

Great posts above!
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Old 07-19-2020, 11:32 AM   #9
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[QUOTE=floyd;786056]
Also, as long as the chains hold the cord would usually stay attached as well, allowing modulated braking.

I use a coiled cord as used on tractor trailers which may give me a better chance of it staying connected. But how should the breakaway switch cable be set, should the switch be activated if the trailer is still held by the chains, or should it only activate in a total disconnect situation where the chains are no longer connected to the tow vehicle?
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Old 07-19-2020, 11:37 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Borden View Post
I live in Ontario Canada; we have a max weight that requires trailer brakes like above but also if the trailer is 50% of the weight of the towing vehicle electric brakes are required. Says above that brakes are required at 1000 lbs in some spots like Florida.

Any trailer with electric brakes is required to have a breakaway switch here by law regardless of weight.

Want to visit us then you will need to at least follow the local road rules.

We need to meet the requirements of all places we wish to visit

Great posts above!
Thanks for the invitation.

Of course legal requirements are "required". If your only concern is to be in "compliance" then that's all you need to know.
While compliance can avoid fines and legal consequences, I have always advocated that a person should take that next step and educate himself for the safety and protection of himself and his own property and to be responsible for his actions as it relates to those around him.
Do what is safe and right, not just what is required.


If we do get a chance to visit Ontario, we will certainly use our DRLs while we are there, for "compliance" if not for safety reasons.
When conditions indicate the use of headlights in IllAnnoy I use them, even when required only by good judgement and not by law.
The two are not always synonymous so it is good to know both.
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Old 07-19-2020, 11:56 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by mary and bob View Post
I use a coiled cord as used on tractor trailers which may give me a better chance of it staying connected. But how should the breakaway switch cable be set, should the switch be activated if the trailer is still held by the chains, or should it only activate in a total disconnect situation where the chains are no longer connected to the tow vehicle?
That ,I think, depends on how you want the trailer to respond to an emergency.
By definition "Breakaway" would mean complete severance, but I think some would want it to activate with only a simple hop off the ball situation. I would prefer the former in most cases, leaving me in control of the trailer brakes as long as the trailer is attached to the TV.
That is good food for thought however, for anyone who is towing and hooking up the breakaway switch. I do think that the size, type and weight of the trailer would be considerations.
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Old 07-19-2020, 12:22 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Raspy View Post
Floyd,

Good point about the cord staying connected when the chains are tight during a disconnect. Much better to be able to apply the brakes carefully instead of simply having them lock up until stopped by pulling the breakaway switch.

I hope I'm never in that situation.

I've been wondering if there are regulations concerning the power source for the breakaway switch. I think the best power source is the onboard house batteries, but my Black Series had a dedicated battery and battery charger, just to run the emergency braking system. I removed it and connected everything to the house batteries. There was no easy way to know the state of charge of the emergency battery, and I saw no need for that extra stuff.
I think you meet the requirements in good faith, but further, I think you have assured that power will be available when needed without additional fuss. You will always know when your house battery is low.


Many cargo or open trailers have no house battery and must be supplied with a dedicated power source. Even then... As long as you must have a battery, why not a few lights or a wench??
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Old 07-19-2020, 12:26 PM   #13
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[QUOTE=mary and bob;786106]
Quote:
Originally Posted by floyd View Post
Also, as long as the chains hold the cord would usually stay attached as well, allowing modulated braking.

I use a coiled cord as used on tractor trailers which may give me a better chance of it staying connected. But how should the breakaway switch cable be set, should the switch be activated if the trailer is still held by the chains, or should it only activate in a total disconnect situation where the chains are no longer connected to the tow vehicle?
Thanks for mentioning the cord you use will check that out!
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Old 07-19-2020, 01:53 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by thunderworks View Post
I'm a new Casita owner (bought a used 1999 Spirit Deluxe) and have very little experience driving trailers.

I've read conflicting opinions regarding the need for a safety breakaway switch. Do folks hauling trailers the size of the Casita's generally use/recommend adding a safety breakaway cable that actuates the trailer brakes?

RS
Lawrence, KS
I'm surprised your Casita did not have a break a way switch. Our 2007 came with one from the factory. Have you checked to see if there was one and maybe the previous owner removed the cable. We like to keep our cable connected to the vehicle until we are unhitched and tongue is down with chocks under the tires especially if on a hill. We've seen trailers get away from people unhooking. We also use a coil type cable. We hook our cable to the same place our chains are. If chains come off which is unlikely then the cable would pull loose stopping the trailer.
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Old 07-19-2020, 02:03 PM   #15
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Casita Brake lockup

I have owned three Casitas with the breakaway brakes on the wheels. Two have failed by locking up when just driving in a parking lot. I have never connected the wire that would activate them if my trailer ball fell off. Because after 50 years of pulling all kinds of trailers I have never had a hitch fail. (hint: don't use pins with clips to hold the shaft inside the hitch... use a big bolt and two nuts. Also stops thieves.) I took the Casita wheels off and found that rust and other crud had built up thick enough that the electromagnet (normally activated with 12v from the switch) would rub on the side of the brake drum and catch enough to activate the brake shoes. I totally removed the brake shoes so that would never happen again.
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Old 07-19-2020, 02:33 PM   #16
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I totally removed the brake shoes so that would never happen again.

If you take the wheels off the trailer, it will solve all your issues. <_<
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Old 07-19-2020, 03:02 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by brucewarren View Post
I have owned three Casitas with the breakaway brakes on the wheels. Two have failed by locking up when just driving in a parking lot. I have never connected the wire that would activate them if my trailer ball fell off. Because after 50 years of pulling all kinds of trailers I have never had a hitch fail. (hint: don't use pins with clips to hold the shaft inside the hitch... use a big bolt and two nuts. Also stops thieves.) I took the Casita wheels off and found that rust and other crud had built up thick enough that the electromagnet (normally activated with 12v from the switch) would rub on the side of the brake drum and catch enough to activate the brake shoes. I totally removed the brake shoes so that would never happen again.
Interesting post.

Bruce, the magnet is not only activated by the breakaway switch, but by the brake controller as well. Sounds like you have no brake controller, or are not using it. So, does that mean the trailer has brakes, but you don't have them hooked up? And maybe never have?

You mention that you don't need a breakaway system because in 50 years you have never had a ball fail. This is great news! Once someone passes the 50 year mark, safety equipment is no longer needed. Thats a big relief, as I know that before long, I will not have to be careful, or worry about poor equipment, or even brakes, apparently. Whew! I can hardly wait.

So, no working brakes and no breakaway system. Maybe you should just throw away the chains too.
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Old 07-19-2020, 05:22 PM   #18
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Those brakes were a surprise to me. I pulled a 2004 Casita for years and never knew it had brakes inside the wheels. No breakaway switch on the tongue. When the left wheel locked up in a parking lot I was mystified. My next Casita had the little switch on the tongue with a wire to go to the vehicle. Pulling the wire applied 12volts to the brake solenoid and that locked the brakes because the switch has a detent that made it stay closed. So if the Casita popped up off the ball, AND both chains broke, it should skid to a stop before careening into the ditch or traffic. There is no brake controller hook up, I traced the wires and only one wire going to the switch on the tongue. The brakes are all off or all on. I sold my 2010 Casita and the new owner was pulling it out of my driveway when the right wheel locked up. I knew what it was and it only took me two hours to remove those brakes. My experience with many 'safety' systems is that they can be more of a problem than a solution. During my one million plus miles of driving, I've never seen an RV trailer in the ditch. I rented my Casita for 3 years and it was pulled by little SUVs, and big trucks. No renter ever said they had any braking issues with the Casita behind them.
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Old 07-25-2020, 10:58 AM   #19
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Breakaway switch even for light trailers

Great points by all. I'll just add that my 1,300 pound Aliner has a breakaway switch, and I love that little extra peace of mind. Your trailer brakes also need to be well maintained to ensure they engage as intended in an emergency.
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Old 07-25-2020, 12:08 PM   #20
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just a point of clarification... In IllAnnoy a breakaway switch is required only when brakes are required, so any trailer with brakes and below 3000 pounds does not require a breakaway switch.
And some states require a breakaway switch when the trailer has brakes regardless of weight.
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