Do You Need a Brake Controller for a Travel Trailer?

There are many decisions to make before taking your travel trailer out on the road. Although your next adventure is surely the most exciting of these decisions, there are a few factors you should consider regarding the functionality of your vehicle. For example, when towing your trailer, you’ll need to make sure its brakes work well to ensure a safe and problem-free journey. You may be wondering if you need a brake controller in order to engage your trailer’s brakes while towing.

Do you need a brake controller for a travel trailer? Yes, you do need a brake controller for your travel trailer. This mechanism will engage your trailer’s electrical brakes and give you peace of mind on the road. It is important to know how both the brakes and the controller work before heading out on your next trip.

Below we’ll take a look at how your trailer’s brakes work, the specifics of brake controllers, and the benefits of using them when towing your travel trailer. This information will help you feel prepared to purchase and operate your new brake controller when towing your travel trailer.

What is a Brake Controller?

Simply put, a brake controller is a mechanism that helps you control the electric brakes of your travel trailer from the driver’s seat of your towing vehicle.

A brake controller is an item that does not come with your travel trailer nor the typical tow vehicle, so you will have to purchase it separately. Some newer vehicles have brake controllers installed from the factory. Once installed, the controller will allow you to engage and monitor the brakes of your travel trailer. This way, you can make sure the brakes are operating properly throughout the towing process.

There are two different types of brake controllers, time delay and proportional brake controllers, which we will discuss shortly. Although they are different, both of these types of controllers work in tandem with the brakes of your towing vehicle.

But first, how do electric brakes on a trailer work?

The electric brakes on your travel trailer are built into the structure of your trailer’s wheels. They employ an electromagnetic brake drum that slows and stops the trailer. This system works by electrically connecting the brakes of the trailer to the vehicle you are using to tow it. This is where the brake controller comes into play. To engage and control this braking system, you’ll need to install a brake controller in a convenient location on the driver’s side of your towing vehicle.

What types of brake controllers are there?

Before deciding which brake controller is right for you, you should learn about the different types that are available. Here are the two types of brake controllers and how they differ from one another.

Time Delay

This type of brake controller operates based on the amount of pressure you apply to the brake pedal of your towing vehicle. As you increase the pressure placed on your brake pedal, the force exerted by the trailer brakes will increase in a fixed manner that is consistent over time. You can adjust the amount of power your brake pedal transfers to your trailer’s brakes, depending on the weight of your travel trailer. Knowing the best setting can help you achieve a smooth ride, no matter the weight of your trailer.


Unlike time delay brake controller, proportional brake controllers operate based on inertia. They use a system called an accelerometer that senses the momentum of your vehicle. When you press your towing vehicle’s brake pedal, the accelerometer adjusts the force of your trailer’s brakes. The ability to sense momentum helps this controller maintain precision throughout the towing process. This proportional system is often more exact than that of a time delay brake controller.

What are the benefits of using a brake controller?

Aside from the functionality, there are several important benefits of using a brake controller for your travel trailer. Let’s take a look at some of the major advantages of using one of these mechanisms in your vehicle.

  • Safety: Safety is the number one reason to invest in a brake controller for your travel trailer. If you do not use a brake controller, the brakes on your trailer will not work when you press the brake pedal of your towing vehicle. This can lead to your trailer flipping or other accidents. Jack-knifing, fish-tailing, and swaying are other dangerous factors commonly associated with trailer towing. There are a few more safety features to consider, as well.
  • Better stopping distance: With a brake controller, you improve the stopping distance of your vehicle while you are towing a travel trailer. This means that when you apply your brakes fully, it will take less time and distance for your vehicle to come to a complete stop. There are many reasons you may need to come to a quick stop while towing a travel trailer, but accelerating and braking are both slower processes when towing is involved. So, the added security of a better stopping distance will help you feel safer on the road despite the added weight to your vehicle.
  • In case tow vehicle brakes fail: On the off chance that your towing vehicle’s brakes fail, you will still have a way of controlling the brakes of your travel trailer that can help stop your trailer and tow vehicle.
  • Reduce wear on vehicle brakes: Avoiding potential damage to your trailer is another important thing to consider when making this purchase. Your vehicle’s brakes can only handle so much weight and force on their own. Increasing the weight applied to them increases the speed at which they wear down. Using a brake controller allows you to transfer some of the force your brakes endure onto the brakes of the travel trailer. This helps avoid excessive wear on your towing vehicle’s brakes.
  • Legal reasons: It is crucial to know the legal component of using a brake controller when towing your travel trailer. Many states and Canadian provinces legally require you to use a brake controller when towing a trailer. Usually, these laws will be based on the weight and size of the trailer and could include other components, like requiring a breakaway kit. Make sure you know the legal requirements of your area before you take your travel trailer on the road.

The Exception

The only time you may not need a brake controller is if your trailer has surge brakes rather than electric brakes. Surge brakes rely on a hydraulic system that adjusts the trailer’s braking power depending on the momentum of the trailer itself. Therefore, this system does not need a brake controller to connect it to the towing vehicle.


To tow a travel trailer, you will need to purchase a brake controller to connect to your towing vehicle. After learning the safety, legal, and functional implications, it is easy to see why this mechanism is a necessary addition to your travel trailer setup. Here is our guide to the best brake controller currently on the market, learn how to set it up and use it properly, and learn the legal requirements for towing trailers in your area.

Taking these steps will help ensure that your travel trailer is safely connected to your towing vehicle. You can hit the road knowing your braking system is secure, and all you have to worry about is the excitement of the journey ahead!

Get MORE out of The Savvy Campers Directly to your Inbox!

Be the first to be notified about FREE tips, hints, coupon codes, and email-exclusive information. All for FREE!

Similar Posts