Brakes are incredibly important, Photo Credit:

For those who have been towing for a while, you know that when it comes to towing a trailer with your car, SUV, or truck your stopping distance can become much longer. If your brakes aren’t up to the task, your brakes can overheat and you can start swerving from side to side putting not only yourself, but your passengers and other motorists in danger as well. Trailer brakes are required by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to have a trailer brake controller that activates the brakes.

When it comes to trailer brakes, there are two kinds to consider when outfitting your tow vehicle. There are surge brakes which are also known as hydraulic and there are electric brakes. Below are the differences between the two systems and what you should take into consideration when choosing between the two.

How electric brakes work

Tekonsha Prodigy P3 brake system

Electric brakes are controlled by the car’s brake pedal and require an electric brake controller in your car. When you step on the brake, the brake lights come on and voltage is simultaneously sent to the trailer’s magnets which then engages the brakes. With electric brakes, you can activate it with a manual activation lever or button, which allows you to have ultimate control of the trailers brakes. You can also step on the tow vehicle’s brake pedal but, with the lever or button, you are able to brake the trailer before the tow vehicle. This ability makes this system safer for downhill driving and quicker stops.

Electric trailer brakes are more common in trailers than surge brakes because they are legal and easier to maintain than surge brakes. In the photo above is the Tekonsha Prodigy P3 which is designed to allow the user to switch between electric and hydraulic brakes, has easy to access ‘up-front’ controls and has “Boost” features that allow for different levels of customized braking. It’s also compact and is easy to disconnect for easy storage.

How surge brakes work

The actuator that activates trailer brake systems

Surge brakes, or hydraulic trailer brake controllers, are self-contained within the trailer and need no electric or hydraulic connections to the car. It’s a passive system that acts only once the car has begun to slow down. The master cylinder compresses, forcing brake fluid through the brake lines to the wheel cylinders, which then activates the trailer’s brakes. This results in a split second delay during which leads the trailer load to push the car, requiring a longer stopping distance for your rig.

DOT regulations require that trailers with brakes must be fitted with a brake controller that allows the driver to activate the trailer brakes without having to step on the tow vehicle brake pedal. But, this has been overlooked for years and many people use them still, especially on boat trailers.

Extra maintenance tips
Maintenance, when it comes to surge and electric brakes usually involve different functions but have two major similarities: inspection and cleaning. Below are some extra brake maintenance tips:
Make sure to check fluid levels in your surge brakes before every trip and that the controller is synchronized for         your electrical brakes
If fluid levels drop in your surge braking system, make sure to check the fluids in master cylinder, wheel                     cylinders, and connections in the tubing
Check the wear of your brake shoes/pads/magnets every 3,000-5,000 miles
For surge brakes: lubricate moving parts of brake coupler annually
On electric brake systems, make sure that you get them adjusted regularly to keep the shoes and drums                     properly spaced

If you would like to know more or have any questions about trailer brake controllers, installation, repair and troubleshooting, feel free to contact us at Torklift Central where we have hydraulic and electric brake servicing.

Get out and go trailer your way with Torklift Central!

Torklift Central
315 Central Ave N. Kent, WA 98032
[email protected]