Best Trailer-Brake Controllers: Make Towing Easier

Keep your trailer secure and tracking true with these picks for the best trailer-brake controllers.

byHeather Fishel| UPDATED Jul 19, 2022 6:20 AM
Best Trailer-Brake Controllers: Make Towing Easier
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To make towing a little easier and more secure, you must equip yourself with a quality trailer-brake controller. Designed to apply your trailer’s brakes to increase your safety as you navigate the road, installing a trailer-brake controller can make your journeys a lot less stressful. You’ll easily be able to keep trailers small and large under control and at just the right speed, and your entire towing process can become more manageable right from the driver’s seat. These devices are simple to install and come with plenty of features. I’ve rounded up some of the best trailer brake controllers you can buy online right here.

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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Our Methodology

In order to narrow down our list of the best trailer brake controllers, I sought out products from reputable brands that offer reliable performance and ensure you can tow your trailer safely without worrying about the brakes. We considered and compared each brake controller’s feature set, ease of use and installation, any available real-life experiences, and price. From there, we assessed how helpful each could be to those towing trailers small and large.

Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews & Recommendations

Specs

  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display Type: LCD
  • Weight: 1 lb

Pros

  • LCD display offers a wealth of critical towing information
  • Boost feature allows for braking customization
  • Mounts at any angle and can be adjusted

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No on/off switch means device never shuts off
  • Buttons can stick for some users

It’s hard to beat all of the features available on the Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control. This small device doesn’t just help manage your braking power while you’re towing a trailer. It also allows you to see vital vehicle information while you’re on the road and can alert you to potential problems. With a clear LCD display, multiple screen color choices, and three languages, this device lets you check output current, battery, brakes, output voltage, and any warning alerts. It even lets you customize your braking effort with a boost feature that offers both hydraulic and electric braking modes. You can store your preferences and get the trailer brake controller up and running easily with its plug-and-play design.

While it’s hard to imagine this brake controller getting any better, there are a few areas in which it could be improved. Buttons can stick on the device, which can get frustrating. And there is no on/off switch.

Specs

  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display Type: LED
  • Weight: 8 oz

Pros

  • Easy installation with plug-and-play plugs
  • Boost mode works in reverse, which is especially handy for parking
  • Works with a range of trailers in various sizes

Cons

  • No on/off switch
  • Instructions aren’t the best

You can get a good trailer brake controller without making a huge investment. The Draw-Tite Activator IV Electronic Brake Control is perfect proof. This device, which works for trailers with one to four axles, puts both power and control in your hands. With easy viewing from any angle and up front push buttons make it easy to sync and control, even when you’re on the road. The time actuated controller is simple and straightforward, with just enough frills to give you better ease of use and adaptability while towing. Plus, there’s an illuminated LED readout that displays diagnostic data when issues occur so you can solve problems. Installation, programming, and setup are simple, and you’ll be able to mount this brake controller in any position thanks to the simple no-leveling-required design.

The instructions for this electronic trailer-brake controller, however, could be better. Fortunately, this device is pretty easy to set up, so it’s not much of a loss, but newbies may want to do a little searching online if they get stuck.

Specs

  • Number of Axles: 1 to 3
  • Display Type: None
  • Weight: 11.7 oz

Pros

  • Offers customizable braking settings
  • Adapts directionally and to different terrain or vehicle types
  • Works with both 12-volt and 24-volt vehicle systems

Cons

  • May not match your existing OEM accessories
  • Can be a bit bulky for some personal preferences
  • Extensive installation process

If you want to truly be prepared for everything, you’ve got to check out the Redarc Tow-Pro Elite V3 Electric Brake Controller. This trailer-brake controller offers an impressive amount of versatility, and it puts control in your hands with some great customization options. You can start by choosing between proportional or user-controlled trailer braking force. And if you want the most versatility and customization, user-controlled braking allows you to adjust and change settings based on the roads you encounter, the terrain conditions, your vehicle type, or simply your personal preferences. In addition, the controller offers Active Calibration to constantly monitor your direction, and it can calibrate from any mounting orientation or even if you don’t have your trailer attached.

For some, however, the size and shape of the device itself can be a bit bulky or not perfectly match your OEM accessories. And installation, while not complicated, can take time and require removing some of the trim pieces in your vehicle interior.

Specs

  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display Type: LED
  • Weight: 5.6 oz

Pros

  • Great for heavier, larger trailers
  • Can help maintain your vehicle’s brakes over years of use
  • Helps offer better control over braking power and speed

Cons

  • Doesn’t include all mounting accessories
  • Have to purchase critical accessories separately

If you’re towing a trailer that features more than just one or two axles, you need a trailer-brake controller that can support the extra length and weight, such as the Reese Towpower Brake Control. This compact device is suitable for use with trailers with up to four axles, giving you more options. And it performs quite reliably. You’ll enjoy reverse battery protection and plenty of diagnostic features displayed right on the easy-to-read LED screen. Plus, the included boost mode offers more force for initial trailer braking to give you a safer stopping distance and power. With advanced proportional braking, this controller will help apply brake pressure to match your deceleration rate, a detail that’s especially key when you’re hauling a heavier load. With regular use, it may help extend the lifespan of your vehicle’s brakes.

When it comes to potential disadvantages of this brake controller, keep in mind that it sometimes comes with an incorrect harness. And while the product description mentions a universal connector that’s included, it actually has to be purchased separately.

Specs

  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display Type: Digital
  • Weight: 12 oz

Pros

  • Offers multiple sensitivity settings for customization
  • No-tool installation method
  • Mirrors your vehicle’s braking

Cons

  • Three components complicate installation
  • Difficult installation process
  • Instructions are unclear

If you’re looking for a smart trailer brake controller, the Hopkins Insight Brake Control is a great digital option. This electronic device, which works on trailers with either electric or hydraulic brakes, utilizes advanced brake technology that mirrors the braking of whatever vehicle is handling the towing. It delivers smooth, safe stops for better control. And with its digital power, you’ll have seven different sensitivity settings to choose from, including an intuitive vertical manual slide. Designed to mount within your reach, it’s always easy to see and use on your dash. No tools are required for installation, and you can stay in control with seven sensitivity settings.

Backed by a lifetime warranty, this trailer brake controller offers solid reliability. But the design can be a potential drawback. With three individual, separate items to install, it can be a challenge to actually get installed, and the instructions are quite vague and limited.

Specs

  • Number of Axles: 1 to 3
  • Display Type: LED
  • Weight: 7.5 oz

Pros

  • Fast installation process
  • LED display screen shows critical operations and problem-solving data
  • Works with a variety of different trailer brakes and braking systems

Cons

  • Highly sensitive buttons and controls
  • Doesn’t include the right bolts
  • Installation can be difficult

The Curt Venturer Electric Trailer-Brake Controller is a fantastic option if you both want more power and want to stay in control of that power. This device allows for reliable safety and long-term reliability, as it increases the braking pressure for your trailer each time you actually step on the brakes. And it stops smoothly. You can monitor everything via the easy-to-read LED display, which includes no moving internal parts to keep functionality simple. You can enable powerful brake operation with the manual brake slider button, adjustable toggle, and adjustable ramp time. It’ll work with any trailer that has one to three axles and is compatible with cruise control, anti-lock brakes, low-voltage systems, and PWM systems. Plus, it easily and quickly plugs right into place.

This trailer brake controller isn’t without its flaws, however. It’s very sensitive, which makes even the slightest touch to the buttons significant. And it doesn’t include the right bolts you need for installation.

Our Verdict

The Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control is the best pick for a reliable trailer-brake controller. This device can control up to four axles and includes a handy boost feature, plus simple plug-and-play setup. The Draw-Tite Activator IV Electronic Brake Control is another great pick, especially if you’re looking for a good value. With an affordable price and simple installation and mounting, it’s a brake controller you can see from any angle and easily snap right into place. 

What to Consider When Buying a Trailer Brake Controller

Picking out the perfect trailer-brake controller for your towing needs can be a bit complicated. You need to think about the features of your trailer as well as what kinds of features are must-haves in your brake controller. But we’re here to help, and we’ve got all of the advice you need to find just the right device.

Types of Trailer Brake Controllers

Proportional

A proportional trailer-brake controller uses internal, inertia-based sensors to determine when and how your vehicle brakes. When your tow vehicle decelerates, the sensor reacts and commands the controller to send power to the brakes. The best proportional trailer brake controller provides uniform, smooth braking without any push-pull movements.

Time Delay

With a time-delay trailer-brake controller, you’ll have a bit of a delay when you first apply the brakes. A signal is sent to the brake controller, which sends voltage to the trailer brakes. The delay can be adjusted; you can change it in the sync setting, along with additional settings like the braking power and rate of application. A time-delayed controller can be mounted at any angle because it doesn't have internal parts that sense the tow vehicle's braking motions. These controllers are simpler to install and cheaper but not recommended for larger trailers. 

Trailer Brake Controller Key Features

Voltage

Voltage is one of the top factors when it comes to finding the best-rated brake controller. A tow brake controller consists of either 12 or 24 volts. The vehicle's power source must be compatible with the trailer's brakes. If the two units don't match, the braking controller may malfunction, increasing the risk of an accident.

Brake System

Trailers with electric brakes are governed by a brake controller, while hydraulic brakes require a special coupler. A towing vehicle does not control this braking element. Certain trailers have both electric and hydraulic components. The best aftermarket trailer brake controller should have the ability to operate both types.

Pricing 

Most trailer-brake controllers are priced below $250. Many of the top products even fall below $100 total. If you’re shopping on a budget, you can find simple and straightforward trailer-brake controllers for $25 to $50, though these products picks tend to have limited extras and are pretty streamlined in their features. Spend $55 to $125, and you’ll be able to shop a wide selection of controllers that include extras like informative LED displays and perks like boost features. And the most premium options may run you $125 and up, including high-tech picks for trailers with over four axles. 

FAQs

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q: What’s better: a timed or proportional brake controller?

A: In most cases, a proportional trailer brake controller is the better pick, especially if you tow regularly or tow heavy trailers. Proportional braking is superior during emergency braking scenarios. A timed brake controller is fine if you only occasionally tow smaller trailers.

Q: Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller?

A: No, you’ll absolutely need a trailer brake controller. Trailers with electric brakes must have one of these devices, otherwise the trailer’s brakes won’t work.

Q: Are all trailer-brake controllers the same?

A: There are two types of trailer brake controllers: proportional or time delay. While both activate a trailer’s brakes and apply pressure to slow you down, one comes with a delay and one is typically better for larger trailers.