Best Trailer Brake Controllers: Make Towing Easier
Keep your trailer secure and tracking true with our picks for the best trailer brake controllers
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BY Seyth Miersma / LAST UPDATED ON October 6, 2021
Want to make towing a little easier and more secure? Then you’ve got to 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 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 — so which one will you choose? We’ve rounded up some of the best trailer brake controllers you can buy online right here.
It controls up to four axles and features an easy-to-read LCD display. The device includes a boost feature, integrated plug-and-play port, and a snap-in mounting clip for removal and storage.
- Easy to install and adjust
- One-button switch adds boost in seconds
- Clear display alerts you to potential problems
- Buttons can stick
- No on/off switch
This device is for one- to three-axle trailers. It has a boost feature, LED display, a plug-and-play port, and a snap-in mounting bracket that allows you to remove and store the device.
- Boost feature offers great value
- Easy to program with simple, straightforward controls
- Reliable performance
- Can lock up tires on gravel
- Can also lock up in certain settings or modes
- Must be disconnected to be turned off
This trailer brake controller puts the power in your hands with more options and settings so you can completely customize your towing experience and your trailer’s braking.
- Offers two types of braking for better versatility
- User-controlled settings can add more braking power
- Doesn't over- or underpower the brakes
- Best for smaller trailers
- Installation can be a bit involved
Why Trust Us
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.
Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews & Recommendations
How We Selected Trailer Brake Controllers
In order to narrow down our list of the best trailer brake controllers, we sought out products that came from reputable brands and offered reliable performance that ensure you can tow your trailer safely without worrying about its 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.
Our product selections, rankings, and awards for this story are based on research. While we haven’t conducted real-world testing on all of these products yet, we’ve looked at consumer testimonials and data, tutorials, and general discussions on social media and in forums. We also consider price and specification in the context of the segment. And, of course, we rely on our institutional knowledge of the automotive landscape to weed out weak products.
Buying Guide/What to Look For
Picking out the perfect trailer brake controller for your towing needs can be a bit of a complicated process. 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.
What to Consider When Buying a Trailer Brake Controller
Types of Trailer Brake Controllers
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.
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 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.
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.
Trailer Brake Controller Tips and Tricks
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and trailer brake controllers. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- A trailer brake controller will not work with older-style trailers that don’t have electronic control; these devices only operate on trailers with electric or electrically-controlled hydraulic brakes.
- If you're not technologically savvy, consider having a professional help install the brake controller on your vehicle who can advise you on the best type to suit your needs.
- Some states require trailer brakes for heavy loads. For example, in Arizona, independent brake systems are required when the gross vehicle weight is 3,000 pounds or more. In California, every trailer coach or camp trailer with a GVWR of 1,500 pounds or more must have brakes on at least two wheels.
- Before you travel with a trailer, make sure all the electronic connections and hitch are secure. Periodically check the system by tapping the brakes to make sure it's working properly and your brake lights are functional.
- In addition to checking your connections, don’t forget to frequently look at the display monitor too. This will help you to ensure the system is functioning as required before setting out onto the road.
Q: What’s better: a timed or proportional brake controller?
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?
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?
Like we discussed above, there are two different types of trailer brake controllers: proportional or time delay. While both activate a trailer’s brakes and apply pressure to slow you down, one does come with a delay — and one is typically better for larger trailers.
Our pick for the best trailer brake controller is the Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control. It smoothly applies the brakes, controls up to four axles, and has an LCD display and one-button boost switch. It is also quick and easy to adjust, mounts at any angle, and auto adjusts to any angle.