LAST UPDATED: June 14, 2019
Best Trailer Brake Controllers: Stop Safely When Hauling Cargo
The top trailer brake controllers to help you control your haul
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON June 14, 2019
When you’re transporting cargo on a trailer, one thing you should ask yourself is “What brake controller should I buy?” It's an important accessory that makes towing considerably safer. Essentially, the device directs the trailer to stop every time you apply the brakes on your tow vehicle. Read our electric trailer brake controller review to find the best trailer brake controller on the market.
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Benefits of Trailer Brake Controllers
- Improve safety. The best trailer brake controller will ensure that a trailer's heavyweight doesn't move or push forward when you stop your vehicle. The braking system helps prevent a trailer from jackknifing or losing control, which can be very dangerous and potentially fatal.
- Monitor your system. A top-rated trailer brake controller will allow you to control and oversee the towing vehicle system while you're driving. It will feature advanced diagnostics that allow you to monitor what's going on, including updates on the trailer braking and cargo.
- Extend the life of your brake pads. If you don't have a brake controller, the towing vehicle's brake pads provide all of the stopping power. They will wear more quickly over time and may cause brake fade.
- Pay very little. The best brake controller for the money can be very affordable, particularly compared to other trailer accessories. It's worth your peace of mind to utilize the best electric trailer brake controller without spending a lot of money.
Types of Brake Controllers
There are significant differences between a proportional vs. time-delayed brake controller. A proportional 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.
This type of controller has 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 by the user, who can change it in the sync setting. 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. They are simpler to install and cheaper but not recommended for larger trailers. Braking power and rate of application are adjustable depending on factors such as road conditions, load size, and type of trailer.
Tekonsha is a registered brand of Horizon Global Corporation, based in Plymouth, Mo. In 1964, Tekonsha started manufacturing RV stairs and steps. It now focuses largely on brake controllers, electrical wiring, and trailer brakes. Professional equestrian trainer Stacy Westfall is sponsored by Tekonsha. Top products include the Tekonsha Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control and Tekonsha Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control.
Draw-Tite is also a registered brand of Horizon Global Corporation. Draw-Tite, founded in 1946, is the premier brand of custom trailer hitches but also produces trailer brake controllers. One popular product is the Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control.
Hopkins Towing Solution
Hopkins Manufacturing Corporation was founded in 1953 and is located in Emporia, Kan. It's one of the industry's top leaders in towing electrical products. One recommended product is the Hopkins Reliance Plug-in Simple Brake Control.
CURT Group was founded in 1993 and manufacturers towing products, including custom-fit trailer hitches for nearly every vehicle on the road. The company has manufacturing plants in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Florida. One recommended product is the CURT 51110 Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller.
REESE Towpower is another registered brand of Horizon Global Corporation. The company is based in Solon, Ohio, and produces numerous automotive and recreational products, including trailer accessories, receiver hitches, bike racks, and roof carriers. One popular product is the REESE Towpower Brakeman IV Digital Brake Control.
Trailer Brake Controller Pricing
- Under $50: Lower-priced trailer brake controllers typically are the time-delay variety or are proportional lacking a boost mode and are more difficult to calibrate.
- $50-$150: The majority of good-quality brake controllers are affordable. They are generally reliable, powerful, and have many features that make them worth the price.
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.
Type of 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.
- Number of Axles: Different types and models of brake controllers can handle a different number of axles. Find a unit that allows you to work with the correct number of axles on your towing rig. Typically, trailer brake controllers are able to control ranges of one to two axles, one to three axles, or one to four axles.
- Display: A built-in digital display allows you to easily read data from the controller, including battery, output current, and brake pad force. The best digital trailer brake controller will feature an LED monitor. This type of unit is reliable, durable, and efficiently displays vehicle diagnostics.
- Setting Options: You can change various settings on your brake controller. One of the most popular options is the boost feature. This allows you to control the force exerted on the brake pads. Other settings include switching from a hydraulic to electric trailer brake mode.
- Size: Since you will install the brake controller on your dashboard, size is an important factor. For example, if you have a small dashboard, you won't want a large device. The unit should also be placed in a space that is easy to access and manipulate as needed.
- Tire Safety: A good brake controller will control your wheels and prevent them from wobbling or making sudden, jerky movements. Before purchasing a trailer brake controller, make sure it has features and mounting options that ensure your tires don't fail or move in an unsafe manner.
Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews & Recommendations 2020
This electric trailer brake controls up to four axles and features an easy-to-read LCD display with multiple screen color options and displays in English, French, or Spanish. The diagnostics show output current, battery, brake, and output voltage and warning system alert to "no trailer brake" situations. The device includes a boost feature for customized braking and an integrated plug-n-play port for two-plug adapters. A snap-in mounting clip allows you to remove and store the unit when not in use.
Everything works in unison as it should, and it is quick and easy to adjust. It applies the brakes without jerking the trailer and truck. The one-button switch to change the boost setting is very convenient, particularly if the weight of the trailer changes considerably between full and empty. In addition, the display warns you right away when something is wrong and shows how much brake is being applied. It's also very easy to install if your vehicle is prepped for a brake controller. In addition, it mounts at any angle and auto-adjusts to any angle.
There have been some reports that the buttons stick, making it difficult to get the settings you want. Another downside is there is no on or off switch, so the device goes into a sleep mode. Also, the screen may freeze or fail over time. The device is also more expensive than some other models.
This proportional electronic brake control is for one- to three-axle trailers. It has a boost feature and self-diagnostics features that will illuminate an LED readout when problems occur. It works proportionally in reverse and utilizes a plug-and-play port for two-plug adapters. A snap-in mounting bracket allows you to remove and store the device when it's not in use.
It creates a very smooth stopping experience, and the boost feature works great. The installation, including mounting and wiring, is easy. Programming and set up are simple, and the controller is reliable and effective. It also includes features not found on similarly priced units, such as auto-leveling. The device is the sister unit to the Tekonsha Primus IQ but is less expensive.
One problem is it may be hard to avoid locking up the tires on gravel surfaces. Also, if you don't change back to the street intensity after a steep downhill grade, the wheels may lock up unexpectedly at a slower speed and on hot pavement. In addition, you must disconnect it when not in use or it stays on.
This unit includes a boost feature, self-diagnostics that illuminate and LED readout when issues occur, and a plug-n-play port for two-plug adapters. It works proportionally in reverse, and a snap-in dash mounting clip and hardware are included. The inertia-based electronic brake controller works with up to three axles and can be mounted at angles from zero to 70 degrees.
Braking is smooth and solid, and this model provides just as good control as models that cost quite a bit more. The instructions are clear, and the setup and installation are simple. Setting the maximum braking level and boost feature is intuitive. The boost setting makes it simple to add more braking power when loaded, and it doesn't over or under power the brakes when the grade of the road changes. It's easy to control a trailer up and down hills, and it slows you and your haul quickly.
One problem is the device may not work in weather below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the blue button on top that is the boost selector may stop working over time. Another issue is the display may malfunction, making it difficult to read. It may also be hard to install if your vehicle doesn't come with a tow package.
The Reese brake controller is a great option for those who are looking for an affordable yet reliable device. The controller pairs with almost all vehicle types. It allows for smoother stops and has the ability to handle one to four axles. All in all, it's an efficient device ideal for those who are on a limited budget.
Although quite small, the device features an easy-to-read LED display and large buttons. Overall, the controller is easy to use and install as well. It doesn't require leveling, and it offers a diagnostic mode in case you run into any issues. The device also has a boost feature you can use to apply more pressure when towing heavy loads. Additionally, it comes equipped with reverse battery protection.
The main thing to keep in mind with this device is the fact it doesn't always come with the right harness. Although the instructions say that the universal connector is included in the package, that's not the case. You might have to buy the correct harness on your own. Some buyers also got the device without a mounting bracket.
This device comes from a widely popular and trusted brand. It's a three-piece product that includes a controller, LED screen, and a slider. The screen allows for easy voltage readings, and the slider gives you an option to adjust the strength of the application. All three items are intuitive and easy to use.
The product allows you to make safe and smooth stops when towing. With seven sensitivity settings, you'll be able to completely control the process and keep your vehicle and your load secured. The device also features short-proof protection for up to eight trailer brakes.
Lastly, it's important to mention how simple the installation turns out to be. You'll be able to set the device within hand's reach and access it whenever necessary. Therefore, you’ll keep your eyes on the road and be safe during the towing process.
The main drawback of this product is the three-piece design, actually. Three separate items take up quite some space and require a lot of wiring, which can make the installation more challenging. The other inconvenience might come from vague instructions. Although the installation is quite simple, first-time users might struggle a little with the included manual.
The Curt brake controller is one of those simple and inexpensive options you can use for lighter loads. It's incredibly handy, safe, and easy to use. With an intuitive LED display and compact design, this controller ensures hassle-free towing.
The controller offers safe operation and doesn't require leveling. You can use it on any trailer with one to three axles, which is quite convenient. Even better, the device includes a manual brake slider button, and an adjustable power toggle and ramp time.
The installation is fairly simple, too. There's an adjustable mounting bracket you can use to set up the device according to your needs. The included instructions are also very helpful.
Still, the device is not without flaws. The main one regards the overall sensitivity of the controls. You'll find that barely touching the buttons makes drastic changes. The less bothersome one is the fact you'll have to buy bolts separately. The package doesn't always come with the ones necessary for the installation.
This brake controller is one of the most affordable options you can find on the market. It's a simple yet efficient device that allows for safe and controlled towing. With sturdy construction and straightforward design, it's one of the most popular devices within the category.
The controller is designed for one- to four-axle systems. It allows you to tow different trailers and features intuitive controls. Another great thing about it is the compact design. That makes the installation a lot easier, as you get to mount the unit anywhere you find it convenient. The package also includes a mounting bracket you can adjust according to your needs. No leveling is required with this unit.
What could be an issue with this product is the fact it doesn't come with a connector. You'll have to buy a harness suitable for your vehicle. There were some complaints about the package missing mounting screws as well. The installation is overall super easy, but these missing parts might make it more challenging.
Here we have another quality product coming from Curt. The brake controller features a triple-axis accelerometer and can handle from one to four axles. It also offers nine levels of sensitivity adjustments, so you can have ultimate control over the towing process.
What's also convenient about this device is the fact it automatically levels and calibrates itself. That means you don't have to bother with the setup—it's a simple plug-and-play option. The installation is super easy, too, and the unit is so compact you can mount it anywhere you like.
The unit does require an adapter, though. You'll have to buy one separately and according to your vehicle. Some users also complained about the unit draining power from their batteries. It might be a good option to watch over it or unplug it completely when not in use because there's no power switch.
Once again, Reese offers a reliable brake controller that will make the towing process safe and super easy. It's a simple and compact device that has quite some features to offer.
The brake controller has a sturdy construction and a straightforward LED screen. It installs in a breeze and comes with easy-to-access adjustment controls, so you can mount it wherever you find it convenient.
Although it provides power for one to two axles only, the device is rather efficient. As long as you don't have larger loads to tow, this is an excellent option for you. It's also cost-efficient.
The brake controller does have a few drawbacks. First of all, it's very sensitive, and you'll have to control the settings carefully. Secondly, the package doesn't include an adapter, and it sometimes might even come without the mounting screws.
The Tekonsha brake controller is a mid-range device that works on one to four axles. You get to use it for towing small to large loads, ensuring more safety on the road with smoother braking. Furthermore, you get to enjoy several extra features the unit has to offer for hassle-free use.
What makes this controller a good option is a fine combination of the excellent price and convenient design. The LED indicators are there to notify about the power status, and the broad control range allows for ultimate control over the towing process. Also, the device is compatible with almost all vehicle types and installs easily. The package includes a mounting bracket as well.
There are two main issues to keep in mind with this product. The first one regards the size. The unit is rather bulky and might be difficult to install in small to mid-size trucks. The second one is the overall sensitivity of the settings—even the slightest movements make big changes.
- A trailer brake controller will not work with older-style trailers that don’t have electronic control. The device only operates on a trailer with electric or electric-over-hydraulic brakes.
- If you're not technologically savvy, consider having a professional help install the brake controller on your vehicle. He or she can also advise you on the best type to suit your needs.
- If you're mechanically inclined, it's not too difficult to install either a time-delayed or proportional brake controller. You will need to be familiar with basic wiring and functions such as the trailer feed, ground, brake switch, and battery power.
- While you may seek a cheap brake controller, you'll be better off if you purchase a device that has more functions. While it may be more expensive, it will last longer and pay off in the long run.
- 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. Also, frequently look at the display monitor to ensure the system is functioning as required.
Q: Do I need a brake controller?
A: In general, you need a trailer brake controller if you have a trailer that weighs more than 1,000 pounds. Towing a trailer without a brake controller can be very dangerous, especially if you stop abruptly. The towed vehicle will continue to move at the same speed while the towing vehicle stops. This can cause a dangerous domino effect.
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: How do I install a trailer brake controller?
A: First, you will need a wiring harness to plug into your vehicle, particularly if it does not have a towing package. Next, check to see if your vehicle is pre-wired for an electric brake controller. Then connect or splice the wiring harness. Connect the wiring from the vehicle to the controller, and attach the controller to an accessible space under the dashboard. Finally, adjust the settings to match your towing conditions.
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.
For a less expensive option consider the Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control.