Best Trailer Brake Controllers: Stop Safely When Hauling Cargo
The top trailer brake controllers to help you control your haul
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.Read more.
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.
- Best OverallTekonsha P3 Electronic Brake ControlSummarySummaryIt 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.ProsProsIt's easy to install and adjust and smoothly applies the brakes. The one-button switch for boost is very convenient, and the display warns you right away when something is wrong.ConsConsThe buttons may stick, making it difficult to change the settings. There is no on or off switch, and the screen may freeze or fail. It is also pricier than other models.
- Best ValueDraw-Tite I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake ControlSummarySummaryThis 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.ProsProsIt creates a very smooth stopping experience, and the boost feature works well. The installation is easy, programming and setup are simple, and the controller is reliable and effective.ConsConsIt may lock up the tires on gravel surfaces or if you don't change it back to a particular mode. It also stays on if you don't disconnect it.
- Honorable MentionTekonsha Primus IQ Electronic Brake ControlSummarySummaryIt has a boost feature, self-diagnostics that illuminate an LED readout when issues occur, and a plug-and-play port. It also has a snap-in dash mounting clip and works with up to three axles.ProsProsBraking is smooth and solid, and setup and installation are simple. The boost setting makes it easy to add more braking power, and it doesn't over or underpower the brakes.ConsConsThe boost selector button may stop working over time. The display may malfunction, and it may be hard to install if your vehicle doesn't come with a tow package.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
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 TriFlex 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 2019
Best Overall: Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control
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.
Best Value: Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
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.
Honorable Mention: Tekonsha Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control
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.
- 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.