If you are a camping enthusiast, you know that there is no experience that’s quite like pulling a dedicated camper to your favorite campsite. The pull of the road is infectious, but when you tow a large item like a camper, fifth wheel, or RV, you need to be sure that you can easily stop on a dime. Employing a separate set of brakes for your towable is a great idea, but you’ll need a way to control the brakes from the cab of your truck and this is where the best electric trailer brake controllers come in handy.
How Electric trailer Brake Controllers Work
For electric brake controllers, you’ll have a dedicated control mechanism in the cab of your truck that’s wired to the RV, camper, or fifth wheel that you are towing. When you need to stop, an electrical impulse is sent to the braking mechanisms in what you are towing so that you can stop quickly. These trailers are heavy, so it’s important to have a responsive brake controller so that you can avoid accidents.
Types of Electric trailer Brake Controllers
- Proportional: Proportional electric brake controllers are often considered the best type by many camping enthusiasts. This is because these brake controllers allow you to execute a bit more instantaneous control over the braking mechanism in your towable. That being said, proportional brake controls tend to cost a bit more than the time-delayed, but you may consider this a worthy investment. Each time that you apply the brake, a varying amount of stopping will occur, so when you need to tow a large object, you’ll be able to stop quicker. This system is designed so that you will experience minimal jerking when you brake, which is a feature which will enhance the overall safety of towing a large object.
- Time Delayed: If your camper doesn’t have a lot of weight to it, these cheaper brake controllers can work fine for your needs. These slow the camper that you are towing down to the precise rate of speed, each time that you need to stop. This means that when you are traveling, the brake will always slow at exactly the same rate, which can lead to jerking. This means that you’ll need to prepare for the stop at a much earlier point so that you have time. Fortunately, this type of brake is adjustable, but if it’s misaligned, it can have a jerky performance.
Some Safety Considerations
It’s a great idea to grab a brake controller that has some safety features. One of the better ones is a breakaway kit. These kits allow the trailer to immediately apply the brakes the instant a hitch comes loose. If the unfortunate happens for whatever reason, the trailer that you are towing won’t be able to roll down a hill or keep moving and cause injury to you or other drivers who happen to be on the road.
Additionally, a clear display with electronic readouts is a great safety feature to have on your brake controller. Being able to monitor the status of the braking system is a great safety-oriented feature that can quickly alert you of any mishaps happening with your trailer connection.
Best Design Feature
Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control
This is an exceptionally easy to install electric trailer brake controller.
Hopkins 47284 Reliance Digital Electronic Brake Control with Plug-In Connector
You can mount this product at any angle so that it can easily be in arm’s reach as you drive.
Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control
This product includes a boost feature for those situations when you need more braking power.
CURT 51120 Discovery Brake Control
This product includes a manual control for the brake lights.
Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
Once you’ve set the braking options, you’ll rare need to adjust them.
Hopkins 47284 Reliance Digital Electronic Brake Control with Plug-In Connector
You can monitor the percentage of braking power being applied via the LED.
CURT 51140 Triflex Brake Controller
This can automatically adjust the braking power as you go up or down hills.
1) Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control
Reese and Curt are two of the top providers of towing devices on the consumer market. The Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control has a lot going for it; in fact, it is one of the best products in this guide.
It is designed for towing single axis trailers, which worked very well in our tests when we used it to apply brakes to a boat that we were towing. The brake controller has a boost button so that you can quickly add additional power to your braking, which is very useful when you are traveling on ramps or hills.
While there is no actual display LED on this product, there is a light that will let you know when there is a braking issue. We really liked the fact that this product allows you to make minute adjustments to the braking system when you are on-the-go. We also liked the fact that the product could be mounted anywhere in our test cabs so that it can always be on-hand when braking is needed.
2) Hopkins 47284 Reliance Digital Electronic Brake Control with Plug-In Connector
We loved that the Hopkins 47284 Reliance Digital electronic brake control is so easily removed from a vehicle’s cab. All you’ll have to do is disconnect the four pin connector from the electric trailer braking system and move it to where it needs to go. Not only does this dissuade thieves, but it also allows you to quickly place your brake controller in another vehicle when you need to.
This is a time-based brake controller, so it may be best to use it with smaller loads, but outside of this minor foible, we found that this system was very responsive and easy to use. As a matter of fact, if you have a 12-volt ground system, you can easily mount this product anywhere in your cab; even on the ceiling if that suits you. Additionally, it even has a vertical slide that makes controlling the device fairly intuitive.
3) Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control
The Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control is a very popular brake controller. We loved that the product actually includes an instructional DVD for those who want a little information when it comes to installation.
A really useful feature of this product is its included pocket. This pocket can be installed in your cab where it will become a place for you to house the brake controller in your vehicle. This means that when you need it for another vehicle, you can simply pull it out of the pocket, disconnect the four pin connector and switch it up.
The LED display is very useful; when there is no connection, the device will display "NC." When you do have a trailer hooked up, "C" for connection will display. The device uses very little power, so you won’t have to worry about overly draining your battery. The device also has a power wheel that you turn to adjust the power of the braking system. We found this to be a great way to gauge overall output.
4) CURT 51120 Discovery Brake Control
As mentioned previously, Curt is one of the top brands in towing and hitching. Their CURT 51120 Discovery unit is also time-delayed. This means that it has a preset intensity for braking. You simply use a thumbwheel power output in order to increase the power to maximum when you are in a hilly area or to a mid level when you are on flat land. At full power, you would be increasing the activation power of the brakes; the opposite extreme allows you to brake more gradually.
The display is very intuitive; it even has a self-diagnostic function that allows you to ensure the connection is secure and active. There’s even a built-in slide bar emergency manual override that allows you to react quickly to emergency situations without having to interface with the thumbwheel.
5) Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
This product is a proportional braking system that allows you to tow a trailer that has up to three axles. We found it to be very convenient due to the fact that it allows for simple plug-and-play functionality, which means that you can install it quickly and easily. As a matter of fact, it’s very simple to control the unit. There’s a built-in boost control for additional power on uneven and difficult to manage surfaces, and the device even employs a very intuitive LED display that provides quick and easy info about the braking system.
We really liked the fact that the Draw-Tite 20191 provides such a smooth stopping experience. In addition to this, as a proportional unit, this device also is relatively inexpensive, which is perfect for the level of control. Also, we found that the settings on this unit rarely need to be adjusted, which adds a lot of ease of use to this product.
6) Hopkins 47284 Reliance Digital Electronic Brake Control with Plug-In Connector
Our second Hopkins product is a great controller that is quick to install but also provides a lot of great time-based adjustability. Like our previous Hopkins product, this unit has a four-pin connector that allows you to quickly remove the product from the brake system of your trailer. This means that you’ll be able to use it in another cab if needed. We also liked the percentage display on this unit; during our tests we were easily able to quickly know exactly how much power was being applied when we were cresting hills and towing larger loads.
This uses a 12-volt negative ground system for power, and you can actually post this product anywhere around your cab with relative ease. This is useful because, with some units, you have to have a level positioning for the electric brake controller to function. This device even employs a large red button that you can use to apply emergency stopping power. This is a great feature that can be used when you are cut-off by an inconsiderate driver or when you simply need more power output.
7) CURT 51140 Triflex Brake Controller
Our final product is the second Curt brake controller in our guide. This is a proportional brake controller, which is designed to activate the brakes on your trailers in proportion to your vehicle’s braking action. With this system, there’s no pausing or jerking, which can happen with time-delay systems.
We really liked Curt’s inclusion of an automatic leveling sensor in this product. This feature allows for the brake controller to sense deceleration, even when it’s not laying flat in your cab. Typically, there’s a need for proportional braking systems to be oriented in a relatively flat way, so this is a nice feature which gives this proportional system the ability to be used at different angles like a time-delayed one.
This product also uses nine sensitivity settings that will allow you adjust the initial level of braking power and aggressiveness. Like many smart devices, this product also includes a triple-axis accelerometer that helps with the stopping of your vehicle and trailer.
Coming to a complete and quick stop when we are towing tons of load is absolutely imperative, which is why a dedicated electric brake controller is such a valuable item. The products that we’ve featured here in this guide are all excellent devices that have your personal safety in mind. Each has a wide variety of mounting options and each also is easy to install. Out of these products, if we have to pick a favorite "best pick," we would select the Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control.
This product really shines because of how easy it is to make minute adjustments to the braking system while you’re on the go. Additionally, it’s probably one of the easiest to install braking systems that we’ve featured here. As a matter of fact, it’s also very easy to remove and install in another vehicle.
When it comes to the best bang for your buck, we also really liked the CURT 51120 Discovery Brake Control. It has a manual control for the brake lights and just provides a nice well-rounded package that provides a lot of value for those seeking an electric brake controller.