There’s an abundance of accessories one needs to buy before they can safely tow a heavy trailer with their pickup truck or SUV. You need a trailer hitch ball mount and trailer hitch receiver or a weight distributing hitch, along with a hitch lock and towing mirrors, among more. Another important towing product is a trailer brake controller, which automatically applies the brakes on your trailer when you step on the brakes in your vehicle.
Trailer brake controllers can be split into two main categories: proportional controllers and time-delayed controllers.
A proportional controller uses a sensor to determine the intensity of the tow vehicle’s deceleration under braking. It then calculates the right amount of force to apply to the trailer brakes, enabling the tow vehicle and the trailer to decelerate at the same rate. A proportional controller provides more progressive, gradual braking feel from the trailer and performs better under heavy braking events.
A time-delayed controller is much more simple. These controllers detect when the brake in your tow vehicle is engaged and then send a signal to your trailer to apply the brakes. They allow the user to set a braking force value and a time delay value based on the trailer weight, the road conditions and a number of other factors.
Generally speaking, proportional controllers are superior to time-delayed controllers. The braking value and time delay value automatically vary, they perform better in hard emergency braking events and they will ensure even wear between your trailer brakes and tow vehicle brakes. If you find yourself towing often, you’ll want to opt for a proportional controller. If you only tow every now and then, a time-delayed brake controller should be appropriate.
In this article, we’re going to show you some of our favorite trailer brake controllers on sale today (both of the proportional and time-delayed type) and explain what makes them different. We’ll also answer common questions consumers have when shopping for a trailer brake controller so you know what to look for, what to avoid and how to install such a product.
Curt TriFlex Brake Controller - Editor's Choice
This proportional brake controller features a triple-axis accelerometer, nine-levels of braking sensitivity adjustment and provides braking for up to four axles. It also has a user-selectable power output and trailer brake light activation, but automatically levels and calibrates itself so you don’t have to do any tedious setup work.
You will have to buy an apapter cable to install this product, but it should install quite easily once you have. It’s easy to use once it’s installed as well with a straightforward operation and will provide a confidence-inspiring, gradual braking feel.
This is a good trailer brake controller for the price, undercutting many rival products while performing much better. Some users dislike the fact that it requires an adapter cable, however, and experienced a parasitic power loss that killed their battery.
Tekonsha Prodigy P2
The Tekonsha Prodigy P2 is another good proportional type brake controller. It provides braking for up to four axles and features an inertia-detecting accelerometer for precise braking pressure inputs and adjustments.
This trailer brake controller is also extremely easy to install, although you’ll have to buy the correct wiring harness for your vehicle. The product is otherwise plug-and-play, automatically calibrating to suit the driving situation.
The Tekonsha P2 has a “boost” function as well, which allows the user to apply additional braking power when towing heavier trailers. The digital display provides a real-time readout of the voltage being sent to the trailer.
Users who have purchased this product like it for it’s easy installation and straightforward operation. It can also disconnect easily from the wiring harness, allowing you to remove it from your vehicle when it’s not in use. Some users say it can be hard to mount to your dashboard properly, however. It’s also a bit more expensive than comparable products like the Curt TriFlex.
The screen will show the current of the system along with battery, brake and output voltages. The P3, which is a proportional brake controller, easily plugs into your vehicle using an adapter (which you have to buy separately) and mounts to the bottom of your dash with a clip. It requires no calibrating just plug it in, hook your trailer up and you’ll be on your way.
This device provides braking power for up to four axles and like the related P2, has a ‘boost’ function that will send full power to the trailer brakes in emergency braking situations.
This trailer brake controller may have too many different settings and functions for your average consumer towing a camping trailer, for example. If you tow often, or tow as part of your profession, this high-end trailer brake controller is ideal for you. Hobbyists won’t have to spend as much money to get a good trailer brake controller.
The Reese Towpower is a popular, inexpensive proportional trailer brake controller with the ability to send braking power to four axles in total. It also features a small readout screen, which displays the current amount of voltage being sent to your trailer.
This trailer brake controller can also be mounted to the bottom of your dash easily using the included brackets. You’ll also want to ensure you have the correct wiring harness for your vehicle to use with this controller.
This product is good for those who do not want to spend a lot of money on their brake controller. We’d say this is among the best cheap trailer brake controllers on sale today, though it does lack some features of more expensive products. The buttons are also mounted on the top, which can limit your mounting options.
Tekonsha Primus IQ
This product has many of the same features as the other, more expensive brake controllers from Primus including a boost function, an LED readout and an automatically leveling accelerometer. But while more expensive products will support eight brakes across four axles, this controller only supports six across three.
Apart from that difference, this electronic brake controller is just as strong as other products from Tekonsha, most of which we’d highly recommend. We’d say this product is good for inexperienced towers, but probably not suited for those who tow very often or have very heavy trailers.
Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ
The Draw-Tire I-Stop IQ trailer brake controller has everything you could possibly want in a proportional trailer brake controller including an LED readout, self-diagnostics, a ‘boost function’ for emergency braking and a mounting clip for installing it to the bottom of your vehicle’s dash.
This product is well-priced. This makes it a good middle ground between expensive brake controllers and entry-level time-based brake controllers. Like other products of this type, you’ll have to buy the correct wiring harness for your vehicle separately – it’s extremely easy to install otherwise, though.
One downside to this product is that there is no off switch – if you want to turn it off, you’ll have to unplug it from the adapter. This is common for electronic brake controllers but can still be bothersome for some users. Some users also say this brake controller can be inconsistent with the braking forces it applies.
Reese TowPower Brakeman
While we would typically suggest a proportional brake controller due to the added safety they provide, we just can’t ignore this extremely affordable product. This trailer brake controller is probably the least expensive product of its type that you can find.
You adjust the sync on this product using the slider. It’s designed for use on 1-2 axles and includes all necessary mounting hardware and brackets. Because it features no moving parts like a proportional controller would, it’s also extremely compact.
This trailer brake controller will work exactly as advertised, but may not provide the same linear braking feel and outright braking performance as a proportional controller.
The Hopkins Insight trailer brake controller is a three-piece product consisting of the controller itself, a tiny LED screen for displaying current voltage and warning the driver of any system problems and a slider for adjusting the intensity of the brake application.
This trailer brake controller is easy to install and use and provides a linear braking feel. A downside to the three-piece system is that together, the parts and their various wires can actually take up quite a bit of room and take a while to install. For this reason, we’d say this trailer brake controller is a bit less convenient than others on this list.
Reese Towpower Pod
The main benefit of the Reese Towpower Pod over other similar products is its compact size. If you own a smaller vehicle or simply don’t want your brake controller to take up a lot of room in the cabin with you, this may be the brake controller for you.
This is a timed brake controller, which has downsides compared to a proportional controller, but it’s also very cheap for this reason. It provides braking power for two axles only and you’ll have to buy the proper adapter for your vehicle separately. It comes with a bracket and all the necessary mounting hardware you’ll need, though.
With a plug and play operation, you can pretty much forget about this brake controller once you’ve installed it, although it does feature sync settings. It provides braking for up to four axles and comes with a bracket for mounting it to your dash.
One downside to this controller is the sensitivity of the different settings – changing the settings can result in a dramatic change in braking performance, so keep this in mind when calibrating the device to work with your vehicle and trailer.
Should I Get a Timed or Proportional Controller?
Like we said above, a proportional trailer brake controller is typically superior to a timed brake controller.
A timed brake controller allows you to set a ‘sync’ value, which adjusts the length of the delay between when you first press the brakes and when the controller applies the brakes on your trailer. The controller will then ‘ramp’ the brakes, progressively applying more and more brake pressure as the vehicle slows to a stop, attempting to mimic the progressive braking action most drivers use.
A proportional brake controller features a sensor or accelerometer that detects the rate at which your vehicle is braking and accurately mimics the deceleration rate when applying the trailer brakes. This allows the trailer and tow vehicle to slow down at the exact same rate, stop after stop.
If you tow often, or tow very heavy trailers, you should definitely opt for a proportional brake controller. They provide better, more linear braking performance and also perform better in heavy emergency braking events. If you are only towing smaller trailers and don’t find yourself towing very often, a timed brake controller should do the trick and will save you some cash.
How Do I Mount and Install a Trailer Brake Controller?
Most trailer brake controls will come with a mounting bracket and hardware. This bracket is typically intended to be screwed into the bottom of your dash, with the brake controller itself either screwing or sliding into the bracket.
What a trailer brake won’t come with is a wiring harness. You will have to purchase the correct wiring harness for your vehicle separately. The wiring harness will plug into the trailer controller and a port underneath the dashboard, which you’ll have to locate using the owner’s manual or through online research (forums are a good place for such research), as the port’s location can vary depending on the vehicle type.
In many common tow vehicles, like trucks and bigger SUVs, a trailer brake controller will be a simple plug and play installation into the port. You have to be mindful of which way you are mounting proportional trailer brake controllers, though, as you can throw off the accelerometer if they aren’t mounted level or are mounted upside down.
If your vehicle is not equipped for towing, you’ll have to run wires linking the trailer brakes, ground, vehicle brakes and battery power. This can be a much more complicated process, but there are plenty of wiring guides online to get you started. You may want to have professional do this wiring job as well if it’s needed.
How do I Calibrate my Trailer Brake Controller?
Good question! Many time-based brake controllers will come with an instruction manual telling you how to properly calibrate the controller. You can also look this up online. We don’t want to mislead you in regards to the proper calibration of your device, so you should definitely follow the manufacturer’s suggestions when calibrating the device.
Most proportional trailers will calibrate themselves as you go – just plug it in and you’ll be on your way!
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