Do travel trailers have brakes

Do travel trailers have brakes

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Travel trailer are popular and many tow them with their usual car or truck. A high weight trailer can sometimes be difficult to tow, especially if you haven’t done that before. Trailer, no matter how more weight or less weight it has; always needs time to stop when brakes are applied. With just towing vehicles brakes, it can take longer to stop and that can be an issue for you.

Many people try towing without having their travel trailer brakes, that can be dangerous and you should avoid doing it. When buying a new or used trailer, many has this question “whether the trailers have the brakes or not” and “how do i find what kind of brakes are present”. Second thing is, whether you can actually use those brakes sitting in your towing vehicle or not. Lets dive deep into these questions and find out the answers.

Do all travel trailers have brakes on them

The short answer to this question is yes travel trailer have  brakes but not all may have them. A travel trailer most likely will come equipped with a trailer brakes. Its not only important to have the trailers brakes but is also a law. When i say law, it is not for all trailers. In-fact every state has value defined for weight above which a trailer is needed to have brakes.

The weight varies from state to state and there is no specific value across united states. On an average the weight travel trailer above around 2000-2200 pounds are required to have brakes installed. We will some examples of states and their weight limits. The trucks that we use for towing also will have this mentioned (the weight limit above which the trailer brakes are needed).

Even in Canada, the law is as per provinces and it varies on weight around 2000-3000. The weight that is mentioned is basically the Gross vehicle weight ration or the GVWR. Its the combination weight of trailer and the towing vehicle. Basically the limit is to make sure the brakes be able to stop that much weight.

Why do i need travel trailer breaks

A trailer and the tow vehicle combination can be deadly when travel at high speeds. A weight of more than 5000 lbs or 8000 lbs can take more time to stop.

With a towing vehicle stopping such a weight (of both tow vehicle itself and the trailer) can be difficult. And thus trailer brakes are need when such a combination is moving on road.

With just towing vehicle brakes the vehicle may take longer time to stop and thus could result in crash. It is for this reason the brakes are also mandatory as per law. The limiting factor is the weight, various states have different weights specified. But overall the brakes are needed and must for stopping the heavy weight trailers.

There are different types of trailer brakes that can be used. Mostly bigger trailer will come equipped with the trailer brakes. Also if you are planning to buy a second hand or used travel trailer this should be in your checklist, that the trailer brakes are present and are operational.

Different types of trailer brakes

A travel trailer can have two types of breaks installed in them. The brakes can be either electric or hydraulic ones or the surge type of brakes.

As the names suggest the electric brakes work on electrical supply from the towing vehicle where as surge brakes work on hydraulic principles. One way to figure out what kind of trailer brakes the travel trailer has is to observe the trailer tires.

If you can locate wires hanging or connected behind the tires then it s electric one else it could be hydraulic or the surge type.

1. Electric Trailer brakes

The electric trailer have electromagnetic drums that are actuated with the help of controller from placed inside the towing vehicle. You can control actuating the electromagnetic drums of the brakes through the controller, it uses the electric energy from the towing vehicle and then helps stopping the trailer. No matter what speed you have, its difficult to stop the combination of vehicle and trailer without trailer brakes.

Electric brakes gives you control on how and when to stop the trailer. Mostly the new trailers come with this kind of brakes. Its a good option to have, you can control the trailer speed at your will. The brake controller also can be of different types. You need to select the type of brake control you want based on different factors like the total weight of the trailer whether its heavy duty or light duty and also your frequency of towing.

2. Surge type trailer brakes

Surge trailer brakes are operated on their own. They do not need any electric connection from the towing vehicle. They are self operated or self contained. The operation is based on calculation done on the basis of trailer weight and the overall momentum. It can identify when to actuate the brakes and when not to.

The system basically works depending on whether you apply the towing vehicles brakes or not. When you apply the towing vehicle brakes, the surge brakes automatically senses the momentum and the trailer brakes are actuated.

How do trailer brakes work

The electric brakes on trailer works when the electric current is supplied to them. The driver in the towing vehicle pushes the brakes with the help of legs, this then sends the current to the trailer controller present in vehicle. This in turn sends the current to the trailer brakes mounted on the inside of the trailer tires, axles. The connectivity is through the electrical wiring. The moment the current reaches the trailer tires the braking system is actuated and the trailer starts slowing down.

travel trailer brakes

The electrical brakes system internally consists of magnet, adjusting spring, a primary add secondary shoe, actuating arm and reactor spring. When the electric current is turned on and reaches the brakes it magnetizes the brakes magnet. This results in movement of magnet and in turn the actuating arm and shoe against the drum. The shoes have pad material to makes sure friction heat is not generated, the pressing or forcing of drum by shoe results in stopping the wheel or reducing the speed.

Towing without trailer brakes

The first rule you should follow here is follow law. Trailer brakes are mandatory in many states and the weight limitations vary for them. So get your weight checked and then if its above the limitations than don’t skip the brakes. If you are buying a second hand or used trailer than makes sure the brakes are installed. In case if your weight is under the limitation then may be you can skip the brakes. But still with this situation its always better to have the brakes installed. The trailer may work very well and t can be safe depending on various other conditions as well. Some of the things that make a lot of difference includes below,

  1. The road conditions, a trailer running on bad roads will definitely miss trailer brakes. A road that is narrow or dusty road through mountainous will mean trailer brakes are necessary even if the states law doesn’t states so for your trailer weight. Make sure trailer brakes are installed if the you will mostly be travelling through bad roads or you often do boondocking or dry camping
  2. The traffic conditions. If you happen to travel through roads that have high traffic then the trailer brakes will be needed. A very low traffic roads may not need you to use brakes. Also whether the roads are one way or two way will also e a deciding factor. In all people do travel without trailer brakes but it may not be for all. You need to have enough control over both the towing vehicle and the trailer.
  3. The area of travel. Some areas like residential area, school premises need you to be more vigilant when towing a travel trailer. And thus having a trailer brake can help a lot. Also you need to be in proper speed control, don’t over-speed and be cautions all the time. Making sure the trailer is not loaded beyond or very close to the weight limitations

Trailer brake requirements by state (at what weight you need trailer brakes)

When it comes to having compulsory trailer brakes, different states have different rules. It all depends on the weight of the trailer being towed. Not all states have same weight limitations but they have different weight limits above which trailer brakes are mandatory. Remember not following that could be be trouble for you hence make sure you have trailer brakes installed if your trailer weight exceeds the limit. Also some states do not specially mention the trailer requirements but as i discussed above it better to have the trailer brakes installed anyways.

Some of the example of weight limitations are in Maine you need trailer brakes if the overall weight exceeds 3000 lbs. IN MASSACHUSETTS the trailer brakes are needed if the unloaded weight exceeds 10000 lbs. In Michigan on the other hand the trailer brakes are mandatory if the weight exceeds 15,000 lbs. Nevada on the other hand says you need to have trailer brakes on each of the wheels if the weight exceeds just 1500 lbs. Thus if you see the examples every state has a varying weight limitations and thus its very important you get the information in your states and then plan for the trailer.


Not all travel trailer may have brakes. Having travel brakes or not will depend on lots of other conditions. Before skipping the travel trailer brakes one has to makes sure you don’t violate the states rules. A loaded travel trailer traveling through not so good roads or through a high traffic roads will definitely need trailer brakes. Understanding the type of trailer brake you have is also important. An electric brake gives you more control which is not possible with surge brakes. Next time if you shop for a travel trailer make sure you conform few things like trailer weight, type of brakes installed. Towing a travel trailer involves lot of safety things and having a trailer is defiantly one of the important things.

G. Yoganand

A RV enthusiast who spends countless hours researching and learning various things related to RV camping. He believes in spending time doing Outdoor activities.
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