An electric trailer brake controller is often installed as an aftermarket part to assist with the braking of a towing vehicle. For lightweight trailers, it is not necessarily required but for trailers with a gross weight of over 1,000 LBS, it’s highly advised.
The best trailer brake controller is the Tekonsha 90195 P3, which is a proportional braking system with configurations for other trailers and a range of features.
There are two main types of brake controllers, which are time delayed and proportional braking. The controller is installed under the dashboard of the towing vehicle and wired to the trailers brakes. It is activated when the driver brakes in the towing car, which activates the trailer’s electric brakes.
Table of Contents
- Best Trailer Brake Controller
- Trailer Brake Controller Buying Guide
Best Trailer Brake Controller
|Trailer Brake Controller||Type||Axles|
|Tekonsha 90195 P3||Proportional||4|
|Reese Towpower 8507111||Time Delayed||4|
|CURT 51140 TriFlex||Proportional||4|
|Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ||Proportional||3|
|Hayes 81760||Time Delayed||3|
Both proportional and time delayed trailer brake controllers are very similar. They both supply power from the towing vehicle to a trailers electric brakes using the same wiring configuration. They also allow the driver to adjust the braking power and have switches to manually override the trailer brakes.
Choosing between the two may be dependent upon the type of load that is on your trailer or your driving style. The proportional trailer braking system is the most popular choice for those that use trailer on a regular basis.
Installing an electric brake controller for your trailer is highly recommended for safety purpose sand is fairly straightforward to install. Below is a list of the best trailer brake controllers with a mix of both time delayed and proportional examples.
Tekonsha 90195 P3 Trailer Brake Controller
The Tekonsha 90195 P3 is the best trailer brake controller available and by far the most popular. In terms of value for money and functionality, no other unit comes close. The back lit LCD screen can be altered to display in different languages (English, Spanish or French) as well as various color changes.
Features of the Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller include:
- Proportional braking system
- Ability to select between electric over hydraulic
- Suitable for up to 4 axles
- Diagnostic data
- Digital G-Sensor
- Reversing mode and manual override
- Patented “Plug-N-Play” for easy installation
A feature that is very useful is the diagnostics from the brake controller, which will illuminate in bright red when there is a problem. Problems that may be displayed on the screen are anything from the output voltage to no trailer connection.
Overall, it is the most popular choice that is easy to install and performs as you would expect. It is worth noting that you will have to purchase an additional wiring harness but it completes the kit and makes the installation go smoothly.
Reese Towpower Brakeman IV Brake Controller
The Reese Towpower is a time delayed brake controller that is smaller and can be mounted in any direction with no leveling required. It has the ability to operate a maximum of 8 brakes, which is quite impressive considering its low cost.
Other features of the Reese Towpower Brakeman IV include:
- Time delayed controller
- Easy to read display that indicates output and sync settings
- For use on 12-volt negative ground systems
- Suitable for up to 4 axles
- Digital gain and sync that can be adjusted easily
- Includes mounting hardware (but not wiring harness)
- Limited lifetime warranty
It is fairly basic in terms of functionality but this means it’s simple to use and install in your vehicle. Due to the sold-state design, it can also be installed in any orientation, which is great for custom installations.
For those looking for an affordable electric brake controller, the Reese Towpower alternative is the best option.
CURT 51140 TriFlex Proportional Brake Controller
The 51140 TriFlex is an affordable proportional brake controller that is developed by the reputable CURT brand. The term TriFlex is in relation to its motion sensor that is a triple axis accelerator. The main benefits of this complex sensor is high sensitivity, which results in smoother braking.
Other features of the CURT 51140 TriFlex include:
- Proportional brake controller
- Easily calibrated for all requirements with 9 levels of sensitivity
- Suitable for up to 4 axles
- Compact design with a clear digital display
- Self-leveling with automatic calibration
- Limited lifetime warranty
CURT take pride of how easy it is to install and claim that it can be installed in minutes. The device comes with its own plug and there is no splicing of wires or difficult settings required to get up and running.
Overall, the CURT 51140 TriFlex is an excellent all-round trailer brake controller that is developed by a reputable brand that you can trust.
Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
The Draw Tite 20191 is a proportional electronic brake control with diagnostics similar to the Tekonsha P3 device. This is the latest version of several models available, which has the desirable brake boosting functionality for heavy loads.
Other features of the Draw Tite 20191 Brake Controller include:
- Proportional brake controller
- Snap-in mounting clips for easy install/removal
- Small LED display and adjustable dial
- Suitable for 3 axle trailers
- Works proportionally in reverse
- Includes pre-assembled wiring harness
It is a cheaper proportional brake controller compared to other competitors with a matching limited lifetime warranty. The features and functionality are very similar to the Tekonsha models but it does lack some functionality.
Hayes 81760 Time Based Brake Controller
The Hayes 81760 is a time delayed electric brake controller that comes with a lifetime warranty and made in the US. For vehicles towing single, tandem or tri-axle braking trailers in particular, this will be an affordable option to consider.
Features of the Hayes 81760 Engage Digital Brake Controller include:
- Suitable for 3 axles
- No level adjustment required
- Can be manually overridden via the lever
- Patented “Quik Connect” for easy installation
- Can be mounted in any position
- Made in USA with a lifetime warranty
It is a time delayed controller and the longer the brake is pressed down, the more current is delivered to the trailer brakes. You can adjust the “power ramp time” to achieve the best possible responsiveness for your requirements.
Overall, it is a great alternative to the Reese Towpower time delayed device with both having different features.
Trailer Brake Controller Buying Guide
Once you have installed a new trailer hitch onto your vehicle, you will want to look at other accessories that make driving easier. If you are new to hauling heavy loads with your trailer, you may not have heard of a trailer brake controller.
In short, they are an aftermarket electronic device that is designed to help control the braking. If you have ever done an emergency stop with a heavy load, you will understand why it’s highly advised to have one installed.
They are typically installed in the dashboard as shown in the main image. This allows you to configure the brake controller and ensure that the connection with your trailer is fully functioning. All of the recommendations above come with adequate wiring and mounting brackets for an easy installation.
To help you make an informed buying decision, we have produced the below buying guide regarding trailer brake controllers.
Benefits of Using a Brake Controller
The main benefit of installing these devices is primarily to improve safety whilst towing. When you are hauling large loads, the braking of your vehicle drastically changes and can be unpredictable at certain speeds and braking intensities. The brake controller applies the brakes to the trailer, thus improving all-round braking. This is far easier to control and allows you to brake far easier and quickly.
Another not so obvious benefit is the fact that it saves the wear and tear upon your brake pads. Without using a brake controller, all the stopping power is placed upon the vehicles brake pads, which puts an enormous amount of strain on them. Along with wear and tear, it can potentially cause brake fade as well as excessive heat.
Types of Brake Controllers
When you are in the market for a trailer brake controller, you have the option of either a proportional or time delayed controller. The proportional system replicates the braking of the trailer with the towing vehicle to ensure smooth stopping. Whereas time delayed system sends a signals to the trailers brakes at a predetermined rate of intensity rather than at the same time. Below are further details of the two different configurations.
Proportional Brake Controller
A proportional brake controller senses when the towing vehicle is slowing down and replicates the braking for the trailer. This will be the same ratio no matter the intensity of braking. For example, if the driver was to perform an emergency stop, the trailers brake will use the same amount of braking.
The benefits of a proportional setup is that emergency braking is much easier, quicker, smoother and has less wear on the brakes on both the vehicle and trailer. The trade off is that it is more expensive to purchase and a slightly more trickier install for those that are not experienced with wiring.
Time Delayed Brake Controller
A time delayed brake controller sends a signals to the trailers brakes at a predetermined rate of intensity rather than at the same time. The rate can be adjusted from the towing vehicle braking to the trailer brakes activating depending on the vehicle, conditions and your personal preference.
The benefits of a time delayed brake controller is that it is much simpler to install and cheaper but has more wear and tear on both the vehicle and trailer brakes.
Other Desirable Features
Once you have decided between a time based and proportional brake controller, you will then want to focus on different features. Some provide additional functionality that can make a huge difference to the braking as well as usability of the device. Some of these desirable features include:
- The inclusion of a built-in display makes setting up the controller and reading data much easier.
- Brake boost functionality for situations that involve heavy braking
- Ability to handle multiple axles
- Mounting hardware and wiring harness included as a complete kit
It may be tempting to go for the cheap option but we highly advise purchasing one with additional functionality. It may come with a higher price tag but it’s a worthwhile investment that will last many years.
How To Install A Trailer Brake Controller
To install a brake controller, you will most probably need to buy a wiring harness that will plug into your car. If you do not have a towing package in your car, you may need to perform some DIY wiring and splice the wires. If you go down this route, it would be advised to get an automotive multimeter for confirming continuity.
The following steps would be required to install an electric brake controller:
- Check To See If The Vehicle Is Pre-Wired. You will need to look under your dashboard and potentially remove some interior panels. Check for wiring with a label that will mention “Electric Brake Controller”.
- Connect or Splice Wiring Harness. As mentioned, you may have a pre-wired where you connect to the plug to the harness or you will need to splice into the wiring.
- Screw Controller Under Dashboard. Most controllers will come with brackets and screws. Simple connect the wiring from the vehicle wiring to the controller then place it in an accessible but “out of the way” location.
- Adjust Settings. Now that it is installed, you can adjust the settings to what you require depending on the weight your are towing or driving conditions. For example, a fifth wheel will need a different setting to a car transporter trailer.
For a more details to install an electric brake controller, follow this guide by etrailer.
Investing into an electric brake controller that will increase your driving safety is definitely a worthwhile investment. It is also your legal responsibility to ensure that your trailer has got brakes for heavy loads. In the US, the law varies from state to state but regardless, it is still a very important piece of equipment.
Trailers that begin to jackknife out of control can become very dangerous but investing into safety equipment will prevent any dangerous movements. From brake controllers to weight distribution hitches, it is all equipment you should have when your hauling heavy loads. All of the brake controllers within this article are highly recommended and will improve your braking instantly.