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Best Trailer Brake Controller

The Best Trailer Brake Controller 2019

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’s 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.

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’s activated when the driver brakes in the towing vehicle, which then activates the trailer’s electric brakes for smooth braking.

Trailer Brake Controller Comparison

Trailer Brake ControllerTypeAxles
Tekonsha 90195 P3Proportional4
Reese Towpower 8507111Time Delayed4
CURT 51140 TriFlexProportional4
Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQProportional4
Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQProportional3
Hopkins 47297 INSIGHTProportional4
Hayes 81760Time Delayed3
CURT 51180 BluetoothProportional4

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.

The Best Trailer Brake Controller


1. 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.

A unique feature that is very useful is the diagnostics, which will illuminate the display in bright red if there is a problem. Issues that may arise can be anything from the output voltage to no trailer connection.

Other features of the Tekonsha 90195 P3 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

The back lit LCD screen can be altered to display in different languages (English, Spanish or French) as well as various color changes.

It’s 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.

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2. Reese Towpower Brakeman IV Brake Controller

The Reese Towpower is a time delayed brake controller that 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 it’s affordability.

It ‘s fairly basic in terms of functionality but this means it’s simple to use and install in your vehicle. Due to the solid-state design, it can also be installed in any orientation, which is great for custom installations.

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

For those looking for an affordable electric brake controller, the Reese Towpower Brakeman IV is the best option. The brand also offer a variety of other models but the Brakeman IV is the most rated.

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3. 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, which is a triple axis accelerator that provides higher sensitivity for smoother braking.

CURT claim that it can be installed in minutes and it comes with its own plug, which eliminates the need to splice any wires.

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

The CURT 51140 TriFlex is an excellent all-round trailer brake controller that is developed by a reputable brand. It’s fast to install and easily calibrated for all your towing needs by using the intuitive display.

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4. Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Trailer Brake Control


A more affordable option by the reputable Tekonsha brand is the Primus IQ model, which is also a proportional braking system. It has many of the premium feature found in the 90195 P3 model but without the premium price tag.

The main differences include a more basic LED readout and less button to select the settings on the controller.

Other features of the Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ include:

  • Patented Plug-N-Play port
  • Diagnostic feedback that illuminates the display
  • Brake boost functionality
  • Completely self-leveling
  • Dash mounting hardware included
  • Works proportionally in reverse

The 90160 Primus IQ trailer brake controller by Tekonsha is an excellent option that’s easy to setup and install. It does lack the larger display and buttons compared to the upgraded model but it’s a cheaper option for providing smooth braking.

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5. 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. The 20191 is the latest model that the brand produce with several new design features and functionality.

It features a brake boosting function that provides the driver with more initial braking whilst towing heavier loads.

Other features of the Draw Tite 20191 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 but still has a limited lifetime warranty. The features and functionality are very similar to the Tekonsha models but it’s available at a fraction of the cost.

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6. Hopkins 47297 Plug-in Trailer Brake Controller


Another affordable and popular option is the Hopkins 47297, which is easy to install and can be mounted anywhere without any tools. It works for trailers with electric or hydraulic brakes for safe and smoothing braking.

The brand offer several different brake controllers but the 4729 INSIGHT model is the most popular choice.

Other features of the Hopkins 47297 include:

  • Advanced proportional braking technology
  • 7 sensitivity settings with vertical manual slide
  • Suitable for controlling 8 trailer brakes
  • Easy to install with separate components
  • Limited lifetime warranty

The Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT is a unique trailer brake controller that comes packed full of functionality. From brake failure notifications to multiple sensitivity levels, it is a highly rated controller that will not disappoint and offers great value for money.

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7. Hayes 81760 Time Based Brake Controller


The Hayes 81760 is a time delayed electric brake controller that comes with a lifetime warranty and is made in the USA. For vehicles towing single, tandem or tri-axle braking trailers in particular, this will be an affordable option to consider.

Unlike other time delayed controllers, it has the ability to adjust the “power ramp time” to suit the responsiveness that you require.

Features of the Hayes 81760 Engage 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

Overall, it is a great alternative to the Reese Towpower time delayed device with both having unique features. However, the Hayes 81760 Engage is more expensive, which make it the less desirable option.

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8. CURT 51180 Electric Trailer Brake Controller


Another trailer brake controller by the CURT brand is the 51180 model, which is powered by Bluetooth technology. It uses a wireless connection to your smartphone, which allows you to control all the brake settings from your phone.

In order to make the installation as simple as possible, the 51180 unit plugs into any 7-way connector and is easily transferable between vehicles.

Other features of the CURT 51180 include:

  • Proportional brake controller
  • Easy installation with no tools required
  • Triple axis accelerator for instant response
  • Easily transfers between different vehicles
  • Compatible with vehicle electronics such as cruise control
  • Built-in reverse polarity and short circuit protection
  • Stores user and vehicle profiles on the application
  • Sends safety notifications to the user

It’s important to note that even if the Bluetooth connection is lost, the controller will continue to function using the most recent settings.

CURT claim to be the fist brand to successfully create a Bluetooth enabled trailer brake controller. The 51180 is packed full of intuitive features that provides you with greater control and a much easier installation.

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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.

best brake controller

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.

best trailer brake controllers

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:

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Conclusion

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.

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