What Is An Electronic Brake Controller and Why Do I need One?

When it comes to towing trailers, the tow vehicle’s brakes can sometimes be not enough to safely get the towing vehicle and trailer to a full stop. With the trailer’s speed and weight, having a lot of braking power is essential.

If you’re looking for a reliable and effective way to safely stop your caravan, then a trustworthy electronic brake controller is what you’ll need.

What Is It?

An electronic brake controller is a device that controls and activates the electric brakes of a towed vehicle. It’s composed of three main components — the interface, the sensor, and the main controller. The interface is usually positioned within reach of the driver and is used to adjust the setting of the device. The sensor gives valuable information to the controller. While the main controller is entirely responsible for the activation of the trailer’s brakes.

Electric brake controllers are classified such as:

  • Proportional or inertia-based – A proportional or inertia-based brake controller uses an internal inertia-based sensor that recognizes how and when your trailer brakes. The sensor reacts to the deceleration of your trailer while braking and gives signals to the controller to provide enough braking power to match the towing vehicle’s braking intensity.

This results in uniform braking without any push-pull action from the trailer or the towing vehicle. As the sensors and controllers adjust the trailer’s brakes automatically according to the towing vehicle’s speed, it’s essential in situations such as going downhill where you’ll be engaging in lower gears to slow down.

  • Non-proportional or time-based – The older non-proportional or time-based brake controller is activated by pressing your vehicle’s brakes. It applies a preset braking force depending on the driver’s chosen settings. One of the cons of this brake controller is that it only provides a uniform braking power as configured in its settings even in gentle or abrupt braking situations.

Electric brake controllers ensure that occupants of the towing vehicle and other drivers on the road are safe from possible accidents caused by over or under braking of the trailer. It also allows drivers to have more control over the trailer’s braking force, prevent premature wear and tear of the towing vehicle’s brakes, and reduce the jarring of linkages.

Why Do You Need One?

If you recently bought a new trailer, it’s important that you have all trailer essentials such as vehicle management systems, vehicle battery charger, and most importantly, electronic brake controllers. But why are these controllers necessary? Because caravans with electric brakes will need an electronic brake controller to activate their brakes.

It’s important to know that having trailer brakes and electric brake controllers are a legal requirement in Australia. The Australian government specifies trailer brake requirements according to the Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) and are legally binding across all states.

Here are the three trailer categories based on GTM:

  • Less than 750kg – Trailer brakes and brake controllers are not regulated. Although the law doesn’t state the essentiality of having electronic brakes on lighter trailers, it’s still a good idea to have one in order to have additional safety measures for you and others around you.
  • More than 750kg and less than 2,000kg – Trailer brakes are required and must function on both wheels on one axle. Here are two ways to comply with this regulation:
  • Option one – You can equip your trailer with hydraulic or mechanical override brakes, which does not require any electricity to work — best for boat trailers that often end up submerged in water. However, there’s a downside to this type of brake. It can only be turned on and off and cannot be configured.
  • Option two – You can equip your trailer with electric brakes and an electronic brake controller. Your trailer’s brake controller must be designed to allow progressive increase and decrease in braking power, as opposed to providing a constant braking force.
  • More than 2,000kg – Trailer brakes are required and must function on all wheels and axles. They must be designed to allow the progressive increase and decrease of braking force and be alterable from the towing vehicle’s driver seat. This requires you to install a proportional or inertia-based controller.

Closing Thoughts

Getting a reliable electronic brake controller for your trailer is one way to make your towing safer and more cost effective. Always remember to do your research and make sure to comply with all the state regulations involving trailers and towing vehicles.

Electric brake controllers do not only give you peace of mind, it also make your camping trips safer.