Electronic brake controllers are essential to tow your trailer legally and safely. Which electronic brake controller is right for you?
The rules and regulations
If the trailer or van weighs 750kg and 2000kg, it must be fitted with an independent braking system on at least one axle, and options include mechanical set-ups, such as override brakes.
For vans or trailers that have a GTM (Gross Trailer Mass) over 2000kg and up to 4500kg, brakes are required on all wheels, with electric being far the most commonly used. Further to that, a break-away system must be fitted, meaning the brakes can still be applied if the van accidentally detaches from the tow vehicle. Until recently, NSW law stated the breakaway system also had to have a low battery alarm, with visual and audio alerts in the vehicle cabin; however, that law has been repealed.
Another important rule is that brakes for the trailer must be able to be manually operated easily from the driver’s seating position, and independently of the vehicle’s brakes in an emergency. It’s a good idea to fit the brake controller’s dial in reach of the front seat passenger so that they can assist the driver if needs be – and it’s a routine you should practice on a quiet road somewhere.
So, how do brake controllers work?
Typically brake controllers for most tow vehicles are required to be fitted to the battery in the vehicle. While 24V controllers are available, the bulk of controllers used in caravan and touring applications are 12V.
Certain brake controllers are labelled as suitable for up to four axles or have a maximum axle rating. The wording ‘up to’ is important. A bigger controller will work for fewer axles though, so ensure you ask the right questions before buying anything. If you have a single-axle trailer and you might decide to move up to a tandem axle, consider if you will be able to use your existing device or budget for more money on another controller.
There are essentially two types of brake controller on the market, Proportional and Non-proportional. Proportional controllers are motion-sensing units that monitor the deceleration of the tow vehicle and will apply the brakes on the van accordingly. This type of controller must be mounted in the right orientation to work correctly.
Non-proportional or Time Activated controllers apply a set amount of power to the braking system over a pre-set time; these can be mounted pretty much anywhere and can be adjusted by the driver as required.
How to fit a brake controller
For the most part, brake controllers can be fitted by any competent DIY handyperson, although most manufacturers will advocate fitment by an auto electrician. In any case, you need to take care when wiring in a controller to ensure that the vehicle’s electricals or safety systems like airbags are not damaged by your work. There are Plug N Play looms available for vehicle-specific applications, so do the research to find out if it will suit the tow vehicle, and read the fitting instructions first.
Ask the vehicle manufacturer and brake controller dealer to ensure a new vehicle warranty won’t be affected by the fitting of a controller. If in doubt, take the vehicle to a qualified electrician or reputable caravan company who can do the job for you.
What’s available on the market?
Remember, not all brake controllers are approved for use with AL-KO ESC and Dexter Sway Control systems. There are lists available, however, chat to the supplier to ensure what you are buying suits your van or trailer, this is particularly important if getting a brake controller fitted to a new vehicle by a vehicle dealer.
Here is a breakdown of some of the popular brake controllers available and where to find more information about them.
AL-KO International www.alko.com.au
Hayes Energize III 81741B
Proportional, for medium and heavy-duty trailers with up to three axles, 100 percent braking power in manual mode. Compatible with all electronic systems (ABS, AL-KO ESC, cruise, etc.), a wide range of mounting positions; perfect for steep dash surface mounting.
Tekonsha Voyager 9030
Proportional, Plug N play, up to four axles, bi-colour LED display, compact size.
Tekonsha Prodigy P2
Proportional, one to four axles, digital display, boost feature, disconnect feature, No level adjustment necessary, works proportionally in reverse that can be disabled when not needed, continual diagnostics check.
Tekonsha Prodigy P3
Proportional, one to four axles, five storable setting options for different drivers and trailers, easy access control, dash-mounted, various LED display and warning features, Plug N Play wiring, Boost feature, select electric over hydraulic or electric trailer brake mode.
Tekonsha Primus IQ
Proportional, self-levelling, boost feature, snap-in dash mounting clip, Plug N Play wiring, up to three axles, self-levelling mechanism – no level adjustment necessary, works proportionally in reverse, Plug & Tow technology pre-assembled wiring harness and snap-in dash mounting kit for easy installation and quick disconnects.
Dexter Predator (DX2)
Inertia-activated controller, up to two axles, LED displays voltage output and makes levelling quick and easy, independent manual slide override, mounting range of -35 to 90 degrees to accommodate a wide variety of vehicle interiors, compatible with virtually all 12-volt, negative ground tow vehicles.
Bainbridge Technologies – www.baintech.com.au
Time-based compact with a dash-mounted controller, pre-set braking force, up to two axles, AL-KO ESC compatible, easy install, assembled in Australia.
Elecbrakes – www.elecbrakes.com
Proportional unit, mounted in the trailer, wireless connection to the remote unit in car and/or Smartphone App, five pre-set programs, Plug N Play wiring or Trailer-wired, multi tow vehicle use, approved for ESC systems, upgrades via App, Australian made.
GSL Electronics – www.gsl.com.au
Australian designed, compact dash-mounted electronic time-based controller, LED indicator, override slide control, adjustable pre-set braking force, up to two axles, AL-KO ESC compatible, three ramp-up levels for brake speed actuation.
Australian designed, compact remote mounted electronic time-based controller with dash-mounted LED-backlit control knob, adjustable pre-set braking force, up to two axles, AL-KO ESC compatible, easy install, easy override and one of the smallest remote heads on the market.
Hayman Reese – www.haymanreese.com.au
Compact Remote Mount
Time activated, remote mounted, Smart Click harness, up to three axles, Sync adjustment for towing different trailers.
CompactIQ Remote Mount
Time activated, dash-mounted, Smart Click harness, up to three axles, boost feature, fully compatible with (ESC) and (DSC) systems,
Time activated, dash-mounted, Smart Click harness, push buttons for controlling output and sync settings, Thumb control manual override
Proportional, dash-mounted, up to three axles, self-fault diagnosing, LED display, works proportionally in reverse, self-levelling mechanism, boost setting and Smart Click harness.
Proportional, 360-degree fitting range, self-levelling mechanism, dash-mounted, up to four axles, deceleration controls to match braking on the vehicle with the trailer, self-fault diagnosing, LED display, works proportionally in reverse, boost setting and Smart Click harness.
Leisure Technologies – www.witi.com.au
WiTi (Wireless Trailer Interface)
Wireless connectivity, proportional inertia system with Brake Smoothing (limits jarring) and Hill Descent Assist, In-dash dial, manual override, up to three axles, Plug N Play connectivity, simple installation, no cables required between the van and vehicle, low battery alarm, will work with other brake controllers seamlessly.
Redarc – www.redarc.com.au
Tow-Pro Elite V3
Proportional and User-controlled mode (off-road use), dash-mounted controller, software upgrades, approved for ALKO ESC and DSC systems, universal wiring and vehicle-specific kits, up to three axles, Australian made.
User control mode, dash-mounted controller, 12V-only, approved for AL-KO ESC and DSC systems, up to three axles, Australian made.