Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews (2020)
Introduction To Top Rated Electronic Brake Controllers
If you’re towing a trailer, a brake controller is an essential safety consideration which can protect your vehicle, your trailer, AND YOUR LIFE! Originally designed for large truck and trailer units, these units are also great for smaller towing vehicles. So what is a brake controller? Put simply, this external device is wired in and sits on the dash of the towing vehicle and, whenever you apply the brakes, it sends an instant message to the towed vehicle’s brakes that it’s time to stop.
Without the brake controller, slowing and stopping (particularly when you have to do it suddenly!) would become difficult and even dangerous because the towed vehicle would continue moving at the same velocity when the towing vehicle stops, causing a “domino effect”. There are two basic types of brake controllers – time-delayed and proportional – and the choice you make will depend on your budget, your expertise, and your needs.
Time delayed brake controllers work by applying a predetermined (based on load weight) amount of pressure to the brakes of the trailer. There is a slight time delay which allows the driver to adjust the pressure with a “sync” switch if need be. Time-delayed controllers tend to cost a little less but this device is best for experienced truckers or drivers who use the brakes in a controlled way and react quickly when needed.
The proportional system puts a lot less pressure and wear on the brakes of both cars and also allows for much more accurate braking in the case of an emergency. It works by using a motion sensor to ascertain how quickly the towing vehicle is stopping and applying an equal amount of pressure to the brakes. No matter how suddenly you have to stop, the towed vehicle will stop at exactly the same time.
Note that, not all brake controllers are compatible with all vehicles or trailers and most have tables to show you the year, make and models they will work with. On Amazon.com, you can put your vehicle’s specs into the bar up the top and it’ll let you know whether this device will work for you. Today, we count down the top 5 best brake controllers on the current market. Read on to find out which will win the top spot and why:
Here’s 5 of the Best Electric Brake Controllers To Buy for Towing
- Easy-to-read LCD display with multiple screen color options, displays in English, French or Spanish. Diagnostics show output current, battery, brake, and output voltage and warning system alerts to No Trailer Brake situations, Allows different levels of customized braking
- Self-diagnostics features will illuminate LED readout when issues occurs, Includes a "Boost" feature and works proportionally in reverse, Utilizes "Plug-N-Play" port for 2-plug adapters
- Electric trailer brake control for up to 4 braking axles, designed to work with electric over hydraulic brake systems, Digital display depicts voltage delivery to trailer during braking, produces stops that are in proportion to vehicles deceleration rate, Boost feature gives users the ability to apply more initial trailer braking power when towing heavier trailers
- Plug-in simple connection allows for quick installation and removal without cutting or splicing, Time based, with fully digital settings, and shows the percentage of braking power in a digital LED display, Short proof protected with a 4 brake capacity
- Small compact design mounts in any direction, no leveling required. Pre-wired plug-and-play feature allows for quick and easy connection to 2-, 4-, 6- and 8- brake systems. Include two separate easy push-button adjustment controls, Bright and prominent digital display
#5 Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Trailer Brake Controller
This time-delayed system can be mounted without leveling and features a digital display, sync setting, and brake overload. It is designed for use with 12-volt negative ground systems, up to 8 braking, and provides internal circuit protection. It is one of the least expensive trailer brake controllers on the market and can be purchased for under $50.
#4 Hopkins 47284 Reliance Digital Electronic Brake Controller
This time-based system can be easily installed without tools (most reviewers report that they had the job done in under 10 minutes!) and features easy to use controls which allow you to adjust braking without taking your eyes off the road. It’s ideal for smaller vehicle and trailer units and can operate up to a four brake system. It is specifically for use with 12-volt negative ground systems. Usually priced at under $50, it is another of the most inexpensive models you can buy. Hopkins supplies a lifetime warranty on all of their brake controllers.
#3 Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control
This proportional brake control system features a digital display for up to the second diagnostics on voltage delivery, secure connection and magnet conditions. Once installed, it is fully automatic and the trailer will brake at the same rate as the tow vehicle’s deceleration but a boost feature also gives the driver the option of manually braking harder if towing a heavier load. Proportional systems tend to be pricier than their time-based counterparts and this one can be purchased for just over $100. A limited lifetime warranty is offered on parts and service for this product.
#2 Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
This proportional brake controller is suitable for trailers with between one and three axles and features a self-diagnostics program which will illuminate the LED screen if any issues occur. It is fully automated and causes the trailer brakes to work in unison with the tow vehicle brakes but the driver can also apply the boost function if needed. For people who tow only occasionally, it has a “clip off” feature which allows you to easily remove the unit and store it safely when not in use. This is relatively cheap compared to other proportional systems and can be purchased for around $75. A lifetime warranty is provided on parts and labor for this unit.
#1 Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electric Brake Controller
This electric brake controller makes it into the top spot because, although it is the most expensive, it is also the most functional, the most effective, and the most highly rated among experienced drivers. So, if you choose this model, you really are paying for quality and peace of mind! And, when you consider the replacement cost of your vehicle and trailer (as well as whatever value you place on your personal safety) an extra $50 or so doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
It is a state of the art proportional system with electric over hydraulic, electric, and boost operations to customize your braking when need be. It also features in-depth system diagnostics and a large, easy to read digital display which allows you to check for issues without becoming distracted from driving. This unit can be purchased for approximately $125 and a full manufacturer’s warranty is provided.
How To Install An Electronic Brake Controller
We absolutely recommend using a brake controller to anyone who’s planning on towing a trailer or vehicle and, in fact, it is a legal requirement in many states. And, if this is the first time you’ve used one, we strongly urge you to invest in the proportional system rather than time-delayed.
Choosing one that meets your needs and installing it correctly can be challenging if you’re inexperienced in this area and we advise seeking professional advice about the type to buy (although you should watch out for workshop markups – it’s often daylight robbery!) and then get it installed properly by the experts.
However, if you’ve got a little more automotive savvy, the main things you need to check out are whether you want time delayed or proportional, whether the system fits your vehicle (and your trailer!) and how much you’re willing to spend. The installation for both time-delayed and proportional brake controller units is fairly similar. If you are able to follow automotive instructions and feel comfortable with basic wiring, the installation involves four wire system which includes trailer feed, ground, brake switch, and battery power. Each will have a slightly different process so make sure you study the manual carefully before you rip into it!
ADDITIONAL GUIDES YOU MAY ENJOY
Having a brake controller is important, especially when towing anything that is reaching the max capacity of what your vehicle can do. In addition, getting a good set of tires, making sure tire pressure is where it needs to be, and the brake pads themselves are in good standing. Those things alone will make a BIG difference when towing anything.
If you are using snow chains, having all the above is REQUIRED to safely tow.