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Do Travel Trailers Have Brakes?

Published on November 28th, 2018 by Ray & Tammy Roman
This post was updated on February 14th, 2021

Do travel trailers have brakes? Yes, most travel trailers come with electric brakes. The electric brakes are controlled by one of two methods. Either a surge device that is mounted on the trailer itself or a remote brake controller in the tow vehicle. The better braking systems have electric brakes on both axles whereas the less expensive ones have brakes on just one axle.

Do Travel Trailers Have Brakes?

Not all travel trailers have brakes. What determines if they do or don’t is the gross weight of the travel trailer. Each state does vary on what is the weight limit that will require brakes. Typically it in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 lbs or higher. You should check with your state’s DMV to get accurate information.

What Kind of Brakes Do Travel Trailers Have?

On a travel trailer, you will typically find 2 types of brakes. Electric brakes and surge brakes. In addition in the US, you need to have what is called a ‘breakaway system”. Let’s take a closer look. Now that we’ve answered the question Do travel trailers have brakes? let’s take a look at what types of brakes you are typical in a travel trailer.

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Electric Brakes

Most travel trailers use electric brakes. They are activated via an electrical connection from the towing vehicle to the trailer. Some electric brake systems use a controller located on the brake pedal of the towing vehicle. The controller senses when braking is being applied and activates the travel trailer’s brakes as well. Some systems use an inertia switch that is typically mounted on the dashboard of the towing vehicle.

do travel trailers have brakes

How Do Electric Travel Trailer Brakes Work?

Electric brakes use an electromagnet rather than hydraulic brake fluid. Once the brake controller is activated it sends a voltage back to the electromagnet in the brake. The magnets once energized stick to the armature area of the brake drum. The spinning of the drums pulls the brake shoes and pads unto the inside of the drum slowing down your travel trailer.

Check out the video below of how electric brakes work.

Surge Brakes

Travel trailer surge brakes do not require an electrical connection to the towing vehicle. These types of brakes work automatically and use hydraulics to apply the brakes. When brakes are applied on the towing vehicle the forward motion (momentum) of the travel trailer creates pressure on the surge coupler which puts pressure on the brakes master cylinder thereby applying the brakes.

The faster the tow vehicle slows down the more pressure is applied by the surge couple increasing the braking pressure on the pads. Once the towing vehicle begins to move forward pressure on the coupler is released and the brakes are released as well.

Breakaway Brake Systems

Federal laws in the United States require that travel trailers have a breakaway system that applied the brakes if the travel trailer becomes unhitched from the towing vehicle. If your travel trailer is equipped with electric brakes you will need an emergency back-up battery to energize the brakes once the travel trailer gets disconnected from the towing vehicle. If your travel trailer is equipped with a surge brake system a pull-pin or breakaway switch is required to engage the braking system.

How Long Do Travel Trailer Brakes Last

How long travel trailer brakes last depends a lot on driving conditions. A person who lives in a relatively flat area will not have as much wear on the brake pads as someone who lives in the mountains. To generalize this question, which we shouldn’t, it can be assumed that an electric travel trailer braking system can last about 3 years. It’s also assumed the system started off in good working order. 

Your best bet and the best safety advice I can recommend is to inspect your breaks before you head out on your trip. It is suggested that brake pads be replaced every 12 months or 12,000 miles.

Do Travel Trailers Have Brakes 

Enjoying your travel trailer also means staying safe. Understanding your travel trailer’s braking system, how to inspect and maintain it are all important aspect of owning a travel trailer. 

If you enjoyed this article check out my article on the best travel trailer brands.

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