Everything you ever wanted to know about electric brake controllers.
By Stu Peddle
When you’re driving along the black top or on dirt roads, you need to have complete control of your rig when towing.
No longer have you only got to worry about the tow vehicle, but also the full force and weight of a two-tonne vehicle hitched to it! You are now in control of some five tonnes of hopes and dreams!
Think of all the caravan sway situations you’ve heard of, or people getting bogged in sand. Most of these situations can be easily avoided by having the right tools and equipment in your rig to help in these circumstances.
Namely the electric trailer brake controller, which by law is required to be installed in your vehicle for trailers and caravans 2,000kg and over. Many people now use electric trailer brakes on trailers that are far less than this too, because of the advantages they bring to the towing experience.
TYPES OF CONTROLLERS
There are two common ways of applying the trailer brakes– Proportional Mode and Manual Mode.
Proportional Mode uses accelerometers, which are advanced pieces of electronics that are small and robust, and they provide great accuracy of braking measurement across a range of conditions to give optimum braking in response to how hard the vehicle is braking.
Manual Mode is a good basic method, where the user adjusts the braking force via some interface with the controller, and when a brake signal is given the trailer brakes will apply to the set level.
This method is generally used in either lower cost electric trailer brake controllers with this setting alone, or advanced controllers that offer it in addition to a Proportional Mode for driver preference and offroad towing.
USING PROPORTIONAL MODE
A good inertia sensing electric trailer brake controller is a dream to tow with. In this setting, towing is experienced with precision and ease. You brake soft and slow, so does the brake controller. Sail along on the Princes Highway, slow down for towns and bends, with ease.
Or cruise along the Oodnadatta track, slow down to take in the sights or avoid a rough section or bulldust hole. Roam the Gunbarrel Highway, hit the picks to save the life of a frilled neck lizard, all with ease. When you brake hard and fast, so does the brake controller.
In all these scenarios, proportional mode will make it feel like the caravan is just an extension of your vehicle. On highway conditions, you can almost set-and-forget, as proportional mode will ensure the braking force will be applied to the trailer’s brake, in proportion to your vehicle’s brakes.
USING MANUAL MODE
Manual mode comes into its own at the same time your inner adventurer is grinning from ear to ear – things are about to get interesting. Manual mode provides complete control over trailer braking force, without the consideration of inertia.
The selection of this mode is decisive and calculated.
Deflate the tyres, throw the rig into high range, select manual mode and a low brake setting, to hit the beach on the run to Five Rocks in Byfield NP. If you brake hard and fast in the sand, you don’t want your brake controller to do the same, as your trailer will anchor you in the sand as the tyres bite in – getting going again will be a challenge. In manual mode, this doesn’t happen, as you will have set low braking force of the trailer with the manual setting.
Gazing across the High Country atop Blue Rag Range, preparing for the descent, throw the rig into low range, select manual mode and a high brake setting, to tackle the track you’ve been waiting for.
The engine braking is doing all the work for the vehicle here, and just touching the brakes gives the reassuring tug from the rear and keeps the trailer tidy as you descend. You don’t want to have to brake hard with the vehicle and compromise steering, but you need the trailer to behave and follow the same line.
The go-to for anyone towing this brown land is The Tow-Pro Elite Electric Brake Controller, because it has both User Control mode and Proportional modes, which really makes it the ultimate solution for all towing scenarios.