- 0.1 What is a Brake Controller?
- 0.2 How Brake Controllers Work
- 0.3 How Electric Trailer Brakes Work
- 0.4 Top 8 Best Brake Controllers Reviewed
- 0.4.1 1. TEKONSHA P3 BRAKE CONTROL + WIRING HARNESS
- 0.4.2 2. TEKONSHA P3 BRAKE CONTROL + WIRING HARNESS FOR 03-06 CHEVY SILVERADO GMC SIERRA SUBURBAN TAHOE YUKON DENALI HUMMER. CONTROLLER + PLUG/PLAY WIRE KIT.
- 0.4.3 3. Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control
- 0.4.4 4. Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Plug-in Simple Brake Control
- 0.4.5 5. Draw-Tite 5535 Trailer Brake Control (I-Command Electronic – Proportional)
- 0.4.6 6. CURT 51120 Discovery Electric Trailer Brake Controller Time-Delay
- 0.4.7 7. CURT 51110 Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller Time-Delay
- 0.4.8 8. Reese Pilot Brake Controller Black (74378)
- 0.5 Types of Trailer Brakes
- 0.6 Is a Brake Controller Necessary?
- 0.7 How to Install a Brake Controller
- 0.8 Brake Controller Proportional vs. Time Delay
- 0.9 How Do You Adjust a Brake Controller?
- 0.10 Can a Brake Controller Go Bad?
- 0.11 How Do You Test a Brake Controller?
- 0.12 What Does Manual Override on a Brake Controller Do?
- 1 What Does Sync Control On a Brake Controller Do?
What is a Brake Controller?
A brake controller is an essential part of an electric trailer braking system. Electric brake controllers detect when the tow vehicle’s brake pedal is depressed and how much braking pressure is applied. The brake controller uses that information to control the brakes on the trailer.
How Brake Controllers Work
An electronic brake controller actively monitors when the tow vehicle’s braking system is engaged and, on some models, whenever the vehicle slows. When the brakes are applied, it monitors the braking demand from the brake pedal and then communicates through a wired connection to the trailer’s brakes, letting them know how much braking force to apply.
The controller does this by sending an electrical current back to electromagnets found in the trailer braking system.
How Electric Trailer Brakes Work
The stronger the electrical current received, the greater the braking force of the electromagnets. That’s how electric brake controllers work.
Think of the electric brake controller as the brain of your trailer’s electric brakes and controlling the way they work. Without their input, the trailer brakes do nothing.
CURT, Hopkins, Draw-Tite, Reese, and Tekonsha make some of the best brake controllers money can buy. Since this is such a critical investment, most people really want to make sure they select the best brake controller. We know what it’s like to look at a dozen different options and wonder what’s the best choice. So these are our top picks.
Top 8 Best Brake Controllers Reviewed
1. TEKONSHA P3 BRAKE CONTROL + WIRING HARNESS…click image to see more on Amazon
- This P3 is the industry’s most advanced electric trailer brake control.
- 5 storable setting options for pulling different trailers or multiple drivers’ preferences.
- Perfect for anyone who owns multiple trailers.
- Integrated Plug-N-Play port for 2-plug adapters.
P3 is the most advanced electronic trailer brake control on the market. In addition, the “P3” includes five storable setup settings for numerous trailers, different loads on the same trailer, or even driver preferences.
The P3 detects the type of braking event and adjusts the trailer brakes to the appropriate level of force. You will experience heavy-duty emergency braking, general braking, or low-to-an-idle braking for your trailer when appropriate. The TEKONSHA Prodigy P3 proportional electric brake control is designed to work with electric over hydraulic brake systems on trailers with up to four axles.
Its compact, dash-hugging design gives it more of a stock look and less like an add-on accessory. If you’re new to the world of brake controllers, the easy-to-understand diagnostics will put you at ease. The diagnostics include everything you need to keep your eye on, including output current, battery, brake, and output voltage. No need to purchase a wiring kit. This one includes a plug-and-play wiring kit.See more on Amazon…
2. TEKONSHA P3 BRAKE CONTROL + WIRING HARNESS FOR 03-06 CHEVY SILVERADO GMC SIERRA SUBURBAN TAHOE YUKON DENALI HUMMER. CONTROLLER + PLUG/PLAY WIRE KIT.…click image to see more on Amazon
- Deliver up to five times more uniform, constant brake pressure than a proportional system.
- The snap-in mounting clip allows you to remove and store the control when not in use, helping prevent its theft.
- Screen information display in English but also has French or Spanish language settings.
When the deceleration of your tow vehicle slows you down, the P3 brake controller activates trailer brakes automatically. For your trailer, it can be utilized for emergency braking, normal braking, or slow-to-an-idle stopping. It uses a plug-and-play port for two-plug adapters and works proportionally in reverse. When not in use, the gadget can be removed and stored using a snap-in mounting bracket.
Tekonsha’s P3 brake controller has a boost option that offers you additional initial braking strength when pulling big loads. The device is similar to the Tekonsha Primus, except it is less costly. It also has features like auto-leveling that aren’t seen on similarly priced models. “It can be difficult to prevent locking up the tires on gravel and heated pavement.” It may be placed at angles ranging from 0 to 70 degrees and used to operate a car’s brakes from any angle.See more on Amazon…
3. Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control…click image to see more on Amazon
- It is budget-friendly and only costs you less than 100.00.
- Utilizes Plug-N-Play port for 2-plug adapters for easy and quick installation
- Self-diagnostics features will illuminate LED readout, so you know when issues occur.
- Works proportionally in reverse
- Includes a Boost feature if you have a heavy trailer or load
- Snap-in dash mounting clip and hardware included for easy removal.
Primus complies with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) tow vehicle/trailer light activation rules. Because the Tekonsha Primus IQ Brake Controller is self-leveling, there is no need to alter the level. It has a “Boost” feature that allows users to apply greater brake pressure if necessary. The inertia sensor detects loss of motion and applies trailer brakes when you press the brakes and come to a halt. If you need to come to a quick stop and use the brakes hard in the automobile, your trailer will come to a quick stop as well. A winner, and my favorite brake controller, the Tekonsha, is a bargain.
See more on Amazon…
4. Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Plug-in Simple Brake Control…click image to see more on Amazon
- Hopkins’s most convenient impact driver thus far.
- Advanced brake technology that mirrors the braking of the tow vehicle for safe, smooth stops.
- Digital power and 7 sensitivity settings with intuitive vertical manual slide.
- Short proof protection for up to 8 trailer brakes.
- Simple installation with separate components that mount wherever you want them.
InSIGHT is a novel method that allows you to install any vehicle with ease and without using any tools. This three-part system allows the driver to bring the display back into view to see what’s going on while also putting the controls closer to hand, whether right or left-handed. For example, you can adjust for trailer weights and weather with seven on-the-fly sensitivity levels at the touch of a button. Setting this braking control is simple and quick, thanks to straightforward gain changes and a digital display.See more on Amazon…
5. Draw-Tite 5535 Trailer Brake Control (I-Command Electronic – Proportional)…click image to see more on Amazon
- The proportional brake control means sure, even stopping power.
- Boost feature gives the ability to apply more initial trailer braking when road conditions warrant.
- Diagnostic features are incorporated in the LED display for easy review.
- Automatically achieves proper level and compensates for uphill/downhill travel.
- Plug and play feature allows for quick and easy connection.
- Bracket, mounting hardware, and comprehensive instructions included.
As it turns out, you don’t need to pay top dollar for a brake controller. The I-Command electronic trailer brake control from Draw-Tite includes all of the Activator I, II, and III capabilities and a connection for Tow Ready custom fit wire harnesses. Because the InSightTM Brake Control is small and has no moving components or pendulums, it may be installed almost anywhere and in any position. The Draw-Tite is definitely a sound investment. Even if for towing only on the weekends. See more on Amazon…
6. CURT 51120 Discovery Electric Trailer Brake Controller Time-Delay…click image to see more on Amazon
- Discovery electric trailer brake controller offers safe, dependable operation, increasing trailer brake pressure as you depress the vehicle brake pedal.
- Easy-to-read, digital display to monitor brake operation.
- Compatible with low-volt, PWM, ABS, cruise control, and electric over hydraulic.
- This electric brake controller quickly plugs into your vehicle using a CURT vehicle-specific quick plug harness (sold separately).
- It comes with an adjustable mounting bracket and can be mounted at any angle.
- It can be used on virtually any trailer with 1 to 4 axles (2 to 8 brakes).
Discovery is a time-based brake controller, meaning it applies increasing brake pressure the longer your foot is on the brake pedal. Discovery is compatible with anti-lock brakes, cruise control and is backed by a limited lifetime warranty. The Curt Discovery Trailer Electronic Brake Controller activates electric brakes with a preset intensity when you apply the brakes in your vehicle. The manual control lever is located on the front left of the unit and only applies to the trailer brakes. When the manual control is pushed to the right, the harder the brakes are applied until the maximum set by the output control is reached.
Ease of installation, clear readouts, and intuitive controls can be just as important as the range of brake gain a given trailer brake offers.
See more on Amazon…
7. CURT 51110 Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller Time-Delay…click image to see more on Amazon
- Venturer is a compact, easy-to-set-up time-based brake controller.
- It can operate one to three axles at a time, meaning two to six brakes.
- It has an LED display for monitoring brake pressure and is compatible with anti-lock brakes, cruise control, and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
- It works with quick plugs so it can readily plug into your vehicle’s original equipment socket.
If your rig didn’t come with a factory wiring kit, Curt makes trailer brake control connectors so you can get it linked up.
The ease of installation, clear readouts, and intuitive controls of this trailer brake controller might be just as significant as the range of brake gain it provides. The VenturerTM is a time-based brake controller that is small and simple to set up. It has an LED display for monitoring brake pressure and can handle one to three axles at a time, implying two to six brakes. The CURT trailer brake controller is intended to work with the original equipment socket on your vehicle.
In terms of look, the Tekonsha P3 is the closest aftermarket trailer brake controller to a factory trailer brake controller.See more on Amazon…
8. Reese Pilot Brake Controller Black (74378)…click image to see more on Amazon
- Simple and easy to install and set up.
- It doesn’t provide proportional braking, but it is the easiest to install (installs in any position).
- It just requires power, ground, and one wire to brake pedal switch, as well as a power output to your trailer brakes.
It handles up to 3 axles and has worked flawlessly over several thousand miles of trailer driving. For the money, I would have to give it the best value rating. For your rig is prewired – all you need is the adapter plug for your make and model of the vehicle, and you plug it in, mount it in place, and you’re done. It performs a continuous self-check and if everything is working properly is shows a little “C” on the screen (for connected and working properly)See more on Amazon…
Types of Trailer Brakes
The two general types of brakes found on trailers are Surge and Electric.
- Surge Brakes – A self-contained hydraulic brake system on the trailer. As the tow vehicle decelerates, the pushing force between the trailer’s tongue against the trailer ball on the hitch applies the trailer brakes.
- Electric Brakes – A trailer braking system that uses a brake controller and electromagnets inside the brake drums. It applies the braking force in proportion to the braking vehicle.
Is a Brake Controller Necessary?
If you are towing over 1,500 pounds, that trailer should be equipped with its own braking system. If that trailer’s braking system uses electric braking over surge braking, YES, a brake controller is necessary.
Most vehicles can safely handle up to 1,000 pounds without issue. Some vehicles are engineered to tow over 1,000 pounds. But if you are towing 1,500 pounds or more, you should have functional independent brakes on the trailer. Not only is that a recommendation, having an independent and functioning brake system on the trailer is often the law.
How to Install a Brake Controller
To install a brake controller, you will need to identify where you want it mounted on your vehicle. Once you know where it needs to go, drill some mounting holes in your vehicle and mount your brake controller on those holes. Then, connect the wiring harnesses from the brake controller to each of your trailer’s electric brakes by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Finally, adjust your new settings so they are comfortable for you and test them out!
It should be in a location with reach and accessible to the driver. In addition, proportional controller brake controllers require the unit to be installed near-level for proper operation.
If your vehicle came with a factory-installed tow package, it simplifies the installation process. First, connect a wiring harness from the connector on the vehicle to the back of the controller. Now connect the 7 pin connector to the trailer as usual, and you are off to the races.
If your tow vehicle does not have a factory-installed tow package, it is a little more involved.
Installing a brake controller in a truck without a factory prewired electric brake controller connector will require a 7-way connector kit such as this one. It’s a complete brake control installation kit with everything needed to install on vehicles, not pre-wired.
Wiring a brake controller during installation typically involves 4 wires:
- Power – Positive Connection Supplying 12 Volts to the controller.
- Ground – Completes the power circuit using the vehicle’s negative ground.
- Trailer-Feed – Communicates the braking requests to the trailer brakes.
- Brake switch – Monitors when the brake pedal is pressed.
As always, follow the directions that come with the controller.
Brake Controller Proportional vs. Time Delay
There are two types of brake controllers, Proportional and Time Delay.
- Time delay controllers are less sophisticated entry-level devices. After an adjustable time delay, the brakes are applied only after the vehicle’s brakes are applied.
- Proportional brake controllers monitor the deceleration of your tow vehicle using an internal inertia-based sensor. As a result, braking force is applied immediately when needed, even without applied brakes (like in downshifting situations).
Are you comparing a Proportional brake controller to a Time-Delayed? Almost always, a Proportional brake controller is better than a time-delayed.
How Do You Adjust a Brake Controller?
The exact step-by-step instructions to adjust a brake controller will vary depending on the brake controller model. Always consult the owner’s manual.
- Connect the trailer and wiring to the tow vehicle
- Warm the brakes. Drive at least 25 MPH and stop several times on a flat level surface.
- While braking with warmed brakes, notice if the braking is too aggressive or if the trailer is pushing the tow vehicle.
- Adjust the brake controller if necessary, then test again. When towing different weight loads or switching to another trailer, readjustment may be required.
When adjusting the brakes, you want firm braking action without the wheels skidding or locking up. Adjusting the brakes in an empty parking lot will work to see if you get any squealing noise from locked wheels.
If you know of an extra squealy parking lot by you, you know the parking lot where you make a slow tight turn, and it sounds like you’re skidding out of control; that would be the best. If you have access to a gravel driveway, that may work even better. These testing environments will give you the feedback you need.
On your way there, make sure to “warm” the brakes with the controller with the manual engagement on the controller. Warm brakes engage differently than cold brakes. For safety reasons, keep it around 25 miles an hour or less when you do this.
Can a Brake Controller Go Bad?
Yes, Brake Controllers can and do go bad. Anything other than the proper operation expected could mean it is failing or failed. This includes the brakes being continuously being fully applied, dragging brakes, being used intermittently (while they should not be or under even braking situations), or never applying any braking function.
If your brake controller is not working, often issues can be caused by a proportional brake controller not being level or a wiring issue.
How Do You Test a Brake Controller?
Brake controllers are generally very reliable. Just realize, like anything else, they can and do fail. However, by adequately testing the brake controller, you can determine if it is indeed the cause.
Reading the voltage at the brake output wire at your trailer connector isn’t always accurate. So instead, you want to perform what’s called a bench test (red wire disconnected from the trailer) while using a multimeter or circuit tester.
- Remove power from the controller, wait about 30 seconds, then reconnect. Check for proper braking operation.
- If the issue still exists, check to see if your controller is set for maximum power gain. If it has an override feature, activate it.
- Check the red wire that exits the rear of the controller. You should only be getting 12 volts on a multimeter or a bright light on a circuit tester when the brake is depressed. That indicates that you have maximum voltage coming out of the controller when the brake is applied. If the 0.2 volts is occurring when the brakes are not applied, that’s okay. That is the brake controller’s signal to the brake magnet to detect if a trailer is connected.
Analyzing the Results
If you were not getting maximum voltage directly from the brake controller, the controller is likely the issue. Otherwise, if maximum braking isn’t working properly, the controller is definitely on the trailer side.
Check trailer wiring or connector for corrosion or bad ground. If everything still checks out and you still experience poor braking, ensure that the trailer brakes are properly adjusted, and check those brake magnets.
What Does Manual Override on a Brake Controller Do?
With a manual override, the need for a vehicle brake signal is bypassed, and power is supplied to the trailer brakes.
What Does Sync Control On a Brake Controller Do?
Mainly found on Draw-Tite Brake Controllers, it determines the amount of stopping force the brake controller puts out. If you set the sync power low, it does not matter how hard you hit the brakes, as they will be applied lightly. This is useful for driving on gravel or loose rock.
Brake Controller Error Codes
What does “.C” Mean on Brake Controller’s Display?
The .C means the unit detects an attached trailer. If that is the case, it means it has a good connection to the trailer.
What does “E1” Mean on the Brake Controller’s display?
The E1 code is the controller reporting it does not detect a trailer connected. If the trailer is connected and you receive the E1 error, the connector between the vehicle and trailer is probably dirty or corroded and may need to be cleaned.
An ER code on a brake controller usually means an unrecoverable internal problem. Brake controllers have no user-serviceable internal parts. The brake controller will need to be replaced.