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Published Apr. 16, 2020

Many people who travel in motorhomes opt to tow a second vehicle or trailer. Most states consider anything that is pulled to be a trailer and in many cases, a supplemental braking system is required. Apart from complying with the law, it makes sense to have a braking system for your trailer for the sake of safety. The added weight puts pressure on your existing braking system and if the trailer is heavy, the stopping distance will increase and may cause an accident.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at six of the best braking systems on the market today, so see what they offer. We’ll also discuss the best features to look for and give you some buying tips.

The Best Towed Vehicle Braking System

The Reese portable braking system offers proportional braking that applies braking pressure to match the vehicle’s deceleration rate. Proportional brakes can be adjusted for the load size and can extend the lifespan of your vehicle braking system. It has a boost button that can be used to apply more initial braking when carrying heavier loads.

This portable braking system comes with an LED display to adjust the weight settings of the trailer and can handle up to four axles. It also comes with a one-year warranty.

Key Features
  • Adjustable for load size
  • LED display
  • Reverse battery protection
  • Up to four-axle capacity
Specification
  • Brand Reese
  • Model 8508211
  • Weight 7.7 ounces
PROS

One-year warranty

Easy to adjust the settings

Braking is precise

CONS

Separate harness adapter required

No mounting screws included

Can be faulty on arrival

This supplemental braking system can handle up to eight brakes at a time. It has a compact size and comes with a digital display. One of the unique features of this braking system is its triple-axis, motion-accelerometer. This component allows the system to detect every motion of your towed vehicle with precision and apply the correct braking power for every situation.

It also adjusts brake output when going up or down a hill. It comes with the necessary mounting brackets and has a limited lifetime warranty.

Key Features
  • Compact size
  • Digital Display
  • Motion-sensing accelerometer
  • Can work with up to four axles
Specification
  • Brand Curt
  • Model 51140
  • Weight 8.8 ounces
PROS

Easy to install

Brackets and mounting hardware included

Limited lifetime warranty

CONS

Can fail out of the box

Drains the battery

Sometimes doesn’t hold settings

The 8700 Invisibrake is a portable braking system that uses the electrical connections already in your towed vehicle. It hooks up to the same turn signal that the brake lights are connected to and allows the towed vehicle to brake at the same time as your motorhome.

This braking system is compact and can be fitted out of sight. It also bypasses the 12-volt outlet and charges the battery of the towed vehicle.

Key Features
  • LED monitor to check braking activity
  • Has a built-in emergency breakaway system
  • Meets U.S. and Canadian requirements
  • Charges the battery while towing
Specification
  • Brand Roadmaster
  • Model 8700
  • Weight 15.6 pounds
PROS

Compact size

Once installed, there’s nothing to do

Adjusts to individual braking preferences

CONS

Doesn’t work on all vehicles

Might need an additional switch kit

Can be difficult to install

The Blue Ox Patriot Braking System is all-electric and can work on both combustion engines and hybrid vehicles and is designed for proportional braking. Unlike many other supplemental braking systems, the Patriot has no wires and uses a wireless remote control that continuously communicates with the onboard braking system. It features a built-in battery so power is always available, and it has the ability to self-calibrate. This portable braking system comes with a convenient carry handle and a one-year warranty.

While most users are happy, there have been complaints that this system doesn’t brake hard enough. If it isn’t connected correctly, the brakes can be partly on all the time. It doesn’t fit well on some cars due to its bulky size.

Key Features
  • Built-in battery
  • LED display on brake and remote control
  • One button to calibrate
  • Included carry handle
Specification
  • Brand Blue Ox
  • Model BRK2016
  • Weight 18 pounds
PROS

One-year warranty

Easy to install

Easy to use

CONS

Sometimes doesn’t brake hard enough

Brakes can be partially on all the time

Doesn’t fit in all cars

The Tekonsha 90195 is an electric trailer brake control for up to four braking axles. It has a compact design and a snap-in mounting clip that allows it to be easily removed and stored for later use.

This brake system has a diagnostic feature that shows the output current, output voltage, warning system alerts and more. It also has a boost feature that allows different levels of braking. The LED display has multiple screen color options with displays in English, French, and Spanish.

Key Features
  • LED display with different languages
  • Plug and play design
  • Integrated boost feature
  • Multiple diagnostic notifications
Specification
  • Brand Tekonsha
  • Model 90195
  • Weight 1.45 pounds
PROS

Compact size

Compatible with a variety of toads

Can control up to four braking axles

CONS

Questionable long-term durability

Buttons are flimsy

The display can fade in sunlight

The Roadmaster 9160 is a direct proportional braking system that connects directly to the motorhome’s hydraulic or air brake system. The brake line pressure in the motorhome controls the brakes in the towed vehicle.

It doesn’t need any tools to be connected and it comes with a built-in breakaway protector. This brake system meets both U.S. and Canadian braking requirements and can work in nearly any towed vehicle with power brakes.

Key Features
  • LED Indicator light
  • Patch cord
  • Air cylinder
Specification
  • Brand Roadmaster
  • Model 9160
  • Weight 11 pounds
PROS

Meets U.S. and Canadian requirements

No tools needed for installation

Compatible with any towed vehicle

CONS

Seat adapter sometimes needed

Can be complicated to install

A bit expensive

Best Towed Vehicle Braking System Buying Guide & FAQs

These are some of the best towed vehicle braking systems on the market. They all have their own unique features as well as pros and cons. Each one is best suited to different conditions and different types of vehicles.

There are many things to take into consideration when choosing a supplemental towing system for your vehicle such as the type of vehicle you are towing, and the installation process. The different types of braking systems also work in different ways and some may be better suited than others for your requirements. We’ll now take a look at some of the things to think about when choosing an auxiliary braking system.

Benefits of a Towed Vehicle Braking System

In many states, a supplemental braking system is a legal requirement when towing either a trailer or another vehicle. While they may not specify that a towed vehicle requires it, most states consider anything being pulled to be a trailer.

Apart from the legal regulations, a supplemental braking system greatly increases your safety when towing. Pulling something heavy means that your truck or motorhome’s brakes can get put under unnecessary pressure. This can greatly increase your stopping distance. The last thing you need when towing is to brake in an emergency and have the momentum of the tow vehicle pushing you forward. This increases the chances of an accident, which can lead to serious injuries and a potential lawsuit if you don’t have a portable braking system.

Another great reason to have a towed vehicle braking system is to save on the added wear and tear on your vehicle’s standard braking system. It is designed to stop a certain weight and may not do so well with the added load. The added wear and tear can lead to higher expenses.

  • Meet legal regulations
  • Safety reasons
  • Reduce wear and tear
Truck towing a boat with towed vehicle braking system

The Most Common Types of Towed Vehicle Braking Systems

There are a number of different types of vehicle braking systems that work in different ways. While they are mechanically different, they all have the same purpose, which is to add to the towed vehicle’s brakes to slow it down. Some of the main types of supplemental braking systems are proportional, progressive, and direct types.

  • Proportional

This type of braking system works in sync with the towing vehicle. If you slam the brakes hard, the towed vehicle’s brakes will slam hard. If you gently press the brakes going down a hill, the towed vehicle will do the same. This is normally achieved using a sensor called an accelerometer, which “feels” how quickly or how slowly your truck or motorhome is decelerating. It then matches the same force to slow down the toad. In many cases, the proportional braking system has to be set, with the pressure adjusted to the weight of the towed vehicle. Once set, they normally don’t require any more adjusting.

One of the drawbacks of a proportional braking system is that they don’t work well with hybrids, which have power-assisted brakes.
  • Direct 

The direct braking system is the most accurate type of braking system. While the proportional braking system has to guess how much braking is required, the direct method takes out the guesswork and matches it exactly because it’s connected directly to the brake like of the vehicle you are towing with. This means there is no over-braking or under-braking.

It’s worth checking out the manufacturer’s guidelines before installing a direct braking system because tapping into the brake lines can void the warranty on some vehicles. The initial installation of this system is also quite difficult and needs someone with mechanical skills.
  • Progressive

Progressive braking systems are a bit more basic and work by only knowing that the towing vehicle’s brakes are engaged. The supplemental brakes are applied as soon as the system gets a signal that the towing vehicle has engaged its brakes. The longer the brakes are engaged, the more pressure the progressive system starts to put on the toad. The sensors put brake pressure up to a point and then release after a set amount of time. This is done to prevent overheating.

Because this system is less accurate and relies on estimates, it’s not as good as direct or proportionate braking. It can also cause more wear on the towed vehicle’s brake system.

What to Consider When Buying the Best Towed Vehicle Braking System

We’ve gone through the main types of towed vehicle brake systems to discuss the mechanical differences between them and see which ones are better than others. Choosing the right one for your needs will make a difference to your safety, and also the wear and tear to your vehicles. These are some of the most common features to look for when choosing your supplemental braking system.

  • Portable

Portable towed vehicle braking systems can be easy to hook up and move from one vehicle to the next. This means they are ideal for those who have more than one vehicle they tow. A portable system is also convenient because you don’t have to pay for installation and you don’t have to buy a whole new system if you buy a new toad. Many of them can be easy to install and all you have to do is place it on the floorboard near the driver’s seat, connect the arm to the brake pedal, and connect up the power. Removing involves the same steps in reverse.

The main drawback to having a portable braking system is that it can get damaged if it’s moved around a lot.

  • Permanent

Permanent braking systems cannot be removed once installed and are generally hard-wired to your towed vehicle and in some cases, the vehicle doing the towing. They can often be mounted in an out-of-the-way place and you won’t have to do much to engage the system once you get going. Because it needs to be wired into the electrical and mechanical systems, the installation costs can be high, but it is a one-off cost.

One of the disadvantages of a permanent braking system is that it is stuck on one vehicle. If you decide to sell it or buy another one, you will have to either get the unit removed and reinstalled in the new vehicle.

  • LED Display

Many of the best auxiliary braking systems have some form of LED display. These are very useful because they let you know what the status is of your system as well as other relevant information like diagnostic tools. By knowing things like the output current, output voltage, warning system alerts, and other information, you can know when there’s an issue and take the necessary steps to rectify it. Some LED and diagnostic displays come in different colors and have different language options for easier use. Whichever one you choose, make sure it’s easy to read and that the menu options are user-friendly.

Trailer tow bar with braking system

Tips for Buying and Using Towed Vehicle Braking Systems

Before deciding on a braking system, it’s worth checking the legal regulations for the state where you live. Some states, like New York, require a supplementary braking system if the towed weight exceeds 1,000 pounds. For Michigan, it’s 15,000 pounds. It is best to be certain that you are in compliance with the law wherever you travel.

Many of the best braking systems come with at least some form of warranty. The warranties can range from one year to a limited lifetime warranty. It’s best to get a system with a warranty to avoid problems down the line.

You should also check the warranty information regarding the installation of your braking system. Depending on the one you choose, there may be a chance of voiding a manufacturer’s warranty and you might need to take it to certain qualified people.

Some braking systems may not be compatible with certain makes or models. Most of the common makes, like Honda, Chevy, and Jeep Wrangler, are supported but may need additional adapters.

  • Check the legal requirements for towing in your state.
  • Try to get a braking system with some form of warranty.
  • Ensure that the installation of the braking system doesn’t void any vehicle warranty.
  • Check if your tow vehicle is compatible with the supplemental braking system.

Best Towed Vehicle Braking System FAQs

We’ve listed the best towed vehicle braking systems on the market as well as their good and bad points. We’ve also discussed some of the different varieties and how they work, and what features to look for. We’ll now answer some of the most common questions asked by people looking at buying a supplemental braking system.

Q: What is a toad?

A toad, also known as a dinghy, is generally the name of a vehicle being towed behind an RV.

Q: Who makes the best towed vehicle braking system?

There are many good makes out there. However, you should choose the system that is best for your needs, and not necessarily based on the brand.

Q: What is a breakaway cable?

It’s a cable connected between both vehicles that will apply the towed vehicle’s brakes if it gets unhitched while moving.

Our Top Pick

Our top pick goes to the Reese  8508211 Control Proportional Brake-EVN. It is compact and comes with an LED display. It is easy to adjust the settings and offers precise braking. It also comes with a one-year warranty.

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