Towing a trailer can give you a lot of freedom. It means that you can take a lot of other items around when need be, but it also comes with a few issues that not everyone thinks of. One major one that you need to have on your mind is that when you try to stop your vehicle will the trailer behind you stop or will it keep going? This can create a lot of strain on your hitching equipment or in a worst case scenario, crunching the back of your ride.
Nowadays most larger trailers have to come with brakes and brake controllers. These devices signal your trailer to apply brakes when you hit the brakes on your car. With the possible downsides, this is an area where you want to do your time to find the best brake controller on the market.
In this article, Garage Chief will provide some brake controller reviews as well as go over a buying guide. It is our hope that by the end you will be able to not only pick the best electric brake controller but know what makes it the best and have a good idea of what it is doing for you. Let’s not waste any more time and dive right into some of the reviews.
Best Brake Controller – Comparison Table
Before we dive in into reviews, let’s take a quick look at what our best brake controller picks are:
|editors-choice||Best Product||Best Value|
|editors-choice||Best Product||Best Value|
|item-title||Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control||Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control||CURT 51110 Venturer Brake Control||Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control||Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Brake Control||Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control|
|• A distinct, easy-to-read LCD display|
• Easy to understand diagnostics show output current, battery, brake, and output voltage
• Integrated Plug-N-Play port for 2-plug adapters
|• Digital Display Indicator |
• Can operate up to an 8 braking system
• Trailer Continuity Indicator
|• Operates 2-6 trailer brakes at a time|
• LED indicator lengthens as controller applies power
• Mounts anywhere in the vehicle
|• Utilizes "Plug-N-Play" port for 2-plug adapters|
• I-STOP IQ Proportional Electronic Brake Control
• Self-diagnostics features will illuminate LED
|• Advanced brake technology|
• Works on trailers with electric or hydraulic brakes
• Digital power and sensitivity settings
|• Utilizes Plug-N-Play port for 2-plug adapters|
• Self-diagnostics features will illuminate LED
• Works proportionally in reverse
4.5 x 3 x 10.6 inches
6.6 x 3.9 x 3.7 inches
8 x 2 x 5 inches
4.4 x 2.6 x 8.5 inches
6.3 x 5.7 x 3.1 inches
4.5 x 2.5 x 8.5 inches
Brake Controller Reviews – Our Top Picks Revealed
Below we’ll discuss what to look for in the best brake controller, so if you are completely new to the concept and what to get some background it is a wise idea to take a look through the information found there. However, here we have 6 trailer brake controller reviews. While any of these choices can be an excellent choice, so long as it will work with your truck and particular trailer set up, we have highlighted our picks for not only the best product out there but also the best value for your money. Without any more delay, let’s dive right in.
Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control
We are starting off with the best brake control product that we could track down, the Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control. One of the first things that stand out about this system is the beautiful LCD display. With multiple color options and even three different choices for languages, you’ll be able to set this up so that you can easily see and understand what your system is telling you.
Mounting and installation is a breeze with the snap on clip and plug and plays wiring set up. The mounting clip means that you can quickly remove the controller when it isn’t called for, giving you the ability to store it securely between uses.
As far as diagnostics, this device will provide such information as the output current and the output voltage giving you a feel for how the system is working. It will also alert you if something in the set up leads to a no trailer brakes available situation. The set up comes with a generic wiring harness, which can be used with some splicing, but other wiring harnesses are available for specific makes and models.
This one allows you to handle a trailer that is up to 4 axles and has 5 storage slots, in case you switch between common trailers or different weights frequently. With all this going for it, it is no wonder that this is our pick for the best product.
Get it here on Amazon
CURT 51110 Venturer Brake Control
Sometimes if you are just starting to work on hauling some loads you don’t want to put out a lot of money for equipment. In the world of brake controllers you’ll want to find one that won’t break the bank but is still reliable, luckily for you the CURT 51110 Venturer Brake Control hit our list for the best value option.
This controller is a time-based model, but it is a rock solid option. The basic monitor is quick to read and intuitive, a LED bar that lets you know the amount of power being applied to your trailer brakes. You have the ability to tweak the gain and the sensitivity which gives you the chance to change braking levels as needed.
This set up has an easy to mount bar set up and since it has no moving internal part it does not require being level as some older models do. This means that you can mount it anywhere that is convenient for you to read and adjust as needed. With the mount style, you might not be able to quickly remove it between uses, but you’ll be able to place it where it goes best.
The device can handle a trailer up to 3 axles. All this packed into a unit that doesn’t even cost $30 makes it a clear choice for the best value for the money.
Check it out on Amazon
Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control
Next up we have the Reese Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Compact Brake Control. This controller is another time delay model that runs on the low voltage brake system. The monitor will display a numerical value to indicate the output setting and the sync setting. The monitor can also inform you of any failures in the system by notifying you of a brake overload or a short connection.
This system sports clearly labeled buttons to modify the for different weights (by changing the output) or the speed at which the pressure is applied (by changing the sync).
This system is built on solid state electronics which means that there is nothing moving on the monitor and gives you the option to mount it just about anywhere the wires will reach and in whatever orientation is easiest for you to read.
The controller is built to handle a trailer with up to 4 axles (sometimes listed as the ability to handle 8 braking systems). With its easy installation, most experienced people should be able to get it up and running in less than half an hour.
Read customer reviews on Amazon right here
Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
The Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control is a proportional style brake controller that will work for a trailer with up to 3 axles. This one has a simple LED readout that gives you feedback as to how much braking power is going to your trailer, however since the model is running a self-diagnostic routine it can also alert you to problems, should they arise.
This model also sports a boost feature to kick up the braking power those times that you really require it as well as the ability to work in reverse.
The unit comes with mounting brackets to ensure that it is securely mounted in place but still, allows you to quickly remove the unit when required. It also comes with a wiring harness that can be hardwired into a vehicle by splicing in the open end of the wires, however, it has the ability to be plug and play for two-pronged adapters as well.
One note on this model is that at times it can lock up the trailer’s tires on gravel if the brakes are applied with too much force, this is not a deal breaker, just something to be aware of during use. The Draw-Tite also comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
Go and check it out on Amazon
Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Brake Control
If you are looking for a brake controller, but think that it would be better to be able to mount your monitor somewhere that doesn’t bring your eyes off the road when you need to check it, the Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Brake Control is the system for you.
The first thing that you will notice that sets this device apart from the others is the form factor. Instead of having one rectangular unit this one has a small screen and a separate control device. This allows you to place your monitor on top of your dashboard so your eyes can very quickly dart to the side to see if everything is working fine instead of looking down away from the road.
The control can be mounted at an easy to reach location so that you can adjust as required. Both of these install without any drilling needed for ease of use.
This proportional style system can be used for a trailer with up to 4 axles, giving you quite a range of versatility. This does have a third box that needs to be installed out of the way, however, installation is still quick and easy, the hardest part of putting this one in is determining where you think the components will go best.
Check it out on Amazon
Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control
If you are looking for a controller that is similar to our best product but perhaps not ready to dive in all the way to that level take a look at the Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control. This comes from the same company so you have the same great work ethic backing it.
It is also a proportional style controller that bases how much breaking on the movement and stopping rate of the vehicle your driving, but this one doesn’t quite offer all the bells and whistles in comparison to our best product. This one sports a much simpler LED display. It will display the amount the output going to the brakes to give you an idea of how things are going, but will also alert you to any problems that crop up.
The controls give you the ability to tweak how much braking is used, but there is also a button for a boost functionality. The set up includes a snap-in mounting bracket to allow you to remove the device when not required for use as well as the needed wiring to splice into a range of vehicles. Still, with the instructions, this can be installed quite easily into your ride.
Get it on Amazon right here
What To Pay Attention To When Buying Brake Controllers
What is an Electronic Brake Controller and How Does it Work?
Once you understand that an Electronic Brake Controller gets the signal to apply brakes from your car to the brakes on your trailer, it is a no-brainer that you want one of these devices if you are hauling a load. But it is important that you understand that these devices do more than simply slam on the brakes when you touch the brakes. If that were the case you would have a different issue then no brakes, but one that is just as much of an issue.
There are two different types of brake controller, the time-delay and the proportional. We’ll discuss the differences between these two below, while they employed slightly different strategies they end up at the same solution.
These devices take the signal to brake (from when the driver applies pressure to the brake) and translate it to an appropriate signal to the trailer break. Since most everything is done by electronics in modern vehicles there is very little delay between when you hit the brakes and when the brakes engage. But now that we know how they work, let’s take a look at the difference between the types.
Which Type Makes the Best Electric Brake Controller?
As we mentioned above there are two major types of brake controllers. First, we’ll tackle the time-delay style of controller. These are going to be your lower cost option. The brake controller, upon receiving the signal gives a short delay (hence the name) and then applies an amount of pressure to the brakes that have already been calculated based on the weight of the trailer.
The short delay allows the driver to adjust if need be. This makes for a controller that is best when brakes will only be used in a controlled manner or the driver is going to be able to react very quickly. If you slam on the brakes and need the trailer to stop suddenly you need to adjust the pressure, which might not be on your mind if you are slamming on the brakes. For this reason, this style is normally best for an experienced driver.
The second style is the proportional style. This style is going to end up costing more money, but it is a more involved system. It also makes for a better system for less experienced drivers. This style of system uses a motion sensor to gauge how quickly the trailer is moving toward the vehicle that is pulling it.
When you hit the brake, the system gets the signal to apply braking pressure and determines how much is required from that motion sensor. This has quite a few pros to it. For one the braking system only gets the pressure required for that braking scenario.
With this set up the best proportional braking controller can often time keep your brake system going longer, due to less wear. Additionally, it means that when you come to the “need to slam on brakes now” situation, the trailer will adapt and apply braking pressure to stop your load.
Do I Need Brake Controller Monitor?
If you are towing a trailer the simple answer for your safety is YES you do. In many states, you will find that there are laws requiring that you have a system like this in place to make sure that you can stop your trailer when you need to (here’s a TN example). The brake controller monitor is the brains of your electric brake controller.
The AAA Digest of Motor Laws has prepared a compendium of knowledge about the law of trailer brakes in the United States and Canada, with a detailed breakdown of states and their specific records. You must check this out!
These systems are normally placed in a position that is easy for the driver to see. When you hit the brake the screen on the monitor will let you know how much power is being used by the controller and in turn how much braking pressure is being applied on the trailer.
This is your double check that the system is working. Higher end models will continually monitor the system and provide alerts and the like when something goes wrong with the system.
All the Necessary Puzzles
While the brake controller may be what you are actually interested in purchasing there are other items that you’ll need in order to make the system function properly. Many controllers will come with a generic wiring harness that can be used on a wide range of vehicles but will require some amount of splicing wires together. Often times a separate wiring harness can be found that will match with the particular vehicle you are installing it on.
In addition to the device and the wiring set up, you’ll need a way to mount the system. Be sure to take a look at how it mounts and where you want to install it. You may find that in order to put your device exactly where you want it to be you will have to purchase a different mounting solution.
Another part of the puzzle is the connection from the vehicle to the trailer itself. While the hitching equipment it obvious you’ll need to also ensure that you an up to date and function electric connection to the trailer. This is how the signal for the brakes will make it to the trailers brakes, but it will also send the appropriate signals to turn, brake lights, and others as required.
Once you have selected the right controller you’ll need to install it. Now, the first step in this type of installation actually happens even before you make your selection on the controller. You’ll need to make sure that the controller that you pick works for both your vehicle and the trailer you are using. This is vital and has to be considered for your safety, as well as that of the things you’ll have on the trailer.
Many places will install your controller professionally and there is a definite piece of mind to this approach, so long as you have somewhere you trust doing the work and feel that what they are charging you to put it in is reasonable. Of course, if you are comfortable doing some work on your car and trailer you can most likely accomplish this yourself.
You’ll need to be comfortable working through instructions and some fairly standard wiring. Most systems will require a set up with a wire to ground, one to the brake switch, one to battery power and one to the trailer feed. Each different device will have its own particulars, so you’ll want to review your manual before starting your installation. Be sure to have all necessary tools including screwdrivers set and diagnostic tool.
Using Your New Brake Controlling
Once it is properly installed using your brake controller should be fairly simple. The specifics will depend on if you are using a time delay or proportional model. With the proportional, you will just need to drive as normal. Perhaps not quite as normal, you still need to remember that you are hauling a load and that starting and stopping will not happen quite as quickly as if you were not hauling stuff.
If you are using a time delayed model, you’ll want to use your brakes in as a controlled method as possible. Whatever you have your braking pressure on the system set at will be that amount used unless you make changes to the system. This is particularly important to remember if you need to slam on the brakes.
Of course, there are a few things that would be best to keep in mind whenever you are hauling stuff on a trailer. Before setting off it is always a good idea to make sure that all connections to the trailer are still secure, this will cover not only the electric connections but the actual hitch as well. When safe it isn’t a bad idea to periodically tap the brakes some to double check your system is functioning properly while you drive. And don’t forget to keep an eye on your monitor.
What to look for in the Best Trailer Brake Controller
Due to their versatility, you will find that most people are going to place the proportional style of brake controller over the time delay style. So, when hunting down the best proportional brake controller there are a number of things to keep an eye out for.
The first thing is, of course, finding one that covers your particular set up. One that won’t work with your vehicle or cover a trailer of the size you are using could have every feature known to man, but still be effectively worthless. Once you meet that qualification you’ll still have a number of things to look for.
Look at the controller monitor, not only should it be easy to read, but it should provide you a fair amount of information. While some only provide information when you hit the brakes, other models provide a nearly continuous stream of data, allowing you to know much faster if something is wrong.
You’ll also want to look for a setup that includes everything you need. The last thing you want to have to do is purchase a controller and then have to also pick up a wiring harness and other gear just to be able to use your system.
The bottom line here is that these are devices meant for your own safety. They have become required by law in a number of states, so the question may be more of which one instead of should I get one.
Reading through this article is a great step, but you’ll need to verify that you select a model that can work with not only the size trailer that you will be pulling by your particular vehicle as well. This is a situation that you shouldn’t go with “eh, close enough”. This is a time when overkill can be your friend.
Additionally, due to the safety concerns here you’ll want to consider professional installation. While they aren’t hard to put in, if you are comfortable with working on cars, if you are just beginning and have limited experience, this would be one to let someone else tackle.
Best Brake Controller Guide – The Conclusion
At this point, you should have all the information that you need to pick out the best brake controller. We have covered six outstanding options for just about any budget, ranging from our wallet-friendly best value option, the CURT 51111 Venturer Brake Control, to our all-around best product, the Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control.
But we’ve also shown you what goes into picking the best electric brake controller. You should understand not only why you need one, but why you should want one if you are pulling a trailer, and don’t forget that in many areas it is the law to have one installed.
Check all brake controller available on Amazon
With all of that information though, now we would like to hear from you. Is there something that you feel really needs to be brought up? Did we miss a gem of a controller? Do you have experience with one or more of our choices and want to let others know all about it? If any of these are the case, please let us know in the comments section below.
Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Brake Control – Installation Video
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