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A supplemental braking system is a unique mechanism designed to brake your vehicle for you as you tow it. There are different designs, each with their own benefits, but the basic concept is the same - apply the brakes on your towed vehicle (dinghy) at the same time as you apply them in your motor home.
Go to Choosing a System for more help in picking the supplemental braking system that best suits your needs.
The most basic type of auxiliary braking system is a portable, electric brake controller that applies the towed vehicle brakes upon receiving a signal from the RV that its brakes have been applied. Roadmaster's 9700 is an example of this type of system.
Perhaps the most popular towing braking systems, proportional devices are designed to brake your dinghy with the same intensity that you use to brake your RV. This way you get heavy-duty emergency braking, general everyday braking or slow-to-an-idle braking in one system with little manual adjustment necessary. Examples include Roadmaster's Even Brake and Blue Ox's Patriot systems.
Direct systems have a much more involved installation process than most other systems, but they deliver superior braking as a result. Like basic proportional systems, direct systems offer everything from emergency braking to slow-to-an-idle action, yet they have a far better response time and require no manual adjustment. Direct systems tap into your tow vehicle's brakes to sense when and how you apply the pedal so that the actuator in the dinghy can replicate that same timing and pressure. Roadmaster's BrakeMaster is an example of this type of system.
With a vacuum-assist system - also known as an active system - your dinghy's brake pedal will be depressed with the same intensity as you would use if you were behind its wheel at the time. This is made possible by activating the power-assist function of your towed vehicle's brakes.
The power-assist feature in your vehicle multiplies the force you place on the brake pedal for effective stopping action. This was developed to make braking easier for you, the driver. Without vacuum-assist technology, you would have to strain to apply enough pressure to your vehicle's brake pedal for adequate stopping. The development of this technology allows anyone to safely drive a vehicle without having to worry about whether he or she is strong enough to effectively stop the car.
Typically, the power-assist feature does not function when your vehicle's engine is off, as is the case when the car is being towed. This is why the first supplemental braking systems that were created were designed to work with a "dead pedal." - a brake pedal without active vacuum assist.
Active braking systems tap into a separate vacuum source to achieve power-assisted braking capability in the dinghy. As a result, your dinghy's brake pedal will be depressed with a fraction of the pressure that is typically used by supplemental braking systems. Because the amount of pressure that is applied with other systems is excessive under normal circumstances, continuous use of these systems can be harmful to your vehicle. If you do not properly set the intensity, or if the system is not adequately positioned, that extreme pressure can damage your vehicle's firewall or other brake components.
If you're going to be traveling through multiple states and want to be certain to adhere to each of their laws, or if you are concerned about having a system in place for safety reasons, then any supplemental braking system should do. If, however, you have other towing-related concerns that may influence your decision, then perhaps the following guidelines can help.
Maybe you're not as concerned with having all the bells and whistles, but you do need a system in place. The most economical option is a device that activates your dinghy's brakes with a predetermined intensity. Roadmaster's 9700 controller is a basic, pre-set system that should fit your purposes.
You're going to want more control than a basic system offers. Because you will be on an incline, you will need a system that can sense the braking action of your motor home. This way the dinghy will only brake slightly if you are climbing a hill and will stop with greater intensity if you are heading down one. Either a proportional system or a direct system, therefore, is recommended, because both systems will brake your dinghy in proportion to your motor home's braking.
The more time you spend behind the wheel, the more control you're going to want for your towing system. Peace of mind comes from having a dependable braking system that not only works consistently, but smoothly. Vacuum-assist systems are designed to brake your dinghy as you would if you were driving it at the time. The result is smooth, even braking that is less stressful on your car.
Several auxiliary braking systems are portable and can be easily moved from vehicle to vehicle. Most pre-set system and proportional system can be easily switched between vehicles.
pre-set system and most basic proportional system are relatively simple to install. Both direct and vacuum-assist systems, however, require extensive mechanical knowledge and time. That being said, almost every auxiliary braking system, following the initial installation, can be easily removed for everyday driving and quickly re-installed for towing.
Vehicles with this feature have brakes that continue to operate normally when the engine is off. Because the vacuum-assist function is still working when these cars are in the tow position, most systems will automatically apply too much pressure to the brake pedal, because they are designed to work with "dead" pedals.
The heavier your dinghy is, the more exact you'll want your braking to be. A direct system would be best for this because these systems are the most responsive to your tow vehicle's braking. The BrakeMaster, for example, can sense when and how you brake in your RV with greater accuracy than other proportional systems.
Vacuum-assist systems are designed to apply your dinghy's brakes as you would if you were behind its wheel at the time. By activating the power-assist function that your vehicle's brakes normally have, you can achieve adequate braking with a normal amount of pressure. This will eliminate any concerns about damage that can be caused by a system that applies excessive pressure to work with a "dead pedal."
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