bing tracking image

Best Trailer Brake Options

content loading

Best Trailer Brake Options

Speaker 1: Toady I'm gonna be taking a look at the different types of trailer brakes that are available, we're gonna kind of break down each one and go over it so you can decide which one's gonna be right for your application. Now the three main categories we're gonna be looking at today are gonna be electric drum style brakes, hydraulic drum style brakes, and hydraulic disc brakes. Now each of the brake assemblies here are designed to stop your trailer more safely, this allows us to mount brakes on our axles so we don't have to rely solely on our vehicle's brakes. They all are gonna generate the braking force we need but they go about it kind of in different methods, we're gonna break those down and go over each one individually now.Now as you can see our electric drum brakes are gonna come in many different configurations. For your smaller trailers we're gonna have smaller diameter, thinner brakes and for our larger trailers you can see we've got the larger diameter and thicker brakes. Now with all the varying sizes that we have in the brakes that's just for different size trailers, they're all gonna work in basically the same way and that's through using the electric power to create a magnetic force.

Now to do that properly we have a right hand and a left hand side assembly, the left hand's gonna go on the drivers side, the right hand would go on the passengers side.Now let's take a look at how this one's gonna work, we'll just stand it up here. You'll have a hub that goes over the brake assembly, that's what your tire's gonna spin on and that's constantly gonna spin around our brake shoes here. As the magnet gets energized it's gonna become energized from your brake controller in your truck our tire is spinning this way, you can see the magnet floats and that rides on the inside of the drum so as we energize that the rotational force is gonna pull that lever, as that lever gets pulled the shoes expand out and away from each other and that's what's gonna generate the braking force, the shoes are gonna make contact with the drums and begin to slow our vehicle down.Now the activation of the magnet, to give us that leverage force, is gonna come through our wires here. One of these will go to the brake controller signal coming from our vehicle, the other one's gonna go to ground, that provides the current to run through our magnet and get that charge so it'll grab ahold of that hub and give us the force that we need.Now the electric style drum brakes are gonna be the most common brakes out there, you're gonna see them on a lot of campers, utility trailers, enclosed trailers, the only place you really don't see these as an option is gonna be in the marine environment. Anytime your backing a trailer into the water you certainly don't want electronics being submerged so using that hydraulic in that application is definitely gonna be the way to go.Now one key I do find important some electric hub style brakes are manual adjusting, some is the one we have here are gonna be an auto adjusting.

Basically with an auto adjusting brake as our brakes wear they're gonna get kind narrower and narrower. As that happens every time we hit the brake and our lever operates here, see how it wants to pull that cable As it pulls that cable it goes around the pulley and I'll do it manually here, you can see the auto adjuster down here working. It's constantly gonna grab another little notch and it helps to expand those brake shoes up to the point to where they're making good contact with our drums.On a non self adjusting system you're gonna have an access point on the backside, we can see it right here, that you need a brake adjustment tool. That manual adjustment causes a little bit of expansion here, just like our auto adjuster would do, that keeps our shoes gently pressed against the hubs so they're gonna work properly and we get premium braking performance. Now with the manual adjustment style if we forget about it or we're not on top of it we're gonna lose braking performance, that's why I think the auto adjust style is a really good way to go where you never have to worry about it, you're not gonna be under there trying to maintain it and making sure it's set properly.Now while the electric drum style brakes are gonna be pretty much industry standard there are some performance games to be had in the hydraulics side, let's take a look at those now.

Now with our hydraulic braking systems these are gonna be in the drum like we've talked about and also the disc with caliper, basically you're gonna find hydraulic style actuators, it's what we've got here. Now these are typically gonna be found on your medium to heavy duty trailers or trailers that are gonna require higher braking performance than what we get out of the standard electrical set up.Now for the medium or regular duty applications we're gonna have our brake cylinder here, it's got a single arm that comes out and expands our brakes. This is called, just for reference, a servo, this would be a uni-servo since we've just got one and if we look at our slightly heavier duty application you can see that the brake cylinder here is gonna have one on each side. Now this is designed to give equal braking force whether you're going forward or backwards. Now the dual set up lends itself really well to those heavy loads if your find yourself backing down driveways, backing down hills, things like that that equal braking force or maximizing that braking force while we're backing up could be pretty important.You can see one of the big advantages to the hydraulics system that we have here we have a lot less moving parts and a lot less hardware that we have to maintain.

Now both assemblies that we have here are gonna gonna be manual adjustments as we've talked about with the electrics, you'll just have to use a brake tool to go in here and make that adjustment. There are self adjusting models available that you can decide on and again I like the self adjusting models, with a hydraulic style brake I don't think it's as important as with electric. This cylinder here is going to extend just like brake calipers do in a car, as the shoes wear they'll come out a little bit further and a little bit further. Unlike with the electric system where we have that cam lever this is gonna do our work to separate those shoes so even if they do wear a little bit that should take up that slack. This should prevent us from having to adjust our brakes nearly as much as what we do with an electric system.Now just like their counterparts these are gonna be left hand and right hand specific so you want to be sure you're getting the right assembly on the right side, it's gonna make sure that they're working properly for you. Now with these drum style hydraulic brakes, just like with our disc and caliper set up we'll talk about in just a second, you are gonna require a hydraulic actuator or a brake actuator, now you can do that a couple ways. What you're gonna see most commonly is going to be a surge coupler so the coupler sits down on the ball and as the weight of the trailer pushes forward it sends back the pressure to active the brakes. Another option is going to be an electric over hydraulic actuator so that's actually gonna tie in to the signal coming from your brake controller then it uses a pump to pump back the hydraulic fluid. Now typically your drum brakes require a lower PSI than your disc brake set up so you want to be sure that your actuator has the appropriate PSI for the system you're gonna be using, if not you can run into some malfunctions.Now rounding out our brake options we're gonna have in my option the most effective braking system out there, this is just like what you're gonna have on your car or on your truck. This is gonna be our disc with caliper, now these are all gonna have automotive grade pads in them. What we have here is gonna be the same set up, we've got our ventilated rotor, helps to dissipate that heat energy, your brakes aren't trapped inside of the hub which traps that heat inside this allows for significantly higher braking performance. You can see our pads are here, they're in the red, the caliper and caliper bracket are what we see in silver, and you'll see here four bolt brake flange, this is gonna bolt up to a lot of different axles and you want to choose this based on your axle and what's gonna work. This is gonna use the two pads to squeeze the disc in this area again giving us superior braking performance.Now most often you're gonna see these factory on your larger boat trailers and things like that where stoppings gonna be critically important but we also see a lot of people upgrading to this style braking system, we've done boat trailers, just on a standard 20 foot ranger boat, something like that. We've done fifth wheel campers, we've done several upgrades, and the difference is really significant. Once our customer leaves with a set of disc brakes the first time they activate it they notice an immediate difference in the performance they're receiving from the system.Now another important decision I feel you're gonna need to make is in the finish quality that you're gonna get on your braking components. For your standard applications just the powder coat or paint finish should be fine, the brake shoe material is pretty corrosive so you don want something at least painted, black powder coat. Some of your calipers and rotors will come up with a raw paint finish, I think that's if you want to color match that to your truck or to your application. With raw steel finish you're gonna experience some rusting on the disc.Now as you move into more and more salty environments like you get up north with a lot of the snow and stuff they have to put a lot of salt on the ground, I think at that point you need to move into something that has the dichromate finish, the galvanized finish, or at least a nice, heavy duty powder coat finish. Now going beyond that we're talking about salt water, marine use, heavy marine use, or in heavily salty conditions they actually will make a caliper rotor set up that's complete stainless steel. It's gonna eliminate the corrosion, we're not gonna have to worry about issues like that. Keep that in mind, think about your application, and how much corrosion resistance you're gonna need.Another thing I'd recommend if you're gonna be using a surge coupler would be to look for an assembly that has the free backing option. Essentially what that's gonna mean is when we pull up to the boat ramp and we start to back up if we don't have a free backing assembly then we need to get out of the truck, we need to flip a lever, or we need to have an actuator disconnect installed so that it's not gonna lock up the brakes as we try to back up. The free backing assembly's gonna eliminate the need for both of those items so you're not gonna have to worry about getting out each time.Another thing to keep in mind is that when you're changing brakes on a trailer it's really no different than changing the brakes on your car. You don't want to really do one side or the other, now if you've got a new brake on the right and you get the exact same thing for the left that maybe got damaged that's okay but when you're replacing old, worn out brakes do them as a pair that way your trailer won't act weird when you hit the brakes. If we have more braking force on the left than we have on the right every time we hit our brakes our trailer's gonna want to kind of go to the left which will feel on the vehicle so do them evenly and keep everything safe.Now when it's time to choose your brake assembly we need to talk about a few different scenarios. Let's say that you don't have any brakes on your trailer at all, at that point the first thing you need to do is look behind your tire and make sure that there's a brake flange on your axle. If there's a brake flange there you need to figure out how many holes it has and what the spacing is, that's gonna narrow it down for us.Next thing that we need to learn is how big the wheel is, not like the overall size but the steel wheel itself, we need to know how large that is and finally we need to know what kind of bearings and races are on that axle. With that information we'll be able to go through and get the right assembly for you as far as your hub and drum goes or get the right size disc for you on that side.Now another scenario would be replacing brakes on a trailer that already has brakes, that makes it a little bit easier for us. What we can do is take the diameter from the outside of the shoe to the outside of the shoe, and our width, that's gonna give us a pretty narrowed down feel and at that point need to make sure our brake flange holes match.Now the other two scenarios we're gonna have are gonna be upgrade scenarios. In that case maybe we've got a trailer that has electric brakes with the drum, we want to go to hydraulic drum brakes to get that slight performance increase. When we do that we'll be able to take the measurements off of our old assembly, transfer those over to a hydraulic assembly, and that should make it pretty easy to pick. One thing to keep in mind going from electric to hydraulic you need the actuator. Our other scenario would be going from a hydraulic drum brake to a hydraulic disc brake. In that situation need to check your actuator and see what kind of PSI rating it has but the rest of the information we should be able to get off of your old assembly as far as again the brake flange pattern, you'll also need to know the wheel size to make sure that the disc is gonna fit inside.Now let's kind of sum up what we've talked about, I know it's been a lot of information. Basically for maximum performance the disc brake is gonna be the way to go. For your marine applications or heavy duty applications I think either the hub and drum hydraulic style or the disc style is gonna be the way to go but one little thing with that, if you're gonna in salt water or in a salty environment or using it a lot of times in and out of a lake or something like that I highly recommend going with disc with stainless just so you get maximum performance and you're not gonna have to worry about corrosion.Now as far as your land based items are concerned travel trailers, cargo trailers, utility trailers, things like that there's nothing wrong with a good set of properly working electric brakes. That's gonna complete our look at the different types of trailer brakes available, we hope the information helps in you deciding which is gonna be the right one for you.



This is the most helpful surge brake video I’ve ever seen. All of this information is difficult to find in small chunks let alone all on one video. The explanations and organization of the content was perfect. Thanks for putting this together. I have been a customer in the past and will continue to be in the future. Thanks for all of your help!



@Mike 100% agree with you!

Rick V.


Should the electric brake active prior to the towing unit, at the same time, or after the tow unit begins to brake?

Etrailer Expert

Rachael H.


That depends on how the brake controller is set up on the towing vehicle. Brake controllers can be set up as proportional or time delayed. A propotional system responds "in proportion" to how the towing vehicle is braking, where as a time delay will apply the brakes at a set level at a set time after the towing vehicle brakes are activated.