Choosing a Brake Controller

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Choosing a Brake Controller


Randy: Hey guys! It's Randy here at etrailer.com. Today, we're going to be taking a look at the best brake controllers and how to choose the right one for your situation. There's been a lot of new models, like a Tow-Pro Elite, or the Curt Spectrum that we have here. Even the Curt Echo that's out now and in the, the proportional world, you have tons of options now.Basically, we'll start by just talking about proportional versus time-delayed. Then we'll get into the different types of proportional controllers that are available and where they really shine or where they really do their best work.All right, let's start with the difference between time-delayed and proportional. Basically, a time-delayed brake controller was kind of, kind of the original.

That's kind of the way they, they we're able to get brakes to work on a trailer. Essentially, this recognizes when you hit your brake in your car, and it's going to go through a pre-set ramp up of how the brakes get applied based on how much power you tell it to send to the brakes.Now, that's all it does. There's no intelligence in it. It doesn't have any, any kind of reasoning ability to be able to understand how much power that you want from the brakes. So, if we pull up to a stop, a stoplight, essentially we keep our foot on the brakes.

The brake controller just keeps putting out power, putting out power, putting out power. So, can prematurely wear a lot of the components and even when we get into emergency situations, we put our brakes on really quickly, we want a lot of braking power, again, the time-delay just doesn't know. It doesn't know that you're asking for more power. It's just going to go through its standard power curve and send out the same amount of braking force. Now, for a long time, that was the only option we had and that was, it was adequate enough.

It got the brakes to work on the trailer, but it was really all it did.When we look at a proportional system now, basically, there's sensors inside of all of these. They're going to recognize how much braking force you're asking for. So, you hit the brakes in your car. This sensor inside says okay, this is an emergency braking situation. Let's send out all the power as quickly as we can to help everything be safe, help everything kind of slow down at the same speed.

Also, the proportional braking controller can really help save a lot of wear and tear. If you're just coming to a nice, slow stop, maybe traffic or something, it just send a little bit of braking power out to the trailer. Helps you with safety, but also helps to make sure that you're trucks not being overworked because your trailer's not breaking enough and makes sure your trailers not being overworked because it's braking too much when your truck should be doing a little bit more of the work. So, proportional is definitely the way to go in getting brake controllers.The only reason we really still have the time-delayed system the last few years is because it gave you mounting options that you didn't really have with the proportional brake controllers. So, take the P3, for instance. This has to be mounted in line with the direction of travel. It's got a range that we can mount it this way. That was a real, really only advantage. More of a custom kind of situation where you, maybe, you wanted it in the glove box or something to sit sideways. You could do that because there we're no sensors inside of it.Well now that we've got things like the Tow-Pro Elite, this is something . you can mount this in any orientation. You could mount it upside down. You could mount it sideways. It doesn't have to be in the direction of travel and that gives you the same mounting options that we had with this one. So as you guys can see, huge advantages to proportional systems over the time-delay. That's why absolutely, I do not recommend the time-delayed system anymore.Now that there's a proportional brake controller that can also do that, this is out in my book. It's not as safe and it's not as effective as what we get out of a proportional system, so, please, when you're buying a brake controller, get something that's going to be proportional.Now I'll take a minute . we're going to go over the different types of proportional controllers that are available and where they're going to work best at. This one is the . happens to be the Prodigy P3, but, this seems to be the most popular. The P3 has a lot of diagnostic functions in it, which make it just a little bit easier to use, especially if you're on a brake controller all the time. If you're always hauling a trailer, it's nice to be able to use that. But any standard-style mount, that's what we'll call it, brake controller that's proportional is going to do a good job for you.The way these are going to mount, they use a couple brackets, just depending. Like the P3 here, uses a bracket we can slide up on the back and it just has a little bracket that you'll mount to your dash. This allows you to bring it in and out. So we can move this in the vehicle, take it out when we're not using it, get a pigtail to plug it in. Or you can do more of a permanent mount. Just bring your bracket down and over. This is generally the one I prefer. I don't see a lot of people taking the brake controllers in and out of their vehicles. You can. You can. With this one, especially, with that quick-remove bracket. You can use it on multiple vehicles. Just have to have a couple plugs and have them pre wired so you can just slide it in and clip it in. So that's going to be your more basic, standard, every day kind of brake controller.A couple of new types that I really like are a much more hidden type installation. These are going to allow you, like the Tow-Pro here, you can use a knock-out switch panel. Or, we've mounted it directly in the center console of a 4-Runner that we've got here. Just gives you lots of options. Lots of ways to get this mounted where you don't have to have this on your dashboard. Finding a good spot to mount one of these brackets is a little bit more difficult, especially on newer models.Going with the Tow-Pro Elite here, or the Curt Spectrum, you can see they're just going to be adding a smaller switch. All of your function and all of your control happens right there on your switch. Turn that up or down. The Tow-Pro, out of the two, is my favorite. They can both be mounted . this is our control module here on both of them. And these can be mounted in any configuration. Now, these are going to be great for taking over that old time-delayed situation that we needed but also really good for those of you that don't want this mounted on your dash and don't want a big brake controller that's always . not necessarily in the way, but it's just . it's there. It's always there.This one, you can mount it so all you see is this button coming out. The Curt, we can mount it to where all we have is this round pod. So, I really like that. I think this is going to be the way to go for a lot of you that want in-vehicle control but don't want a, a big hole cut in your dash. You don't want different things like that. So, I think you'll like these.Now, the Tow-Pro Elite is an extremely popular brake controller in the off-roading community. If you're going down a pretty slick hill, you want to be sure that trailers doing a little bit of braking, too, so it doesn't put it off on the side. All you have to do is turn this button up or down to increase or decrease the braking power going to your trailer every time you hit the brake. So, if we're going down a sand hill and we don't necessarily want the brakes to come on on our trailer, we just turn it to zero. Hit the brakes in our vehicle, nothing happens on the trailer. That way it's not digging down in the sand. It's not anchoring us.On the other side of it, maybe we're going down a slick hill or maybe we're going down a really steep grade, we want more braking power. Well, really without looking, you can just dial it up to where you want it, keeping your eyes forward, and just get it tuned into where you want. I think that's a huge benefit, especially if you're an off-road kind of person. This would be the way I would go if you're going to be hauling those trailers out there.I also prefer the way this one mounts. I like the smaller button. I like the way it works over the Curt Spectrum, but that's just a matter of opinion. That doesn't, doesn't mean that this does not do just as good of a job as this one does, because they do. I just like this one better. It's a little bit smaller, a little bit smaller profile and it can really stay hidden.Now, another one that's out now that I think is pretty awesome in a lot of situations is going to be the Curt Echo. This is a wireless brake controller. You can see 7-pole plug here. Can plug that into your existing 7-pole and you plug your trailer in right there. It's all handled from your smartphone. You have all of the same function as what we get with these, right from our phone and have direct control right there. So there's no wires to run. As long as you've got a working 7-pole on your vehicle, this'll plug in and it's going to work once you get the app going.I think this is going to be ideal in a lot of situations. We're running into more and more with vehicles, multiplex wiring, or one wire that maybe does several different things and you can't tap into it to get your brake light signal or you just can't use them, so, by using this, you make zero modifications to the vehicle whatsoever. You're not cutting anything, you're not splicing anything. You're not putting any holes in your dashboard. So, whether it's a leased vehicle that you don't really want to modify before you turn it back in because then you'll get charged. If it's a vehicle that has the more complex wiring in it that we can't really utilize it, this is going to be a great solution. But also, I think this is going to be really good for a lot of landscaping or construction companies where, maybe you've got one, two, or three trailers but you've got a fleet of trucks. Well, you can grab an Echo and just keep it with your trailer. As long as everybody has that app on their phone, they're just going to plug this in, pull it up and it's going to be there ready to use.There is a fail-safe built in so if your phone we're to die or if your phone turns off, something like that, it's going to continue to operate in the mode it was when your phone went off. Now, you won't have the button for the manual override but it'll continue to function and continue to provide brakes and working with customers, that's a pretty common question I get about that one.Now, there is one limiting factor with the Echo where most of these don't have it is that this is only going to work up to tandem trailers, so two-axles or four total brake assemblies. You might have a triple-axle trailer and it's only got four brake assemblies on it, so I just . I don't want to say two-axles but four brake assemblies, essentially.Most of the other ones we're looking at here will go up to three or four, so six or eight brake assemblies, so larger trailers, I think, this is definitely your way to go. But on your smaller trailers or up to four brake assemblies, I really like this one, too. I don't think everybody's going to like this. I don't think everybody's going to decide that this is the right one for them. But, I do think in a lot of situations or if doing wiring is kind of an intimidating thing for you, that this'll solve a lot of problems.When it comes to the wiring side of the brake controllers, of course the Echo is wireless. We've kind of talked about that. But, each one of these is going to have a plug that's going to plug into the back. We need to get ground from our vehicle. We need to get this signal out to our trailer. We need to have 12-volt power. And then we also need to get to our brake light switch. You can see that's going to plug, once we tie those in, plugs in right to the back of our brake controller and all of our connections are made.Now, by using our Fit Guide, you can put in your year, make, and model and there's a good chance that there's going to be a wiring pigtail available for you that's going to plug right into a factory connector that's already located under your dash. You might have to add a fuse to get power to come to it or something like that, but this saves splicing, cutting, or running any wires. This is just going to go into the back just like that, plug that in, mount this up, and we're ready to go. I really like that option. We've got them for . this style's typically for Tekonsha. Here's another one for Tekonsha. See that, kind of, that four flat. Also got the ones for Curt, here. So this plugs into our dashboard and then your brake controller plugs right into that. I really like this. I think this is going to save you a lot of time and save you a lot of energy in trying to get your other one installed.Now, the Tow-Pro Elite that you see here, it uses a little bit different plug. It's a really wide four flat plug. But what I've done on several occasions in installing . say I'm putting it in an F-150 or whatever, I'll get basically which every one's less expensive, the Curt or the Tekonsha pig tail, that has that plug for that Ford factory wiring, and then I just cut this other end off. I'll match up my wire colors. White to white, black to black, blue to blue, red to red. And you can plug that right in and it's going to function that Tow-Pro just the same way. So, just a little helpful tip there. Even though this one doesn't always have the pigtails available, four butt connectors and about three minutes, you can make your own and just plug it directly in and not have to worry about any kind of wiring.So when installing your brake controller, a lot of vehicles that you're going to hauling with are already set up. But there's also a lot of vehicles out there that aren't. We have several kits that we've put together. ETBC7 is our electronic brake controller installation kit. It's going to have everything you need to go from the back of the car up to the front of the car as long as you've got a working 4-pole. So you can take that 4-pole, switch it over to a working 7-pole. But the requirements we're going to have coming to the back of the vehicle is just that brake wire. The Curt Echo does also require that you've got 12-volt power, but any standard working 7-pole probably has 12-volt power going to it.If not, we have a light ETBC7 kit and that'll give you the breaker so you can get the power from your battery and get it to the back. But if you want to upgrade, or you want a brake controller that works a little bit better like the Tow-Pro Elite, here, or the Curt Echo, those are going to kind of override that factory brake controller so you don't have to worry about any interference from that. Just plug this in, it's going to work fine for you.Rule number one: get a proportional brake controller. It might be a little bit tempting to get a time-delayed and save 10 or save 15 bucks but it's well worth it. You're going to save the wear and tear on both the truck and trailer. You're also going to be safer. You're going to have the braking power you need when you need it. So, get a proportional brake controller.If you're a traditional type person, you like all your functions, I like dash mount controllers. I think these very easy to get installed. Very easy to operate. Everything's very intuitive with it. So that's going to be your standard. That's going to be . anybody can throw a proportional brake controller in their vehicle and it work properly for them in the standard design. If you're looking for something a little bit more clean, kind of that alternative style of mounting it to where we don't have to have the black box on our dashboard, I like the Curt Spectrum. I like the Tow-Pro Elite. I like the additional off-road feature or that manual mode so we know each time we hit our brakes, exactly what's going out out of the Tow-Pro, but, either one of them are going to do a good job and it also takes over what that old time-delayed used to. The mounting it in any configuration or any orientation that we want.So, I like those a lot and I think we covered pretty good the Echo and where it's going to be really good at: delicate wiring systems on vehicles. The multiplex type wiring. If you don't want to modify your vehicle at all because it's a leased car and you've got to turn it back in or you're just not comfortable with wiring. This is a really good option for you. And then also, if you need multiples. So if you had one trailer, six trucks, all six trucks can haul that same trailer, it's great just to leave this with the trailer and be able to use it on any rig that you hook up to it. So, overall, they're all excellent choices as long as they're proportional so pick out the one that's right for you and should be easy to install.


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