Best Brake Controller: 7 Brake Controllers And Buying Guide
We started by selecting brake controllers that have been heavily reviewed and are highly rated in each of two categories – proportional brake controllers and time-based brake controllers. Although using a proportional brake controller is more popular, time-based braking has gained a significant following.
Time-based units are generally less expensive than proportional units, which might explain their popularity. However, they require a driver to operate the vehicle very differently when pulling a trailer. Read the Buyer's Guide above before deciding to purchase a time-based controller.
Once we selected the units to rate, we looked at the lowest rated reviews of each item to see if there were any complaints that, due to their frequency, needed special mention in the detailed reviews. In this case, there were no complaints worthy of mention.
Finally, we rated them based on features, effectiveness, and ease of use. These are all highly rated items, and the number of stars assigned only indicates how they compare to each other.
- Top 7 Best Brake Controller
- Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Control
- Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Plug-in Simple Brake Control
- Tekonsha 9030 Voyager Electronic Brake Control
- Reese Towpower 8508211 Control Proportional Brake-EVN
- CURT 51110 Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller
- Draw-Tite 5504 Activator IV Electronic Brake Control
- Hayes 81760 Engage Digital Time Based Brake Controller
- Comparison Table
- The Best Brake Controller: Buyer's Guide
- Problems With a Time-Based Controller
- Hayes 81760 best brake controller
Top 7 Best Brake Controller
- A distinct, easy-to-read LCD display with multiple screen color options, displays in English, French or Spanish
- Diagnostics show output current, battery, brake, and output voltage and warning system alerts to No Trailer Brake...
- Boost feature allows for different levels of customized braking, select Electric over Hydraulic or Electric trailer...
This proportional unit is our pick for the best brake controller for many reasons. It supports both electric over hydraulic and electric braking. Additionally, it can store up to five different trailer towing settings, which comes in handy if you pull multiple trailers, or if other drivers also pull your trailer. It handles brakes on up to four axles.
There is a visible flashing red light when the trailer braking system is not working. It has an LCD screen that is easy to read and supports English, French, and Spanish. It uses Plug-N-Play technology to simplify installation. In addition to the usual generic cable, there are a wide variety of OEM cables available. Overall, this impressive list of features allows the driver to tune in and save settings for the perfect trailer-towing experience.
Even with all these great features, there are two disadvantages to the system. The first is that many drivers will not see the need for such a complex controller. They will just want to hook up the trailer and go.
They might prefer something requiring less setup. The second disadvantage also relates to the complexity. Having another heavily interactive device on the dashboard increases the opportunity for distracted driving. That becomes much more dangerous when towing a trailer. Of course, if you have the best settings dialed in, there is little need to adjust while en route, which makes this not as much of an issue.
- Advanced brake technology that mirrors the braking of the tow vehicle for safe, smooth stops
- Works on trailers with electric or hydraulic brakes
- Digital power and 7 sensitivity settings with intuitive vertical manual slide
This proportional brake controller is the only one reviewed that has separate adjustment and display modules, which connect through the Smart-Box unit mounted under the dashboard. When the switches and display are in one unit, mounting location becomes a problem.
If you install it where it can be easily seen, the unit switches may be difficult to reach. If you mount it where the switches are easy to reach, the display may be difficult to see. With the INSIGHT, the driver can put the display on the dashboard and the switches anyplace easily accessible. Installation is a simple task because it is done with double-sided tape instead of a drill and screws.
Overall, this three-component feature makes this brake controller the safest of all the units reviewed. It will handle the brakes on up to four axles. The switches allow you to adjust the braking power as well as the sensitivity to braking. Connection cables are available for a wide assortment of vehicles.
- Electric trailer brake control for up to 4 braking axles
- Broad control range makes setting quick and easy
- As braking power is applied, the LED changes color gradually from green, completed circuit, to red, to indicate relative...
Was the top-rated Tekonsha P3 more than you are ready to handle? Would you still like to get a Tekonsha? Take a look at the Voyager. Like the P3, the Voyager is a proportional brake controller. All the settings are made using two dials on the device. Complete instructions for setting those dials can be found in a video available on the Tekonsha Voyager web page.
It can handle brakes on up to four axles. If you require a unit that handles electric over hydraulic brakes, you should contact the manufacturer to confirm that this is possible. The literature implies that electric over hydraulic brakes MAY be supported. As with the P3, setup is facilitated by Plug-N-Play technology.
This proportional brake controller delivers the kind of smooth stops that you would expect from a unit of this type. It handles the brakes on as many as four axles. There is an advanced boost feature, which provides an initial braking boost when towing heavy loads.
The LED Display serves two purposes. First, it is easy to see while you are adjusting the unit to handle the load. Second, it displays diagnostic information so that you can monitor the status of the braking system. Installation is simple when you purchase the Reese Towpower with the proper wiring harness for your vehicle.
- RELIABLE SAFETY. The Venturer electric trailer brake controller offers safe, dependable operation, increasing trailer...
- EASY TO USE. This trailer brake controller features an easy-to-read, ramp-up LED display to monitor brake operation. It...
- POWERFUL. The simple controls of the Venturer brake controller enable powerful brake operation, featuring a manual brake...
Although this is rated number five of seven, this is the highest rated time-based brake controller. Remember that a time-based controller’s method of braking is based on how long your foot is applied to the brake and not by your rate of deceleration.
The driver can set the maximum amount of brake pressure to be applied and how long it takes to reach that maximum pressure from the time the brake pedal is pressed. This braking system will require you to change the way you drive when you are pulling a trailer. We discuss this in greater detail in the Buyer’s Guide section below.
The green bars of the LED indicator shows the driver how much power is being applied to the brakes. This unit can handle up to three axles.
Most units include moving parts, so there are correct and incorrect ways to install them. This unit, however, has no moving parts, so you can install it anywhere, and at any angle. The only requirement is that it must be someplace that the driver can see and adjust.
- Activator IV Electronic Brake Control for 1 to 4 Axle Trailers; Timed Actuated
- Compact design with Up-front push buttons for Sync and Output
- Illuminated LED output indicator and front display; view at almost any angle
This time-based brake controller can be mounted in any location and orientation, provided the driver can see and operate it from where it is mounted. The adjustments for increasing or decreasing gain (maximum trailer brake pressure) and sync (response time) are easily accessible and operated by the driver.
There is also a switch that permits the driver to manually apply the brakes up to that maximum brake pressure set by the gain adjustments. This manual switch does alleviate some of the issues about time-based brakes, but they are still a concern.
It has a digital display that shows the braking system status as well as the gain and sync settings. The unit handles up to four axles, and the Plug-N-Play feature simplifies installation.
This time-based controller is the final entry in our review. Of all the time-based units reviewed, the Engage allows the highest level of assistance through the adjustment buttons and the greatest amount of diagnostic information from the digital display. Like all time-based controllers, the switches adjust the time and power settings.
They are fine for initial setup and are easily accessible when the vehicle is stopped. However, changing these settings requires the driver to look at and manipulate the unit. This would be a difficult task when the vehicle is in motion.
There is also a switch, which lets the driver manually apply the trailer brakes up to the maximum stopping power of the brakes. It can be mounted in any location and any position if the driver can see and adjust it. The unit can handle up to three axles.
The Best Brake Controller: Buyer's Guide
If you are looking to purchase the best brake controller, then this list should be your starting point. You should find the right unit for you, which may or may not be the top-rated item on the list.
If you are a person who always pulls the same trailer and only wants to know that the trailer braking system working, there is a unit here for you. If you pull several very different trailers, each with different braking characteristics, there is a different unit here for you.
If your need is somewhere in between, then there is a different brake controller for you. Regardless of your situation, there are two definitions that you need to understand before you start shopping:
Proportional Brake Controller
This controller detects that your foot is on the brake and senses the rate of deceleration. If the tow vehicle is decelerating quickly, the controller senses the need for a quick stop and engages the trailer brakes accordingly.
If it is lightly decelerating, it will engage the trailer brakes accordingly. The big advantage to this system is that it has enough information to interpret the situation you are in and deliver the correct amount of braking.
Time-Based Brake Controller
This controller detects that your foot is on the brake, but it has no way of knowing what is happening on the road. It can’t know the difference between regular or emergency braking.
All it knows is that when the driver depresses the brake pedal, it activates the brakes at a low level. Then, over a specified number of seconds, it increases the brake pressure to its maximum allowable amount. It does the same thing every time.
Problems With a Time-Based Controller
As mentioned in the review section, there are things you need to know about driving techniques with a time-based brake controller. Unlike the proportional brake controller, it does not sense the urgency of the stop. It brakes the same way every time the brake pedal is pressed. In some situations that can be dangerous. Here are some examples
Gentle Downward Slope
You are towing a trailer and the road is a gentle downward slope. If you weren’t towing a trailer, you might lightly press and hold the brake pedal so that you don’t pick up speed going downhill.
If you do the same thing while towing a trailer, the time-based unit only knows that you are holding the brake pedal down. It follows the instructions you gave it during setup for the trip. When you first pressed the brake pedal, the controller applied the initial low-level brake pressure and began increasing it.
After the specified amount of time, the brake pressure reached the maximum you allowed during setup. The trailer would then be acting like an anchor to the tow vehicle, holding it back or even bringing it to a complete stop. This could also possibly damage the hitch.
A better way to handle this situation would be to release and reapply the brake pedal every few seconds to reset the brake controller cycle and not allow the brake pressure to become excessive. It might also be possible to put the tow vehicle in a lower gear and let the engine help with the braking but that depends on the vehicle, driver and situation.
You are towing a trailer and something unexpected happens in front of you. You need to reduce speed quickly or come to a complete stop. Of course, the brakes on the tow vehicle respond immediately but the trailer, as always, follows the instructions you gave it during trip setup. You know that those instructions won’t cause the trailer to stop quickly enough. What do you do? You have two options, neither of which is very good.
First, you can apply the tow vehicle’s brakes and hope that the tow vehicle brakes can hold both the vehicle and trailer until the trailer braking catches up. Remember that while you are holding the brake pedal down the trailer is pushing the tow vehicle forward and there is a risk of jackknifing.
Also, don’t take your foot off the brake for any reason or the controller brake cycle starts all over again. Second, you can use your lightning fast reflexes to apply manual braking using the switch on the unit. Hopefully, you can do this while keeping your vehicle and trailer under control.
Hayes 81760 best brake controller
Unless you have some compelling reason for getting a time-based brake controller, spend a few extra dollars and get a proportional unit. This is especially true if you pull trailers only occasionally. Being glad you chose a proportional brake controller is better than wishing you had.