Trailer Brake Control

One of the endless “mine is better” debates is that about trailer brake controllers. It usually seems to dwell on the better way to determine brake demand. The choices include hydraulic pressure in the vehicle brake system, brake pedal position, inertia changes, and pressure on the brake pedal.

But all of the modern controllers use smarts to tailor the trailer braking. It is these smarts that determine how to read the brake need and convert that to a trailer brake control signal.

The key to modern brake controllers is in these smarts. They all detect pedal use whether via direct sense or brake light activation. Then they all use some method to determine the actual braking need and adjust trailer brake current as per algorithm. How they use this information is where it gets felt by the seat of the pants driving experience.

The Prodigy is a good example. It is separated from others in its line by its smarts. Its firmware has been updated several times to fix bugs or accomodate emerging trailer brake technology. I think if you look, you will find that the other modern controllers have similar history. The built in controllers using the vehicle control computers are the next step. After that will likely be smart trailers – which has been tried in the past but without the cheap computing power and control capabilities now available.

BrakeSmart is an example of a controller that senses hydraulic pressure. Before ABS (anti-lock braking system) braking, the hydraulic pressure could power the controller’s trailer brake current. The current generation just use the hydraulic pressure as an indicator of brake need.

Tru-Control Brake Controller and the Sens-a-BRAKE uses a pressure sensor on the brake pedal.

Jourdan 2020 Utlima is one that senses brake pedal position. It is an entrepreneur effort that has recently been bought out by Camco.

Prodigy Brake Control by Tekonsha is one that uses inertia sensing. This is a modern varient of the kind of brake control you find on some U-Haul trailer hitches. When the driver hits the brakes, it detects the braking and applies the trailer brakes to match.

Ford has started to introduce trailer brake controllers integrated with its vehicle control computer. This means the controller has many more inputs to help its smarts control the trailer brakes. There are possibilities for significant braking improvements.

The new electric pumps for trailer hydraulic brakes are also making an impact. Controllers used to assume that trailer brakes were activated by magnets which depend upon current and can be pulsed for efficiency. The electric hydraulic pumps don’t need the current and don’t like the shenanigans for magnetic efficiency and don’t act like electric brakes. So the controller smarts have to be upgraded to accomodate the new hydraulic pumps.

In the future we might see trailers starting to include some of the smarts that are now common in cars and trucks. These include ABS braking systems, adaptive sway control, adaptive hitch loading, and who knows what else. Hang on to your seats. It will only get better!

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