If you are planning your first trip with a trailer, you probably have a lot of information you are trying to take in and remember.

While you were doing your research, you probably heard of something called an electric brake controller. This is a tool that can be used to help you safely tow your trailer.

You also may have noticed that there are a few different types, notably, wired and wireless brake controllers. Fortunately, I am here to discuss the pros and cons of each type.

What is a trailer brake controller?

black suv towing a big travel trailer

To put things simply, a trailer brake controller is a controller that helps your trailer brake.

However, if you want a little more detail, it is a small electronic device that you can install in the cabin of your tow vehicle.

It activates the brakes of your trailer via an electric signal whenever you apply the brakes of your tow vehicle.

Why is it important to have a trailer brake controller?

Simply put, you do not want your tow vehicle to bear the full responsibility of braking. Not only is it less efficient, but it is far more dangerous.

If you need to stop quickly for whatever reason and you hit the brakes without a brake controller, your tow vehicle will stop, but your trailer will keep its momentum and crash into you.

This could cause a devastating crash if you are traveling at high speeds.

Installing traditional wired brake controllers

The installation of wired brake controllers is more complex than the wireless options.

That being said, these brake controllers are very effective, and as a result, it can be a good idea to learn how to install them.

That way, you are able to choose any brake controller without limiting yourself.

If you use a traditional under dash brake controller, you will mount the main module beneath your dashboard. I cannot get into the details of the installation process because it can vary significantly based on your vehicle and what it is already equipped with.

Another option is the dash mounted brake controller knob. This type of brake controller is installed in a similar way to the traditional controller. However, you will need to install and wire the dash mounted knob. This knob can be mounted anywhere in your cab.

Installing wireless brake controllers

Wireless brake controllers are still relatively new, but they have risen in popularity at an impressive rate. The main reason for that is that they allow you to skip the complex wiring setup that is required of other controllers.

Many of these controllers allow you to simply plug the unit in between your 7-way trailer connection, download a mobile app, and pair your devices with Bluetooth.

How can you test your trailer brake controller?

dusty dacia towing a white camper on grass

Before you start your trip with your trailer, it is important that you take the time to test and adjust your brake controller. Whether you choose a wired or wireless brake controller, you need to test it to make sure that it is working. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with how it works so that you are not flying by the seat of your pants when you get on the road for the first time.

Now, it is important to note that every vehicle and brake controller combination is different. Your experience will also be different depending on the size of your load. That being said, there are some brake controllers that allow you to store multiple profiles. That way, you do not need to worry about adjusting things each time you travel with a different sized load. Regardless, I highly recommend that you take the time to read the manufacturer’s instructions that came with your brake controller.

The best way to test your brake controller after you make the initial adjustments is to take your tow vehicle and trailer out on the road at a slow pace. Try not to exceed 25 miles per hour and stick to dry and flat surfaces while you are doing your tests. Empty parking lots can work great for testing if that is an option for you.

Once you find a suitable place to test your brake controller, you can see how long it takes for your vehicle to come to a stop when your trailer is attached. Test out different braking intensities, starting easy but gradually increasing the braking output. You need to test hard braking because there may be situations where it is necessary. In a perfect world, your trailer brakes will have maximum braking power without the wheels locking up.

Should you get a timed or proportional controller?

In addition to deciding between wired and wireless brake controllers, you need to decide whether you want to go with a timed or proportional controller. Typically, proportional controllers are better options than their timed counterparts.

A timed brake controller allows you to set a sync value, which you can use to adjust the length of the delay between when you press the brakes in your tow vehicle and when the brakes are applied in your trailer. The controller will then gradually apply the brakes further until you slow to a stop.

Conversely, proportional brake controllers use sensors to detect the rate at which your tow vehicle is braking, and it mimics that rate in the trailer. By using a brake controller of this type, your trailer and tow vehicle will slow and stop at the same rate.

These controllers are better for linear braking and in heavy braking emergency events. That being said, timed controllers are cheaper, and as a result, if you are only towing smaller trailers, you can get away with using one of them.

Final thoughts

There is a lot to learn for people new to towing trailers, but there are a few things that are more important than your brake controller.

Without one, you will be unable to properly stop your trailer, and as a result, you could seriously injure yourself and others.

Wired options can be good options, and you do not need to worry about Bluetooth malfunctioning with them. However, they are complicated to set up.

Conversely, wireless brake controllers can be set up in just a few minutes. Both are great options; you just need to make sure the specific model you choose has a high rating.

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Here’s what we’d buy if we were looking for brake controllers: 5 Best & Most Dependable Trailer Brake Controllers (in 2022).