Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller?

In today’s blog post, we will answer the following question: Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller? We will explain what a brake controller is and why it is essential for the functioning of the trailer’s electric brakes. 

Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller?

No, you cannot tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller. A brake controller is an electronic device through which the driver of the towing vehicle can control the braking power of the trailer from inside the vehicle. 

If you have a trailer with brakes, you need a brake controller for the brakes to work. All tandem axle trailers must have brakes on at least one axle; some state laws may require both axles to have brakes. Lastly, all single axle trailers with a gross weight of 3000 lbs. Or greater must have an axle with brakes.

How does a brake controller work? 

Brake controllers work through gain control. Gain is the measure of braking force that is sent to the trailer by electronic pulses when the driver depresses the brake pedal of the towing vehicle. The gain can be adjusted through the brake controller. It is recommended to adjust it before driving. Once the shifting begins, you can make fine adjustments to ensure a proper towing experience.

  • If the trailer tires are dragging or binding, you may want to reduce the gain to prevent the tires from wearing out at some points.
  • If the trailer is empty, you may want to reduce the gain because the trailer will be lighter and will not require as much stopping power to slow down.
  • If the trailer is loaded and the roll is going downhill, you may want to increase the gain because the trailer and the tow vehicle will require more stopping power to slow down.

How to install an electronic brake control

Electronic brake controls enable the vehicle to attach electric brakes to the trailer. Connected to the braking system, the trailer’s electric brakes engage when the vehicle’s brake pedal is depressed. 

Connecting an electronic brake control requires access to four wires: power, ground, brake, and trailer brake. Most vehicles equipped with a suspension and drivetrain suitable for towing a trailer with electric brakes will have a brake controller plug available under the dash.

  1. Pull out the plug from the brake controller. Some come with an adapter. If there is no plug hanging from yours, connect the adapter to the brake controller and clamp the cables at the most distant point.
  1. Strip 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) of insulation from the ends of the four wires attached to the brake controller. Separate the four wires to make room to connect the vehicle wiring.
  1. Locate the brake controller wiring harness under the dash of your vehicle. Extend the wires and compare the colour and location on your plugin the owner’s manual diagram. Identify which wire is for power, ground, brake line, and electric brake. Clamp all four from the socket and strip 1/2 inch (1.2 cm) of insulation from each.
  1. Connect each controller cable to the corresponding cable on the vehicle following the guidelines in the instruction manual. Twist each pair of wires together, fold the connection back on itself, and wrap it with electrical tape.
  1. Connect the trailer plug to the vehicle plug. Step on the brake pedal and have an assistant listen to the trailer wheels to see if the electric brakes engage. There may also be a hum. Adjust the sensitivity of the controller according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  1. Get an adapter that connects the controller to your vehicle, depending on the manufacturer and model. Adapters are usually brand specific. For example, a “Simple Plug-in” connector is the brand name of a Brake-Force brake controller.
  1. Extend the bundle of controller wires from under the dashboard on the driver’s side.
  1. Connect the adapter harness to the harness of the vehicle’s outlet. Connect the adapter to the brake controller socket. If necessary, plug the controller cable into its back.
  1. Position the brake controller in a place within easy reach of the driver and install it according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  1. Test the controller by having an assistant listen for the brake clutch when the pedal is depressed. Adjust the sensitivity on the controller according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note: The direct connection of the brake controller cables is permanent. If you remove it, you will have to cut the wires. If your vehicle does not have a brake controller plug wired under the dash, locate the respective cables and connect them to those of the brake controller. 

If your vehicle does not have wiring to support electric brakes, the Resources section below contains a list of web pages with helpful instructions.

Does my trailer have to be braked?

Braked trailers are attracting more and more motorists because of the convenience they offer. Not to mention the additional volume they offer to transfer large materials. Trailers with or without brakes, depending on the conditions of use and the needs of the driver. Also, many companies market these trailers, in equally different formats.

And the selection criteria are more and more numerous today. These trailers vary in size, width, length, the material used, and we go. What interests us here is rather whether it is braked or not.

How does a braked trailer work?

As the name suggests, a trailer that benefits from this device is a trailer that has its own brake mechanism. However, keep in mind that it is not enough on its own to guarantee the trailer’s good handling. Whether in autonomy, or once hooked up to a towing vehicle. The brakes used are very often drum brakes. They rest on jaws, which come to rest on the drum and thus slow down the wheel’s movement until it stops.

Keep in mind that the weight of the trailer is a critical variable in many situations. The unladen weight of the course and the loaded weight is counted in the Total Authorized Loaded Weight of the vehicle. We told you which license plate is needed for a trailer. These are similar criteria that come to feed the reflection for the braked trailers. These different weights make it possible to establish whether or not a braked trailer is necessary.


In short, by purchasing a braked trailer:

  • You will relieve the brakes of your vehicle;
  • You will ensure your safety and that of others;
  • You will benefit from a higher payload;
  • The design of your trailer will be of better quality;
  • It will be easier to park thanks to the parking lever, which will immobilise your trailer in all circumstances.

No matter the type of trailer or caravan you are towing, make sure you don’t overload it. Respect the towing capacity of your car and be safe on the road!

Please let us know if you have any tips, comments or questions about trailers’ electric brakes and brake controllers. 

FAQ on Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller?

Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller?

No, you cannot tow a trailer with electric brakes without a brake controller, as it would be useless. Electric brakes need a brake controller to work!

How much weight can you tow without trailer brakes?

You can tow up to 750 kg weight without trailer brakes, or even more as long as you are not driving more than 48 kph or 30 mph!

Do I need electric brakes to tow a Jayco Swan?

A Jayco Swan has electric brakes preinstalled. What you need is an electric brake controller as the brakes will not work without it. 

How much does it cost to install electric brakes?

The average cost to install electric brakes is $500. 


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