Do most trailers have brakes?

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Do most trailers have brakes? We will explain how trailer brakes work and why you may need them installed. We will also discuss whether trailer brakes are mandatory in the US. 

Do most trailers have brakes?

Yes, most trailers have brakes, but not all of them. In fact, in most states in the US the law doesn’t require brakes if the trailer weighs less than 3000 lbs. In the table below you will be able to see what is the maximum allowed towed vehicle weight without brakes. 

StateMax Towed Vehicle Weight OrStopping Distance w/o Brake
Alabama3000 lbs
Alaska5000 lbs
Arizona3000 lbs
Arkansas3000 lbs
California3000 lbs
Colorado3000 lbs
Connecticut3000 lbs
Delaware4000 lbs
Florida3000 lbs
Georgia3000 lbs
Hawaii3000 lbs
Idaho1500 lbs
Illinois3000 lbs
Indiana3000 lbs
Iowa3000 lbs
KansasAchieve specific stoppingdistance. 40 ft @ 20 mph
KentuckyAchieve specific stoppingdistance. 40 ft @ 20 mph
Louisiana3000 lbs
Maine3000 lbs
Maryland3000 lbs
Massachusetts10000 lbs
Michigan3000 lbs
Minnesota3000 lbs
Mississippi2000 lbs
Montana3000 lbs
Nebraska3000 lbs
Nevada3000 lbs
New Hampshire1500 lbs
New Jersey3000 lbs
New Mexico3000 lbs
New York3000 lbs
North Carolina4000 lbs
North Dakota3000 lbs
Ohio2000 lbs
Oklahoma3000 lbs
OregonAchieve specific stoppingdistance. 40 ft @ 20 mph
Pennsylvania3000 lbs
Rhode Island4000 lbs
South Carolina3000 lbs
South Dakota3000 lbs
Tennessee3000 lbs
Texas4500 lbs
UtahAchieve specific stoppingdistance. 40 ft @ 20 mph
Vermont3000 lbs
Virginia3000 lbs
Washington3000 lbs
West Virginia3000 lbs
Wisconsin3000 lbs
WyomingAchieve specific stoppingdistance. 40 ft @ 20 mph

How do trailer brakes work and why are they important?

Trailer brakes work the same way as the brakes on cars and trucks. There are two brake shoes for each wheel and each of these brake shoes has a crescent shape. They exist loosely attached to a part called the brake pad with their friction surfaces facing each other to form almost a complete circle.

The shoes are supported by a stop inside the bottom, while they are supported by the actuator arm inside the top. This arm extends over the front of the brake shoes. An electromagnet is connected to the lower end of this arm. The support plate is bolted to the trailer axle with a flange through which the axle passes into the hub and bearings.

 The hub that contains the wheel bearings is an integral part of the brake drum. The drum is shaped like a round cake but is made of heavy cast steel, making it precise to hold thousands of pounds of racing steel, rather than supporting the cake batter. The inner surface of the sides of the “pan” is smooth. The brake shoes press against this surface when the brake is applied.

When the hub and cylinder group is positioned on the axle, the inner surface of the cylinder is a fraction of an inch from the friction surface of the pads and the magnet is very close to the front of the cylinder. 

Electricity from the brake controller moves this magnet, which in turn tries to connect to the rotating brake drum. Drum rotation rotates the actuator arm, separating the brake pads and coming into contact with the brake drum and applying the brakes.

It is much more practical than trying to stop an annoying devotee like Superman with your bare hands.

As technology improves, innovative brake controls, primarily electronic controls, provide more different monitoring options. Some models are equipped with LCD monitors that provide drivers with specific continuous diagnostics and significant warning notifications. The screens are often customizable, with different language options not only in English but also in French and Spanish; some even give different colour options.

Can you install trailer brakes after purchase?

Yes, you can install trailer brakes even after purchase.  Accommodating a brake controller is a fairly straightforward task as well. The first step is to easily mount the brake controller in a no-brainer access area. Most people install it under the panel and just above the right leg. This keeps your brake control in view, where you can see potential problems.

Brake controllers are normally used in a three-wire configuration that can be connected to the brake system wiring. The three independent connections are:

  • Trailer power: proposes braking force to the trailer connector. 
  • Ground: Connects the brake control to a negative grounded source. 
  • Brake switch: the wire that transmits power when the brake pedal is pressed. 

If you are unfamiliar with wire harnesses, you should hire a qualified professional to install your brake controls; However, if you know what you’re doing and follow the equipment manufacturer’s directions, installing a brake controller shouldn’t be a problem.

Why should all trailers have brakes?

Most states require trailers equipped with electric brakes to have a safety circuit called a breakaway system that applies the brakes when the trailer is disconnected from the tow car. This system consists of a trailer-mounted battery and a normally closed switch.

The key contacts exist separated by a non-conductive plastic piece to which a loop is attached. 

The other end of the cable is connected to the towing vehicle. When the trailer is separated from the tow vehicle, the loop pulls the plastic spacer away from the key contacts. The button closes and applies power from the onboard battery to the brakes, stopping the trailer.

On heavier trailers and caravans, which exceed half of the vehicle towing unladen, consider getting a braked caravan. Its role is to assist the vehicle’s primary braking and relieve it of the trailer’s weight.

The goal is to reduce the braking distance to ensure better passenger safety. But it also makes it possible to extend the life of the brakes of the towing vehicle and the contents of the trailer.

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.

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.


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 braked and unbraked trailers.

FAQ on Do most trailers have brakes?

When does my trailer need brakes? 

As a general rule, the need for a trailer with a separate brake system depends on its weight. In my research, I found that most states require your trailer to stop if it exceeds 1000 pounds. However, many require all trailers to be braked regardless of weight, so your best bet is to do some research and research what works best for your trailer and the conditions you live in.

What if my trailer brakes fail? 

Usually, there are too many protective measures that brake systems bring to avoid some substantial disaster. Therefore, the complete and complete destruction of your brakes is as little as possible. However, if your trailer appears to have a will of its own, it will keep moving when you stop and hit the rear of the truck. It can also keep you moving, especially when the road is slippery. But as long as everything is configured correctly, it is very rare.

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!

How much does it cost to install electric brakes?

The average cost to install electric brakes is $500, if done by a professional. The costs can be a lot less if you decide to install them yourself. 


Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!