How can I tell if my pop up camper has brakes?

In this article, we will answer the following question: How can I tell if my pop up camper has brakes? We will explain how to check your camper’s brake and some key points for your pop-up camper’s braking system. 

How can I tell if my pop up camper has brakes?

To tell if your pop-up camper has brakes just check the tongue of your camper. If your pop-up has brakes, there will be a looped cable coming from a box on the side of the tongue. This looped cable is the brake switch that connects to the towing vehicle and that activates in case of braking. 

The pop-up camper’s braking system includes air reservoirs and parts that automatically apply the spring brakes. Vehicles designed to tow a trailer must be equipped with valves used only for the camper. 

Your camper’s braking system includes:

  • Inner tubes
  • Air reservoirs
  • Distributors
  • Basic brakes.

Do all pop-up campers have brakes?

No, not all pop-up campers have brakes. Pop-up campers are small trailers, and many manufacturers do not build them with brakes in mind. However, it is possible to install and adjust brakes even on pop-up campers!

How to check electric brakes on a pop-up camper

Electric trailer brakes are designed to slow a camper and generally cannot lock the trailer wheels when loaded. That is why it is important to tow a heavy vehicle. The towing vehicle supplies the power to operate the trailer’s electric brakes. 

When voltage is sent to the trailer brakes, an electromagnet mechanism in the drum applies the brake. The biggest failure of trailer brakes is caused by little or no stress to the brake magnets. Broken and rusted wires or cable connections are the common cause and can be found either on the towing or trailer vehicle.

  1. Hitch the trailer to the tow vehicle and connect the trailer plug. Apply the emergency brake on the tow vehicle and lock the trailer wheels. Spread a mat or large piece of cardboard under the trailer.
  1. Go under the trailer with the 12 volt DC test light and a continuity tester. Use the 12-volt test light and test the two wires that go into each of the brake backing plates for power while someone applies the trailer brakes. There should be power in only one wire that goes into each plate. firing for the electromagnet to apply the brakes.
  1. Mark the wires that light the test light on each backing plate as the positive and the other wire as the ground.
  1. Test the ground wire going into each backing plate using a continuity test light by grounding the continuity light and probing the ground wire. If the ground wire is properly grounded the light will light. The continuity tester draws its power from an internal battery.
  1. Adjust the adjusting wheel on the trailer brake unit for the maximum setting. The braking unit is normally mounted under the dashboard of the towing vehicle. Drive the trailer to an area that has loose gravel.
  1. Apply the trailer brake lever, but not the trailer vehicle brakes during slow driving. If the brakes are working properly the wheels should slide, or a drag should be felt. The trailer must be empty to perform this task.

Tips and Warnings:

  • Make sure the test light is grounded when testing DC power and test the two wires going to the backing plate to find the hot one.
  • If no power can be found in the cables going to the brake cooktops, check and repair any broken cables or bad connections under the trailer and retest.
  • Glue bare wires to avoid a short circuit.
  • Wear eye protection when working under and around vehicles or trailers.
  • The towing and towing vehicle must be parked on a level surface before starting work.

Should my pop-up camper be braked or not? 

When you finally decide to buy a trailer or caravan, there is a fundamental question to ask.

You should know that the regulations impose a service break beyond a gross weight of 750kg. But this is a standard; indeed, beyond this rule, you should know that when you tow a trailer with a gross weight of 500kg, all the braking force will be provided only by the towing vehicle’s brake system. As a result, if you combine a light vehicle with an unbraked trailer your braking distance will be considerably increased. 

In addition, when braking on a curve, it can have a much more serious impact, because when your car is in the middle of a change of direction, your trailer will exert a push at the rear of the towing vehicle, opposite to the borrowed direction.

This can lead to a loss of control and dangerous situations.  We know full well that someone will one day use an overloaded trailer, so knowing that a trailer without associated brakes has such a low overload is unforgivable.

We must admit that a braked trailer is so much more expensive. But it is not only necessary to compare the price/brake ratio, because beyond the system brake you will notice that these trailers are often more robust (reinforced boom, more rigid frame, and especially oversized axles) because the manufacturers know it well, the braked trailers are often intended for professional use.

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.

Key points to remember

  • The trailer’s braking subsystem consists of air reservoirs and parts for automatically applying the spring brakes.
  • Coupling heads are used to connect the air brake system of the towing vehicle to that of the trailer.
  • In most cases, you can identify the coupling heads by their colour. In general, the pipes are designed in such a way that they cannot be interchanged.
  • The trailer’s spring and service brakes do not work properly when the coupling heads are swapped.
  • Manual trailer control allows the trailer service brakes to be applied independently of the towing vehicle brakes.
  • Typically, the trailer air supply valve consists of a button near the driver that supplies air to the trailer brake system through the supply line.
  • The towing vehicle protection valve prevents air loss from the towing vehicle.
  • When the air pressure in the trailer supply line is less than 414 kPa (60 psi), the trailer spring brakes are automatically applied.
  • In an emergency situation, when the trailer service brakes are defective, the trailer spring brakes can be applied using the trailer air supply valve.
  • A trailer equipped with a spring brake override system allows the trailer spring brakes to release before the trailer service brakes have enough pressure to operate.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments on the content!

FAQ on How can I tell if my pop up camper has brakes?

How do the brakes on a camper work?

Parking braking is ensured by this principle: Thanks to a compensating unit integral with the parking brake control brake lever, and mounted on the rod, it suffices, to immobilize the trailer, to pull the parking brake lever towards the back to the last tooth of the rack

Do you have to have electric brakes to tow a camper?

If the camper weighs more than 750 kg, you are required by law to have electric brakes. 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.

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!


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