How do I know if my RV has brakes? (state laws)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: How do I know if my RV has brakes? We will explain how the RV braking system works and why brakes are important for motorhomes. 

How do I know if my RV has brakes?

You can find out if your RV has brakes just by looking at the wheels and checking if it has brake shoes. These are clear indicators that your RV has brakes. If you find it difficult, you can always consult the manufacturer’s manual or ask for guidance from an authorised mechanic. 

Do all RVs need brakes?

Certainly, not all RVs have brakes, but if you need them is just a question of weight. In many states in the US, if the vehicle weighs less than 3,000 lbs, you do not need to equip it with brakes. See the table below for more details regarding this law. 

StateRV Brakes Requirements
AlabamaOver 3,000 pounds.
AlaskaOver 5,000 pounds.
ArizonaOver 3,000 pounds.
ArkansasOver 3,000 pounds.
CaliforniaOver 1,500 pounds.
ColoradoOver 3,000 pounds.
ConnecticutOver 3,000 pounds.
DelawareOver 4,000 pounds.
FloridaOver 3,000 pounds.
GeorgiaOver 3,000 pounds.
HawaiiOver 3,000 pounds.
IdahoOver 1,500 pounds.
IllinoisOver 3,000 pounds.
IndianaOver 3,000 pounds.
IowaOver 3,000 pounds.
KansasNo weight limit.
KentuckyNo weight limit.
LouisianaOver 3,000 pounds.
MaineOver 3,000 pounds.
MarylandOver 3,000 pounds.
MassachusettsOver 10,000 pounds.
MichiganOver 15,000 pounds.
MinnesotaOver 3,000 pounds.
MississippiOver 2,000 pounds.
MissouriOver 3,000 pounds.
MontanaOver 3,000 pounds.
Nebraskaover 6,500 pounds.
NevadaOver 3,000 pounds.
New HampshireOver 3,000 pounds.
New JerseyOver 3,000 pounds.
New MexicoOver 3,000 pounds.
New YorkOver 3,000 pounds.
North CarolinaOver 1,000 pounds.
North DakotaNo weight limit.
OhioOver 3,000 pounds.
OklahomaOver 3,000 pounds.
OregonNo weight limit.
PennsylvaniaOver 3,000 pounds.
Rhode IslandOver 4,000 pounds.
South CarolinaOver 3,000 pounds.
South DakotaOver 3,000 pounds.
TennesseeOver 3,000 pounds.
TexasOver 4,500 pounds.
UtahNo weight limit.
VermontOver 3,000 pounds.
VirginiaOver 3,000 pounds.
WashingtonOver 3,000 pounds.
West VirginiaOver 3,000 pounds.
WisconsinOver 3,000 pounds.
WyomingNo weight limit.

How do RV brakes Work: Brakes, brake control and wiring

Brakes and brake control are critical to your safety, understanding how they work and inspecting them before you ride is important. All trailers and fifth wheels have brakes that are operated by a brake controller that is installed in the towing vehicle. Brake control is necessary to take the road safely and legally with any trailer that is equipped with brakes, so all trailers.

Test your braking system before each ride, if a problem occurs, refer to our troubleshooting guide, you may be able to diagnose your problem and solve it quickly!

RV electric drum brakes

Trailers and fifth-wheel trailers usually have electric drum brakes on their wheels. A drum brake consists of a circular receptacle in which the brake mechanism is placed, i.e. two cushions in the shape of a half-moon connected to an arm actuated by an electromagnet.

When you brake with your vehicle, the brake control sends an electric current through the wire, this current travels to the brake and activates the electromagnet. The magnet is then attracted by the wall of the drum which turns with the wheel. 

The movement pulls the magnet back, this pull pushes on the arm which pushes the brake pads towards the periphery of the drum which breaks it.

Many RVs now have brakes that do not require periodic adjustment, but you still need to check the pads for wear.

RV electrically actuated hydraulic disc brakes

Heavier RV models, usually fifth wheels, as well as motorhomes, will have hydraulic disc brakes which provide better stopping capacity. This type of brake is the one used for automobiles and includes a disc that is attached to the wheel and a clamp with two pads.

When braking, the brake control will send an electric current to the oil pump which will increase the oil pressure in the clamps, hence the term “hydraulic”. The clamp will close, exerting pressure on each side of the disc, thus breaking the wheel.

As with an automobile, check the brake pads for wear and the mechanism’s oil level.

RV hydraulic disc brakes

There is also a non-electric hydraulic braking system that uses a tube installed on the hitch between the towing vehicle and its trailer. The tube contains oil and is connected to the trailer brakes, when the vehicle brakes, the trailer pushes forward on the tube which creates pressure that is sent to the brakes.

This system is no longer used in the new models of trailers since it has the disadvantage of being less responsive than the electrical system, of not being able to be activated manually from a brake control and that it does not allow backing up. without being disengaged.

RV Brake control

Brake control is a device installed in the towing vehicle. Some trucks and SUVs may offer it for purchase, but it can also be fitted to the vast majority of vehicles.

The role of the brake control is to send an electric current to the trailer’s brake system to activate it. The brake control can be activated in two ways, automatically by breaking the towing vehicle or manually by a button on the device. Manual activation allows you to control the braking in a situation where the road is tilted or if the trailer starts to sway.

The brake control will usually be installed on the left under the steering wheel, allowing proximity to the vehicle’s wiring in order to connect it and receive the automatic brake signal and be handy for manual activation as needed.

There are several models of brake control, the most basic are mechanical and only include a button to activate and adjust the brake force. More sophisticated models are electronic and will have a digital display and can make adjustments to vehicle braking force, incline, etc. Some systems even use your smartphone as a controller.

Wiring for the RV brakes and lights

Those who are used to pulling a trailer will notice that a trailer requires 7-fall, note 4-fall, spinning. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that the towing vehicle has this type of wiring.

Each of the 7 strands passes current to a trailer system to allow it to function properly.

  • The “Ground” or earthing.
  • Brakes
  • Position lights
  • Recharging the 12V battery
  • Brake lights and left turn signal
  • Both brake and the right turn signal
  • Reversing lights.


No matter the type of RV (braked or unbraked) 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 an RV’s brakes and brake controllers. 

FAQ about How do I know if my RV has brakes?

How do the brakes on a caravan 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 caravan?

If the caravan 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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