Trying to understand what is the best trailer brake controller is a minefield – how many axles can it brake, is it a time-delayed or proportional controller, how will the control fit in the cabin … so many different choices and things to consider.
Luckily for you, I’ve spent some time researching the subject, and not only have I got a list of five different controllers, I will give you a bit more insight as to the technicalities of it all, so I think we’ll start with the basics.
Table of Contents
- Top 5 Best Trailer Brake Controllers
- What is a Trailer Brake Controller?
- Proportional vs Time Delayed Brake Controller
- The Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews
Top 5 Best Trailer Brake Controllers
What is a Trailer Brake Controller?
Essentially, the trailer brake controller is a device that can be plugged in to your vehicle that operates the electric or electric-over-hydraulic brakes on a trailer. You can preset the force and efficiency, and depending on the model, it could work on anything from 2 brakes to eight … that would be a monster trailer!
The reason why they’re so popular is that they allow for more control over the braking system, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re towing 500 lb or 5,000 lb, you’ll always get peak efficiency from the braking system when fitted (and set up) correctly.
Of course, it’s worth pointing out (just in case) that these controllers don’t work with older style trailers that don’t have electronic control!
Proportional vs Time Delayed Brake Controller
While there are literally hundreds of different controllers on the market, every single one of them can be placed in one of two groups: proportional controller or time-delayed.
Proportional controllers tend to be more expensive, thanks mainly to their ability to mimic the braking force used. If you slam on the brakes on the tow vehicle, the trailer will also brake hard, whereas if you’re just gently coasting to a stop with minimal braking effort, they’ll mimic that too.
They are able to do this as they have an inertia sensor built-in or some kind of accelerometer which senses the shift in vehicle attitude. These of course are the preferred choice, but aside from being more expensive, they generally need more care to fit – thanks to the sensors.
A time-delayed controller always applies the same braking force (which is preset by the driver for any given load & trailer combo), and it does so over a set period of time (again, driver controlled). While they still give excellent controllability, they aren’t quite as technical and don’t offer the best force control.
The Best Trailer Brake Controller Reviews
Within this list, you will definitely find a controller that suits your towing vehicle and trailer. Most controllers can be supplied with a vehicle specific harness which should just plug in to your electrics, but in some cases, you may need a little more ‘fitting’.
1. Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake Controller
The Tekonsha P3 seems to be the favored choice right now, and with good reason. It has some simple yet neat touches – multiple screen-colors for example, and being able to switch between English, French and Spanish … nothing that sets the world alight, but just … neat touches that other units don’t have.
The LCD screen is bright and easy to read – ideal for the occasional glance toward it when driving along, and tells you all the information that you need – output current, battery, brake, output voltage and ‘No Trailer Brake’ system warnings.
Another neat feature is the ability to store 5 different ‘profiles’ – which could either be 5 different towing setups or 5 different drivers, all switchable at the push of a button. I also like the boost feature (which to be fair, most brake controllers have) – allowing you to just up the power slightly without having to reset everything.
You do get some wiring with the unit – suitable for the 2-wire Plug-n-Play port, but vehicle specific harnesses are available, and well-priced – the Ford one for example is just less than ten bucks. Can control up to 4 axles (8 brakes).
Although it’s the most expensive in this list, it is also a great, good value electronic brake controller for experienced drivers that tow in US.
2. REESE Towpower 8507111 Brakeman IV Digital Brake Control
At the opposite end of the pricing is this REESE Towpower time-delayed controller that can be mounted anywhere you like, at any angle without leveling. And although it doesn’t have some of the functionality of the others, it’s still a useful addition to the tow vehicle.
Thanks to its simplicity, it’s easy to install – literally just sort the wiring and you’re done – no need to set the box up and level it, just dial in the output and the sync and you’re pretty much done.
It comes with the two-wire Plug-n-Play setup, although vehicle specific wiring is available, and the bright digital screen clearly indicates output & sync, brake overload and a short connection. It’s all solid-state electronics, but there’s advanced internal circuit protection which helps prevent any damage to the board.
At this sort of price, it’s small & compact, a handy trailer brake controller, just don’t expect the smoothest ride with it.
3. CURT 51140 TriFlex Brake Control
This CURT 51140 affordable proportional controller features a triple-axis controller, so once it’s all setup correctly, it even adjusts itself for steep inclines and descents – this is a great feature that is missing on some of the other units. With 9 differing levels of sensitivity, it’s sensitive enough to find the perfect balance for whatever your situation and whatever you’re towing.
With the third axis monitoring, you may expect setting up the box will take time and require a degree of sensitivity unlike the others, but it’s quite the opposite – self-leveling technology and calibration means that set up requirements are minimal and easy, which just makes the whole thing so much easier to use, and should you want to remove it (for whatever reason), it doesn’t take an engineering degree to set it back up again.
Capable of braking up to eight wheels (four axles), and activating the trailer brake lights, this compact unit is perfect for normal use, and for those that needed something easy to set up … perhaps drivers with a little less experience with these systems.
4. Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control
This system will work on anything up to three axles – 6 brakes. With a self-diagnosing feature running through an illuminated LCD readout, the Draw Tite 20191 is intelligent and easy to use. It has the two-wire Plug-n-Play setup of the other controllers, and again, vehicle specific harnesses are available should you need to hard wire.
The Draw Tite 20191 Proportional Electronic Brake Control includes the newest “boost” feature boost feature to increase braking efficiency without having to go through the whole setting of the system again, and the control unit is self-leveling for easy setup and no adjustments, which is handy for when you want to remove it from the snap-in holder when it’s not being used – simply snap it back on place and it’s still ready to go.
5. Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT Brake Control
The Hopkins 47297 INSIGHT system needs no tools to fix it to the vehicle – using ‘flex-mount’ technology (what this really means is sticky pads holding it down). The device comes as three separate boxes – the brains, control and display which can all be mounted in three different locations should you wish. It’s not revolutionary, but it does mean that the display can be mounted in sight-line without all the other complications, so it’s a good feature.
With 7 different sensitivity settings, it’s adjustable enough to give you complete control regardless of load or trailer (or even driving conditions) and it’s simple enough to adjust when you need to (if the road surface changes for example).
Personally, I prefer a system that’s mounted professionally that will never slip, slide or fall off. But I can see that some people may prefer this option – those that aren’t intending on moving it around or not wanting to drill holes in their truck.
This is also a great starting point for a proportional controller, it’s cheap, easy to fit and works well.
Using a trailer brake controller is all about setting it up right and driving accordingly. A novice may find the proportional controllers easier to get used to, but the flip side of that is for the price of the Tekonsha, you could buy three of the Towpower’s and still have changed left over.
For what it’s worth, I think that spending the money for the higher grade systems is worth it – they definitely are easier to use and drive with, and driving with a fully-loaded trailer is hard enough as it is – why make life harder?