Trailer Brakes – Electric or Surge?

Trailer brakes are essential when towing a camper or trailer.  Because of the added weight of the trailer, the tow vehicle may require some assistance when trying to come to a stop smoothly and safely.  Trailer brakes increase the braking performance and help to reduce the chance to jackknifing your camper or trailer in an emergency stopping situation.

There two basic types of trailer brakes are surge brakes and electric brakes.  Trailer surge brakes work automatically and do not require any electric connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer however; your trailer will require an electrical connection to work any trailer lights.  Surge brakes work hydraulically by using the force of a forward shift in the trailer that could be caused by the tow vehicle braking or decelerating.  The surge coupler is mounted on the tongue of the camper or trailer and has a connection to a hydraulic master cylinder.  When the tow vehicle applies the brakes, the forward motion of the trailer pushes on the surge coupler causing it to slide back and compress the fluid cylinder and apply the brakes.  The braking pressure works in proportion to the amount of pressure that is applied onto the surge coupler from the trailer hitch as the tow vehicle stops.  When the tow vehicle starts to move forward, the surge coupler releases the pressure on the master cylinder causing the brakes to release.  Surge brakes are most often found on boat trailers as electric brakes don’t work as well in water.


Electric brakes work with an electric brake controller.  The brake controller is mounted in the tow vehicle and works in conjunction with the foot pedal brake of the tow vehicle.  It works by sensing the brake pedal pressure using a hydraulic pressure switch which is plumbed into the tow vehicle’s system.  Electric brakes are actuated by an electrical connection to the tow vehicle’s brake pedal.  When pressure is applied to the brakes it causes an electrical current to energize a magnet inside of each brake.  This magnet moves an actuating lever to apply the brakes.  When pressure is released from the brake pedal, the electrical current to the magnet is cut off and the brakes release.

Electric brake boxes have different levels of pressure that can be used based on the varying weight of the campers or trailers.  It is recommended that an electric brake controller be used on any camper or trailer having a GVW (gross vehicle weight) of over 2,000lbs.

OTHER RELATED ARTICLES: (coming soon)

Trailer Brake Controller

Trailer Hitch Classes

[tags] trailer brakes, electric trailer brakes, trailer surge brakes [/tags]

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