You’ve finally bought that brand new camper trailer you’ve had your eye on for years. You’ve bought your towing mirrors, your hitch lock, and your trailer hitch ball mount, and now you’re all set to hit the road.
Yet before you put your foot on the gas, it’s important to note that there’s one more vital piece of equipment that you simply can’t leave home without:
A trailer brake controller.
But first, here’s my bottom line up front summary of the best RV trailer brake controllers:
- Tekonsha 90195: Best Overall Trailer Brake
- P3 Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2: Best LCD Display Trailer Brake
- Reese Towpower: Best Time Delayed Trailer Brake
- Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ
- Tekonsha 90195 P3
An essential part of your towing arsenal, investing in the best camper trailer brake controller your budget will allow will ultimately prove invaluable in protecting the safety of you, your loved ones, and your vehicle.
Not that choosing the right one is always an easy task for those new to the RV lifestyle. With all kinds of new jargon and pieces of technology to familiarise yourself with, simply trying to get your head around the myriad of options can be frustrating enough to put you off the whole idea altogether.
Here’s the good news:
Choosing a quality brake controller doesn’t have to be so confusing.
Today, we take an in-depth look at some of the best camper trailer brake controllers on the market this year, exploring the pros and cons of each and explaining everything you need to know about the key features and technical details of the latest models.
That’s not all.
We’ll also answer your most burning questions about brake controllers to help you make the most informed decision possible when it comes to choosing an option that’s right for you, your vehicle, and your budget.
Before we really dive deep into all of that, let’s tackle the one question that’s perhaps most on your mind if you’re about to tow a camper trailer for the first time.
What is a camper trailer brake controller?
In its most sensitive, a trailer brake controller does exactly what you’d imagine it does:
It gives you the ability to control the brake pads on your trailer, ultimately making it much easier, and safer to drive while towing one.
If you’ve ever towed a trailer before, you’ll know what a big difference it can make to your driving, especially when it comes to slowing down and stopping.
All of that extra weight behind you forces you to put a little more muscle into it, pressing harder on the brakes in order to stop safely and in plenty of time.
A trailer brake controller looks to alleviate this problem by connecting your trailer’s brakes to the main brakes in your vehicle so that you ultimately end up controlling the former with the latter.
This means that you end up needing to apply less force to your vehicle’s brakes, creating a smoother and safer journey all round.
Who needs a brake controller?
Suffice to say, brake pad controllers aren’t necessary for smaller, lightweight trailers.
For example, if you’re hitching a small tow trailer to the back of your RV, that’s not going to make a huge amount of difference and you’ll likely get by without one.
If, however, you’re towing anything like one of the larger-scale teardrop trailer or perhaps something even bigger, then a brake controller is going to prove to be an essential part of your arsenal.
As a general rule, anything you tow that is over 1650 pounds (750 kg) should have brakes and a brake controller installed.
Why bother with a trailer brake controller?
So far, we like to think we’ve made a compelling argument for why camper trailer brake controllers are such a good idea but look, we get it:
When you start checking out the price of the average controller, it can be all too tempting to try and go it alone.
Yes, you know it will your life more difficult while you’re out on the road, but isn’t that a small price to pay if it saves you money that you could better spend on more exciting RV accessories?
No, it isn’t. In fact, the decision to try and tow your camper trailer without a brake controller installed could well end up costing you dearly.
For one thing, there’s the fact that trailer brake controllers are a legal requirement in an increasing number of US states. So, unless you’re prepared to run foul of the law, it pays to get one for yourself.
Still, let’s say you live in one of the few states that haven’t yet issued any kind of regulation on the subject.
Why should you even bother looking at some of the best brake controllers out there, let alone buying one?
There are two key answers to this question.
First of all, the initial investment you make in a brake controller could well end up saving you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars further down the line.
All that added pressure you need to put on your vehicle’s brakes in order to account for the extra weight of your camper trailer will eventually cause all kinds of wear and tear to your brakes. Naturally, that will only lead to countless trips to the auto shop for a whole raft of expensive repairs.
Invest in a brake controller for your camper trailer, and you’re ultimately saving yourself all of those trips and all of that money.
The second and more important reason is that a brake controller is an invaluable safety feature for anyone towing a sizeable camper trailer.
Think about it:
Even if you work your vehicle’s brakes extra hard in order to account for the trailer, that trailer will, at least temporarily, keep moving at the same velocity, increasing the risk that it slams into the back of your vehicle or possibly even jackknifes.
That’s not to mention the fact that all that additional wear and tear on your breaks could potentially make it harder to brake in an emergency even if you don’t have your trailer hitched up at the time.
What are the different types of brake controllers?
There are essentially two different types of controller, proportional controllers, and time-delayed controllers, both of which operate very differently.
Let’s look at each one in turn.
Time-delayed brake controllers
With a time-delayed controller, you set a predetermined amount of pressure to be applied to your trailer brakes whenever you press on the brakes in your vehicle.
The amount of pressure you select, along with the length of the time delay between you pressing your vehicle’s brakes and the trailer’s brakes being activated is dependent not only on the weight of your camper trailer itself but also on road conditions and several other critical factors.
Pros time-delayed controllers
- Less expensive than proportional models
- Greater number of customizable options
- Easy to install
Cons of time-delayed controllers
- More complicated to set-up and configure after installing
- Causes more wear-and-tear to breaks due to the single pressure setting.
If setting everything manually sounds like a pain, you may prefer a proportional controller, which uses a sensor to identify how much pressure should be applied to the trailer brakes at any given moment.
When you apply the brakes in your vehicle, a complex braking system looks at the current speed of the trailer and monitors external factors, then produces precise calculations to ensure that the appropriate amount of force is applied to the trailer brakes at exactly the right moment.
Pros of proportional controllers
- Easier to configure, with minimal post-installation set-up needed
- Smoother breaking
Cons of proportional controllers
More expensive than time-delay models
To help you choose the right option for you, we’ll look at both time-delayed and proportional models in our guide to the best trailer camper brake controllers currently on the market.
5 Best Camper Trailer Brake Controller Options
Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at what our experts consider to be the very best brake controllers available, but if you don’t have time to read through those right now, here’s a brief overview of this year’s leading brands.
1: Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake control
For over fifty years, Tekonsha has carved out an enviable reputation for themselves as the leading brand in towing safety.
While the company earns much acclaim for their electrical wiring and trailer brakes, it’s with their premium-brand of proportional brake controllers that the Michigan-based company truly shines.
Widely regarded as the very best that Tekonsha has to offer, the 90195 P3 epitomizes everything that experienced drivers love about their electronic trailer brake controllers.
First of all, it’s a plug-and-play device which not only makes it a breeze to install but also means it’s one of the most adaptable electronic brake controller around. Should you choose to upgrade your camper trailer at any time, you can simply take the 90195 P3 out of the old one and pop it into the new one.
Then there’s the LCD display which is both easy to read and contains a wealth of information including battery voltage, brake diagnostics and more.
Our favorite feature is the patented boost feature which can be activated at the click of a button and provides extra braking power if you find yourself towing a heavier load or heavier trailer than usual.
That said, we understand that for many drivers, one of the key selling points is the small, compact design, ensuring that it doesn’t take up too much room on your dashboard.
If there’s any criticism to be levied at the 90195 Tekonsha P3, it’s the price.
Easily one of the most expensive camper trailer brake controllers around, we’ve yet to see a new one for less than $100. Still, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for with this model and in our estimation, it’s truly worth every penny.
Tekonsha 90195 P3 Specifications
- Type: Proportional Brake Control
- Display: LCD
- Weight: 1.32 lbs
- Number of Axles: 1 – 4
- Amazon rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars
Pros of the Tekonsha 90195 P3
- LCD display is very easy to read
- Easy to install
- Plug-and-play port allows for use on multiple trailers
- Boost feature for heavier trailers.
Cons of the Tekonsha 90195 P3
- Price – this is perhaps the most expensive controller on the market
- More options than necessary for most average users.
2: Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control
The fact that our experts had a seriously tough time deciding which of Tekonsha’s brake controllers should be ranked number one in our list speaks volumes about their unparalleled levels of quality and functionality.
In the end, the 90195 P3 won out, but only just. The 90885 Prodigy P2 was close -and we mean very close- second.
Like the 90195, the Prodigy P2 is plug-and-play, making it effortless to install, though you’ll likely need to buy the appropriate wiring harness to match your vehicle.
It also includes Tekonsha’s acclaimed boost function and a large LCD display providing a host of real-time information.
We particularly like the accelerometer for detecting inertia which adds a greater level of precision when it comes to braking pressure.
Suitable for controlling up to four axles, the P2 braking system offers one of the smoothest and most efficient braking force experiences imaginable, though be warned that this isn’t well suited to trailers with hydraulic brakes
Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Specifications
- Type: Proportional brake controller
- Display: LCD
- Weight: 0.8 lbs
- Number of axles: 1-4
- Amazon rating: 4.8 out of five stars
Pros of the Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2
- Easy to install
- Boost feature for heavier trailers
- Real-time problem reporting
Cons of the Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2
- Not ideal for trailers with hydraulic brake systems
- Expensive cost.
3: Reese Towpower 7437711 Pod Brake Control
While proportional brake controllers are typically easier to use and offer much more efficient braking, they’re also pretty expensive. As such, some budget-conscious drivers prefer to go for time-delayed controllers, an option which does sacrifice a little in the way of efficiency but is generally much easier on the wallet.
Even still, saving money doesn’t have to mean you get an inferior-quality product.
As one of the best time-delayed brake controllers we’ve seen, the Reese Towpower 7437711 Pod Brake Control more than holds its own against any model on our list.
Though the fact that it only works on two axles may rule it out as an option for some drivers, it is otherwise a very useful piece of kit.
A highlight for us is the slide adjustment which enables you to easily move between the many pre-calibrated settings. Of course, you can also create your own settings if none of those are suitable, and a manual override option does come built-in.
Unlike most brake controllers, this pod-style model doesn’t come with an LCD display, but it does at least feature a red indicator brake light which -though basic- serves its purpose well.
One of the more versatile controllers on our list, the 7437711 works on just about any vehicle and comes with a durable, easy-mount chassis and all the mounting hardware (mounting clip, wiring, brake light) included.
Reese Towpower 7437711 Pod Specifications
- Type: Time-delayed trailer brake control
- Display: LED indicator light
- Weight: 10.2 ounces
- Number of axles: 1-2
- Amazon rating: 4.3 out of five stars
Pros of the Reese Towpower 7437711 Pod
- Low cost
- Works with both electric and hydraulic trailer brakes
- Simple to install and use
Cons of the Reese Towpower 7437711 Pod
- Lack of adjustment settings
- Doesn’t work with four-axle trailers
4: Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control
Yes, Tekonsha is at it again with another premium quality proportional brake controller.
Look, we really did consider other brands when making our decision. Yet while the likes of Curt TriFlex, Draw-Tite, and Hopkins all came close with products of their own, none of them could quite match Tekonsha when it comes to functionality, flexibility, and enhanced features.
OK, so the Tekonsha 90160 Primus may not be quite as feature-rich as its higher-ranked counterparts, but it does still offer a handy knob for making several different brake adjustments and a very useful self-diagnostic tool which confirms whether or not the brakes are in good working order as soon as you switch the device on.
The only major drawback for some users is that while the more expensive proportional controllers support eight brakes over four axles, the Primus only supports six brakes over three axles.
Otherwise, there’s very little to complain about.
So why opt for the 90160 over one of the other two Tekonsha models featured in our list?
The simple answer is this:
It’s much more affordable.
Typically retailing for around $60 – $70 less than our number-one ranked 90195 P3, this extremely well-built piece of kit is the ideal option for those who want all the same levels of quality construction, ease-of-use and efficient braking that you’d get from a top-of-the-line Tekonsha without paying top-of-the-line prices.
Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Specifications
- Type: Proportional Brake Controller
- Display: LED
- Weight: 1 lbs
- Number of axles: 1-3
- Amazon rating: 4.7 out of five stars
Pros of the Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ
- Small, compact design that doesn’t take up much dashboard space
- Boost feature for heavier trailers
- Easy plug-and-play installation
Cons of the Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ
- Only supports three axles
- Fewer features than other models
5: Draw-Tite 5504 Activator IV Electronic Brake Control
Last but certainly by no means least, we’d be remiss if we didn’t consider at least one other time-delayed controller.
This time, it’s the turn of Draw-Tite, whose 5504 Activator IV provides exceptional electronic brake control on trailers with up to four axles.
By far the biggest selling point is the ease and simplicity with which his one installs. Another plug-and-play device, the 5504 Activator IV takes no time at all to set up. It even comes with a series of pre-calibrated settings for applying different levels of force to your trailer brakes, meaning post-installation calibration takes hardly any time at all.
Perfectly suited as an entry-level brake controller for those new to towing a trailer, this very affordable time-delayed device does come with a wide-angle LED display offering lots of real-time diagnostic information on things like overload, open ground, and brake voltage, regardless of your tow vehicle.
Other than that, there isn’t much in the way of special features or fancy add-ons, that’s not what the Activator IV is all about.
This is a simple, no-frills piece of kit that does exactly what it’s designed to do, no more, no less.
The only real criticism with this one is the way that the 5504 Activator IV mounts to your vehicle.
We’ve read reports that this one simply isn’t compatible with some vehicles, while the biggest complaint among some users is the design.
Yes, this is small, compact and takes up barely any space, but since the buttons are positioned on top of the case rather than at the front or to the side, the only option is to mount it on top of the dashboard rather than underneath.
Still, if you’re happy with that and you’re looking for a quality brake controller at an affordable price, the 5504 Activator IV should at least be up for consideration.
Draw-Tite 5504 Activator IV Specifications
- Type: Time-delayed
- Display: LED
- Weight: 0.8 lbs ounces
- Number of axles: 1-4
- Amazon rating: 4.2 out of five stars
Pros of the Draw-Tite 5504 Activator IV
- Affordable cost
- Wide-angle LED display with lots of information
- Plug-and-play capability means it’s very easy to install.
Cons of the Draw-Tite 5504 Activator IV
- Dashboard mounting kit isn’t compatible with all vehicles
- Can’t be mounted underneath the dash.
So there you have it, a rundown of the five very best trailer brake controllers currently available.
Again, we’ll reiterate our point that the benefits of proportional controllers do far outweigh the excess costs. Not only are they incredibly easy to install, but they also require little if any post-installation set-up.
Rather than relying on a pre-calibrated setting in the way that time-delayed options do, proportional brake controllers instead use sensors to make real-time calculations about the amount of pressure needed for smooth braking.
This means that you can simply plug-in and set off on your journey instead of wasting lots of time making complicated calculations to get the right configuration for your trailer.
If you are going to look for a proportional style controller, then as our list easily attests to, Tekonsha is by far and away the best brand to look at, offering several premium quality options across a range of prices.
For our money, the Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Brake controller is incredibly hard to beat, but don’t rule out the Prodigy P2, or even the 90160 Primus IQ if pricing is an issue.
Speaking of pricing, what time-delayed options lack in effortless simplicity they more than make up for in low-cost affordability.
If you’re confident that you can manage braking on the road with a time-delayed model, then opting for either of the two devices on our list will save you money and keep you safe at the same time.
Frequently asked questions about camper trailer brake controllers
Finally, as promised, let’s address some of the more commonly asked questions that our readers have about camper trailer brake controllers.
When determining the best controller for your trailer there are a number of important factors to consider including:
Electric vs. Hydraulic braking
Though hydraulic brakes are typically found in vehicles and some of the more high-end trailers, electronic brakes are typically cheaper to produce whilst still offering an excellent response time, making them the more common option for most trailers.
That may make it easy to assume that your trailer comes with an electric brake, though it is always worth checking out before you buy your controller as not all models are compatible with both braking system options.
Usually, you’ll find electric brake controllers more readily available, though if you do have hydraulics, you’ll need to ensure that the device you’re thinking of buying is compatible with them.
Brake controllers come designed to control a set number of axles, so you’ll need to know how many your trailer has in order to ensure that the model you buy delivers optimum performance.
Most devices can control up to eight wheels across four axles, though some are only capable of controlling six wheels across three, or in some cases only four across two.
If you choose a controller that isn’t compatible with the number of axles your trailer has, then you run the risk that it won’t provide the kind of safe and effective braking you really need.
Trailer brake controllers work with either 12V or 24V. Before you buy, it’s important to know which one yours operates on as the wrong type of voltage could cause insurmountable damage.
Throughout this guide, we’ve referred to most of our favorite models as being easy to install, and for the most part, that’s true.
It’s rare to find a brake controller that doesn’t come with a fully functional mounting kit (including mounting bracket) which attaches effortlessly on the dashboard.
In some cases, depending on the style of the controller itself, you may prefer to attach it underneath so that you can keep your dashboard clutter-free.
The only difficult part is when it comes to wiring.
More often than not, brake controllers come with standard wiring that you need to mesh together with your trailer’s wiring. This often an arduous and complicated task.
That said, installing your controller doesn’t have to be such a chore. Most manufacturers will provide special wiring harnesses specific to a towing vehicle model. Though these cost extra, they’re well worth the investment to make installation that much faster and simpler.
If you have a proportional brake controller such as one of the Tekonsha models featured above, then the chances are that you’ll rarely, if ever, have to make any adjustments.
Again, the sensors make real-time calculations so that applying the brakes in your vehicle means your trailer brakes are subject to exactly the right amount of pressure at the right time.
At most, you may need to press a single button to activate the booster mode. This provides an extra boost of strength if you’re towing a heavier load than usual in your trailer.
Otherwise, the whole process is fairly automatic, leaving you with nothing more to worry about beyond driving safely.
With a time-delayed controller, however, you will be required to make all the adjustments manually.
These days, leading time-delayed models come with settings that are pre-calibrated for some of the more popular vehicles and trailer on the road. This means that all you have to do is press the appropriate button or move a slider to find the pre-set configuration that’s right for you
Beyond that, you’ll find that your chosen device comes with detailed instructions that tell you everything you need to know to create the right setting.
Even if you follow these instructions, you may find it helpful to experiment a little. Set the controller in a fixed position then go for a short drive and test things out. When you’re done, make minor adjustments and repeat the process until everything feels right.
If you enjoyed this guide to the best camper trailer brake controllers, you may also want to check out our run-down of the best toy haulers or prepare for a peaceful night’s sleep with our look at the best RV mattresses.