If you want to make towing a little easier and more secure, then you’ve got to equip yourself with a quality trailer brake controller.
Designed to apply your trailer’s brakes to increase your safety as you navigate the road, installing a trailer brake controller can make your journeys a lot less stressful.
In order to narrow down our list of the best trailer brake controllers, we sought out products that came from reputable brands and offered reliable performance that ensures you can tow your trailer safely without worrying about its brakes.
We considered and compared each brake controller’s feature set, ease of use and installation, any available real-life experiences, and price. From there, we assessed how helpful each could be to those towing trailers small and large.
1. CURT Venturer Brake Controller
The Curt Venturer Electric Trailer Brake Controller is a fantastic option if you both want more power and want to stay in control of that power.
This device allows for reliable safety and long-term reliability, as it increases the braking pressure for your trailer each time you actually step on the brakes. And it stops smoothly.
You can monitor everything via the easy-to-read LED display, which includes no moving internal parts to keep functionality simple.
You can enable powerful brake operation with the manual brake slider button, adjustable toggle, and adjustable ramp time.
It’ll work with any trailer that has one to three axles (or two to six brakes) and is compatible with cruise control, anti-lock brakes, low-voltage systems, and PWM systems. Plus, it easily (and quickly) plugs right into place.
However, this trailer brake controller isn’t without its flaws. It’s highly sensitive, which makes even the slightest touch to the buttons significant. And it doesn’t actually include the right bolts you need for installation.
- Fast installation process
- Display shows important info
- Works with most setups
- Sensitive buttons and controls
- Doesn’t include the right bolts
- Not the best quality
2. Reese Towpower Brake Controller
If you’re towing a trailer that features more than one or two axles, you need a trailer brake controller that can support the extra length and weight, and that is the Reese Towpower Brake Control.
This compact device is suitable for use with trailers with up to four axles, giving you more options. And it performs quite reliably. You’ll enjoy reverse battery protection and plenty of diagnostic features displayed right on the easy-to-read LED screen.
Plus, the included boost mode offers more force for initial trailer braking to give you a safer stopping distance and power.
With advanced proportional braking, this controller will help apply brake pressure to match your deceleration rate, a detail that’s especially key when you’re hauling a heavier load. Regular use, it may help extend the lifespan of your vehicle’s brakes.
When it comes to the potential disadvantages of this brake controller, keep in mind that it sometimes comes with an incorrect harness.
And while the product description mentions a universal connector that’s included, it actually has to be purchased separately.
- Great for heavier, larger trailers
- Help maintain your brakes
- Better control over braking power
- No universal pigtail
- Hard to install
- You’ll need an extension
3. Redarc Tow-Pro Elite V2
If you want to truly be prepared for everything, you’ve got to check out the Redarc Tow-Pro Elite V2 Electric Brake Controller.
This trailer brake controller device offers an impressive amount of versatility, and it puts the control in your hands with some great customization options. You can start by choosing between proportional or user-controlled trailer braking force.
And if you want the most versatility and customization, user-controlled braking allows you to adjust and change settings based on the roads you encounter, the terrain conditions, your vehicle type, or simply your personal preferences.
In addition, the controller offers Active Calibration to constantly monitor your direction, and it can calibrate from any mounting orientation or even if you don’t have your trailer attached.
For some, however, the size and shape of the device itself can be a bit bulky or not perfectly match your OEM accessories (though it’s a matter of personal preference).
And installation, while not complicated, can take time and require removing some of the trim pieces in your vehicle interior.
- Customizable braking settings
- Highly adaptable
- Works with 12V & 24V
- Can be a bit bulky
- Extensive installation
- Costs $185
4. Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ Brake Control
This product is proof that you can get a good trailer brake controller without making a huge investment, and the Draw-Tite I-Stop IQ Electronic Brake Control is proof.
This device, which works for trailers with one to three axles, puts both power and control in your hands with an awesome boost feature.
When you use the boost, it works proportionally in drive and in reverse, giving you the ability to apply more initial braking for heavier trailers. This is handy when you’re trying to back into a tight, tough spot.
Plus, you’ll love the illuminated LED readout that displays diagnostic data when issues occur so you can solve problems ASAP.
Installation, programming, and setup are simple, and you’ll be able to remove and store your controller when you aren’t on the road, thanks to the snap-in mounting clip. However, there are a few potential drawbacks to this affordably-priced device.
It can be problematic on gravel roads, where it’s prone to locking up the wheels when using specific settings. Additionally, there is no on/off switch, which means you’ve got to unplug it to shut it off.
- Easy installation
- Boost mode works in reverse
- Works with a range of trailers
- Can lock up on gravel roads
- Poor instructions
- Some report inconsistency
5. Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller
This small device doesn’t just help manage your braking power while you’re towing a trailer, it allows you to see vital vehicle information while you’re on the road and can alert you to potential problems.
With a clear LCD display, multiple screen color choices, and three different languages, this device lets you check output current, battery, brakes, output voltage, and any warning alerts which includes No Trailer Brake situations.
It’s hard to beat all of the features available on the Tekonsha P3 Electronic Brake Control.
You can even customize your braking effort with a boost feature that offers both hydraulic and electric braking modes. You can store your preferences and get the trailer brake controller up and running easily with its plug-and-play design.
While it’s hard to imagine this brake controller getting any better, there are a few areas in which it could be improved. Buttons can stick on the device, which can get frustrating. And there is no on/off switch.
- Offers a wealth of info
- Allows for braking customization
- Mounts at any angle
- Priced at $145
- Device never shuts off
- Poor installation instructions
Buyer’s guide on brake controllers
Picking out the perfect trailer brake controller for your towing needs can be a bit of a complicated process. You need to think about the features of your trailer as well as what kinds of features are must-haves in your brake controller.
But we’re here to help, and we’ve got all of the advice you need to find just the right device.
A proportional trailer brake controller uses internal, inertia-based sensors to determine when and how your vehicle brakes. When your tow vehicle decelerates, the sensor reacts and commands the controller to send power to the brakes.
The best proportional trailer brake controller provides uniform, smooth braking without any push-pull movements.
With a time delay trailer brake controller, you’ll have a bit of a delay when you first apply the brakes. A signal is sent to the brake controller, which sends voltage to the trailer brakes.
The delay can be adjusted; you can change it in the sync setting, along with additional settings like the braking power and rate of application.
A time-delayed controller can be mounted at any angle because it doesn’t have internal parts that sense the tow vehicle’s braking motions. These controllers are simpler to install and cheaper but not recommended for larger trailers.
Voltage is one of the top factors when it comes to finding the best-rated brake controller. A tow brake controller consists of either 12 or 24 volts. The vehicle’s power source must be compatible with the trailer’s brakes.
If the two units don’t match, the braking controller may malfunction, increasing the risk of an accident.
Trailers with electric brakes are governed by a brake controller, while hydraulic brakes require a special coupler. A towing vehicle does not control this braking element.
Certain trailers have both electric and hydraulic components. The best aftermarket trailer brake controller should have the ability to operate both types.
Frequently asked questions
Let’s take a closer look at some of the questions you may stumble upon as you’re looking for your new brake controller.
Do you really need a trailer brake controller?
If the trailer being towed has electric brakes, the most common type of braking system on trailers, the answer is yes. Electric brakes won’t work at all without a controller.
Only trailers with more complex hydraulic or “surge” brakes, which use the trailer’s momentum and weight to supply braking, can be used without a trailer brake controller.
How do I choose a brake controller?
The key is to evaluate what the trailer is used for. Horse trailers, camping trailers, toy haulers, and others each have their own characteristics (number of axles, weight, length).
Look for a trailer brake controller well-suited to the purpose, then consider features, and finally, budget.
How hard is it to install a trailer brake controller?
Installation varies by unit, but at a minimum, the vehicle battery needs to be disconnected for safety and the trailer brake controller safely and securely mounted inside the vehicle.
It can be a do-it-yourself job, but there are shops that will do professional installations. The cost will vary depending on complexity but should be $300 or less.
Is a timed or proportional brake controller the better option?
In most cases, a proportional trailer brake controller is the better pick, especially if you tow regularly or tow heavy trailers.
Proportional braking is superior during emergency braking scenarios. A timed brake controller is fine if you only occasionally tow smaller trailers.
A proportional controller uses a sensor to determine the intensity of the tow vehicle’s deceleration under braking. It then calculates the right amount of force to apply to the trailer brakes, enabling the tow vehicle and the trailer to decelerate at the same rate.
A proportional controller provides a more progressive, gradual braking feels from the trailer and performs better under heavy braking events.
A time-delayed controller is much more simple. These controllers detect when the brake in your tow vehicle is engaged and then send a signal to your trailer to apply the brakes.
They allow the user to set a braking force value and a time delay value based on the trailer weight, the road conditions, and a number of other factors. Generally speaking, proportional controllers are superior to time-delayed controllers.
The braking value and time delay value automatically vary, they perform better in hard emergency braking events and they will ensure even wear between your trailer brakes and tow vehicle brakes.
If you find yourself towing often, you’ll want to opt for a proportional controller. If you only tow every now and then, a time-delayed brake controller should be appropriate.
Can I tow a trailer with electric brakes without a trailer controller?
No, you’ll absolutely need a trailer brake controller. Trailers with electric brakes must have one of these devices — otherwise, the trailer’s brakes won’t work.
How do I calibrate my trailer brake controller?
Good question! Many time-based brake controllers will come with an instruction manual telling you how to properly calibrate the controller. You can also look this up online.
We don’t want to mislead you in regards to the proper calibration of your device, so you should definitely follow the manufacturer’s suggestions when calibrating the device.
Most proportional trailers will calibrate themselves as you go – just plug it in and you’ll be on your way!
Are all trailer brake controllers the same?
Like we discussed above, there are two different types of trailer brake controllers: proportional or time delay.
While both activate a trailer’s brakes and apply pressure to slow you down, one does come with a delay and one is typically better for larger trailers.
How do I mount and install a trailer brake controller?
Most trailer brake controls will come with a mounting bracket and hardware. This bracket is typically intended to be screwed into the bottom of your dash, with the brake controller itself either screwing or sliding into the bracket.
What a trailer brake won’t come with is a wiring harness. You will have to purchase the correct wiring harness for your vehicle separately.
The wiring harness will plug into the trailer controller and a port underneath the dashboard, which you’ll have to locate using the owner’s manual or through online research (forums are a good place for such research), as the port’s location can vary depending on the vehicle type.
In many common tow vehicles, like trucks and bigger SUVs, a trailer brake controller will be a simple plug-and-play installation into the port.
You have to be mindful of which way you are mounting proportional trailer brake controllers, though, as you can throw off the accelerometer if they aren’t mounted level or are mounted upside down.
If your vehicle is not equipped for towing, you’ll have to run wires linking the trailer brakes, ground, vehicle brakes, and battery power.
This can be a much more complicated process, but there are plenty of wiring guides online to get you started. You may want to have a professional do this wiring job as well if it’s needed.
How do you troubleshoot a trailer brake connector?
Some of the more expensive and complex models have self-diagnostic capabilities. Beyond that, check the wires on the trailer brake magnets for loose connections or corrosion.
Also, make sure the wires themselves are not damaged and that the ground wire is properly attached.
How does a trailer brake controller know if a trailer is connected?
The controller has wires going to the trailer brakes and coming from them. The brakes send a small amount of voltage back to the controller which confirms the connection.
Final thoughts on brake controllers
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it.
That’s the case with us and trailer brake controllers. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way:
- A trailer brake controller will not work with older-style trailers that don’t have electronic control; these devices only operate on trailers with electric or electrically-controlled hydraulic brakes.
- If you’re not technologically savvy, consider having a professional help install the brake controller on your vehicle who can advise you on the best type to suit your needs.
- Some states require trailer brakes for heavy loads.
- Before you travel with a trailer, make sure all the electronic connections and hitch are secure. Periodically check the system by tapping the brakes to make sure it’s working properly and your brake lights are functional.
- In addition to checking your connections, don’t forget to frequently look at the display monitor too. This will help you to ensure the system is functioning as required before setting out onto the road.
Happy hunting for brake controllers!