<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Considerations for towed vehicle braking systems
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.




By: Bob Gummersall

[Ed Note 10/2011: While the available supplemental braking options have changed significantly since this was first published, the considerations of "what to look for" have not.]

Safe towing of a vehicle with four wheels on the ground behind a motorhome can only be done with a supplemental braking system including a break-away feature. The regulations of many States require any towed vehicle/trailer that weighs more than 3000 lbs. to have a braking system. I don't know of any State that is currently issuing citations when a violation is detected, but that does not make doing it right or safe. If we don't police ourselves, someone else will. That stated, here are the attributes that I feel are the most important to have on a toad braking system.

NON-INTRUSIVE : An ideal braking system makes the least changes to the motorhome and the toad. Even though we are protected by the Magnisson-Moss Act, warranty repair on a modified braking system is difficult to arrange, when the service manager points to the modified hydraulic line, vacuum line, master cylinder, or any other component, and says "That's what cause the problem". More important to each of us is that, modifications can fail and cause failure of the solo toad braking operation. We don't need those kinds of problems, so the fewer modifications or alterations, the better.

BRAKING POWER - An ideal braking systems does not push on the unassisted brake pedal of the toad. It can take over 200 lbs. of pressure to cause the toad to safely stop from highway speed and that kind of pressure can tear the brake pedal housing. It is designed to have no more than 20 lbs. of pressure applied when there is assistance (vacuum) available. There must be enough power to stop a toad if it should ever break loose from the coach in a reasonable distance from highway speed.

POSITIVE ACTIVATION : An ideal braking system applies the brakes on the toad positively at the proper time, and that is when you need emergency braking power. Surge activation can prematurely wear out the toad brakes because it applies brake power when it is not needed, like when descending a mountain grade using compression braking on the motorhome. Surge brake activation also applies braking during backing up maneuver, which can be done in a limited way with most tow bars. Surge brakes are also very hard to adjust so that enough but not too much braking power is applied. Momentum activation is also subject to improper application of the toad brakes, in the same scenarios described about, plus driving over speed bumps even at very low speeds. I favor activation controlled by the driver, directly from the action of pressing the brake pedal of the motorhome. The driver should be able to shut the brake off with a simple lighted toggle switch, because there is no reason to use the toad brake at low speeds, like driving in a campground. Even though you should never use the toad brakes to stop the motorhome, a spring loaded push switch to activate the toad brakes is a nice feature.

ADJUSTMENT OF OPERATION : An ideal braking system has built in features that allow verification of brake adjustment and operation. Adjustment should be done while driving the toad so that when activation is required, proportional or not, it applies the proper braking power. You should be able to test this adjustment every time you drive the toad if you wish to by simply pushing a switch to activate the toad brake.

VERIFICATION OF OPERATION - The ideal toad braking system has a built in way for the driver to know if the operation of the toad brake is actually taking place. This usually requires a signal light in the cockpit of the coach that comes from the cold side of the toad brake light switch that shows that the toad brakes are really being applied. With verification signals, the driver of the motorhome does not have to wonder if the toad brake is really working.

EASE OF CONNECTION/DISCONNECTION : An ideal braking system should be easy to connect and disconnect from the toad through simple quick disconnects with any wires or hoses easily stowed. If this is not true then some of us will get laze some times and say "I am only towing a few miles, so I won't hook it up this time". As we have heard many times the most dangerous mile we travel is the very next mile.

EASE OF MAINTENANCE : The ideal braking system will have easy and simple maintenance required, because if it isn't we will probably forget to do it. We should be able to lubricate or adjust with ease at the same time we are cleaning and lubricating our tow bars.

Other articles I have written describe many of the brake systems currently being sold so you should read those posted elsewhere on this home page and decide which system will do what you want done. I personally travel with a "Vac Brake" from Toad Stop, which I feel meets the above requirements best at this time.