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Old 04-23-2010, 01:06 PM   #1
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brake controlers....

I'm hoping to do some work on the Silver Snail as soon as things die down at ye ol' schoolhouse...20 more days of school baby! Summer vacation is just around the corner. I'm planning to put a hitch on the back so that I can tow a horse trailer. Originally, I was going to cut off the back end and find a gooseneck horsetrailer, but I think I'm going to be able to get by with a 16-20' bumper pull. Anyway...while I'm pretty certain that my bus will have plenty of braking ability to stop itself and a trailer of horses, I'd like to have an electronic brake controller.

I have several controllers that I've bought over the years that I've been going to use, however, I got to thinking the other day...THE SNAIL HAS AIRBRAKES! Will a "standard" trailer brake controller work? Or will I need a special one for use with air brakes? I have found such a monster:

http://www.crofttrailer.com/site/produc ... tails.html

I think it would be pretty easy to install since I already have an auxillary line t'd into my brake line (the Snail's most recent former life was a CDL trainer in Ohio).

Any thoughts on whether or not I'd...
1) need a brake controller
2) could use a standard controller
3) need the special air brake controller

Thanks in advance,
Ben.
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Old 04-23-2010, 01:08 PM   #2
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Re: brake controlers....

I just did a search...I think I may have found my answer...duh!
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Old 04-23-2010, 10:40 PM   #3
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Re: brake controlers....

Standard brake controllers will work just fine. They wire into your brake light switch.
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Old 04-23-2010, 11:41 PM   #4
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Re: brake controlers....

There are several types of controller that I know of.

Budget ("cheap") controllers attach to the brake lights only, and gradually apply more braking voltage the longer you have your foot on the brake. Not good for panic stops, and probably not good for descending long hills, but I suspect they are OK for average use. I wouldn't buy one.

The second kind is an inertia controller. This is the kind I have experience with. They also connect to the brake lights, plus there is a pendulum or other inertia sensor inside. You have to calibrate it for the angle it is mounted at, and how much braking you want applied. When you step on the brakes, the sensor adjusts the braking voltage based on the deceleration of the tow vehicle. They normally work pretty well.

A cousin of these are hydraulic inertia trailer brakes. There is no controller in the tow vehicle. The coupler on the trailer can move slightly on the tongue, and is connected to a master cylinder. When the tow vehicle slows, the coupler is pressed against the hitch ball, and the tongue pressing against the coupler is like stepping on a brake pedal. The master cylinder activates the hydraulic brakes in the trailer wheels. You can't back up unless you have a valve to disable the brakes during backing. I have towed one with an electric valve that connects to the tow vehicle back-up lights to automate this.

EDIT: as to your questions:
1. Legally you will need a trailer braking system in certain jurisdictions based on trailer weight. I think here its 1000# empty, 4000# loaded.
2.

One problem with both inertia brakes and inertia controllers is that if the tow vehicle hits a patch of ice and does not decelerate, the trailer brakes are not applied and the trailer could push you along instead of helping you stop. Maybe it wouldn't push a skoolie like it would a smaller tow vehicle, but the physics are the same. If you had the presence of mind, you could manually activate the trailer brakes, but most people would have their hands full and not think of it.

An air brake controller should proportionally apply trailer braking voltage based on the air pressure to the service brakes supplied by the treadle. I think the air brake style will work the best, as it avoids all of the above drawbacks.

I seem to remember about 45 years ago learning that there were also hydraulic controllers that used brake fluid pressure like the air controllers should use air, but back in the days when only Volvos had dual braking systems, a fluid leak from a poor installation meant no brakes at all. I'm sure these disappeared from the market.

I also think there might have been a fourth type, a cable controller, that had a cable attached to the tow vehicle's pedal which pulled the manual lever in proportion to the amount the pedal was depressed. Whether by cable or hydraulics, I clearly remember years ago watching the lever move on several controller-equipped vehicles when the brakes were applied (and no trailer was being towed.)

EDIT: as to your questions:
1. A skoolie may be able to stop substantial trailers without a trailer braking system. Legally, you may be required to have trailer brakes based on weight. If I recall correctly, here it is 1000# empty or 4000# loaded.
2./3. Either an inertia controller or an air controller will work
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Old 04-24-2010, 02:11 PM   #5
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Re: brake controlers....

Thanks for the responses. Most every vehicle I've owned (truck or suburban) I've installed a brake controller. I try to be all about safety. I just didn't know how "unsafe" a skoolie without one would be. I never thought about the legality question. Thanks for bringing that up.

I know people who have traded trucks and will install the "old" hydraulic type...the kind where the lever moves regardless. Many people will swear by them. I've thought they'd be a little risky plumbing into your brake line, but if you do a good job, you should minimize your risk I suppose.

The more I read up on the air controller, it seems like the way to go. I was thinking of the Prodigy by Tekonsha, but the air controller is about the same price and seems to have even more benefits that standard electric controllers or inertia controllers. I'm thinking that I'll need one if I start hauling hay like I think I will.

Thanks again!
Ben.
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Old 04-24-2010, 03:47 PM   #6
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Re: brake controlers....

I haven't seen one of those hydraulic trailer brake controllers in many years. I thought they were illegal, and they may be here. I have installed many controllers by Tekonsha and the Prodigy is a great unit. Probably what I will eventually install in my bus. For now I don't have any trailers heavy enough to require trailer brakes. I know that here in Alberta it doesn't matter how heavy the tow vehicle is, it is the weight of the trailer that determines if you need trailer brakes or not. I think (don't quote me on this) it is anything 2,500 lbs or greater. Now that you got me thinking about it I should check into the exact amount, I have a pair of jetskis that I will be hauling and I know the combined weight of the trailer and both skis will end up being about 2,200 lbs plus whatever else I attach to the trailer like a fuel rack and such.
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Old 04-25-2010, 09:43 PM   #7
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Re: brake controlers....

Personally I'd just go with the Prodigy, simple install and it's a great proportional controller, it's about the best thing out there right now. I considered an Air brake system for my TOAD but adding air system from the bus to the toad seemed to me like reinventing the wheel, so I found a used Blue Ox Apollo to do the job...
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Old 04-25-2010, 11:05 PM   #8
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Re: brake controlers....

I agree that the Prodigy has rave reviews. The air brake controller NSH is talking about is completely different from a toad set up.

The Hayes unit he linked to senses the brake air pressure to set the voltage to electric trailer brakes, like the Prodigy uses brake light activation plus deceleration sensing to set the voltage. It appears to be the air equivalent of the old hydraulic-activated controllers.

The toad braking units have air lines run from the bus to the toad, plumbed to an air piston that "steps on" the toad's brake pedal when bus brake air is applied. There is also some kind of breakaway activation air tank added to the toad, also. I have never seen how the breakaway is plumbed in. I agree that this system is much more complicated. But it is not what the Hayes unit is.
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Old 04-26-2010, 10:03 PM   #9
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Re: brake controlers....

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pied Typer

REDBEAR:
Are you thinking of the vacuum-hydraulic systems? They patched into the hydraulic system post master cylinder to activate two vacuum boosters (like what is found in cars with power assisted brakes) in the rear of the tow vehicle)?
Nope. I was thinking about an air system that steps on a toad's brake pedal:



Though in searching for the image, I also found one that installs between the pedal and the master cylinder to do the same:



As Gone Camping said, they are complicated. It is much easier to install a controller for electric trailer brakes, which is what the original post was about, braking a horse trailer.
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