Stop! If You Can

This spring we went on a trip to Maine and I wish I knew then what I know now about trailer brakes. If I had, the trip would have been a whole lot easier. I knew that my trailer brakes were not what they used to be, but I did not know why.

Before we left on our trip, I purchased a new Brake Controller. The old one was manufactured by Tekonsha, who makes a very fine product. It was a less expensive model that just had lights to display brake activity and I wanted to upgrade it. I bought another Tekonsha model; I purchased a Prodigy and am still very pleased with it.

This, however, did not correct my braking problem entirely. With the new model of brake controller I can now see the actual amount of voltage I am applying to the brakes. The controller is almost set to the max. This informs me that I also have worn brakes. In fact, upon disassembling the brakes, I found that my drums were worn as well as the brakes. This is due to excessive voltage being applied to the trailer brakes.

RV trailers come with electric and hydraulic braking systems. The most common is electric brakes and that is what I will be discussing here. These brakes work somewhat like the drum brakes on a car or truck.

I will apologize in advance for getting somewhat technical but, here is how the whole process works.

The brake system contains a shoe that when the brakes are applied is forced outward against the wheel drum which is rotating with the tire. This is where the electric trailer brake system becomes slightly different. When you apply the brake in the tow vehicle, the brake controller sends voltage to the trailer braking system. This voltage causes an electric magnet to try to attach itself to the spinning drum. This magnet has a lever that forces the brake shoes out against the rotating drum. The more voltage from the brake controller, the more magnetism to the magnet and the harder the brake magnet tries to attach to the rotating drum. This causes the brake shoes to stop the rotating drum. If everything works then the trailer comes to a halt.

The entire repair process is actually quite simple.  I will not go into the repair in detail. There is plenty of information out on the web. One such site is I do want to mention that it is much easier to just buy what are called the “backing plates”. The backing plate will provide you with the brake shoes, the magnet and all of the other brake components all in one assembly. This part goes on with just 4 bolts.

The last thing I would like to stress is that you need to adjust the brake tension with the brake adjusting tool.  Do this before you use the trailer again and also every year afterwards. This will allow the brakes the clearance needed to work well.

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