How It Works


Brake controllers are vital components to a safe towing experience?

Chances are, you are already aware that it takes more than just the tow vehicle’s brakes to bring both the vehicle itself and its trailer to a full stop in a suitable time frame. If you take into account trailer weight and speed, it becomes clear that the trailer also needs to pitch in with its own braking power. This is accomplished via the trailer’s brakes, which can be one of two types: surge (mechanic or hydraulic), which rely on inertia to automatically slow down, or electric brakes, which require an electric connection to the tow vehicle to work. The principle behind surge (also known as override or overrun) brakes is simple. The coupling contains a sliding shaft attached to the tow ball; the shaft slides when pushed due to the vehicle slowing down and exerts pressure directly on a mechanical linkage (mechanical brakes) or on linkage connected to a hydraulic cylinder, which in turn creates hydraulic pressure on the braking system (hydraulic brakes). These are most often found on boat trailers. Electric trailer brakes, on the other hand, work by activating electromagnetic brake drums to create attrition and therefore slow the trailer down. While surge brakes operate independently, electric trailer brakes need to be connected to the power of the tow vehicle and be regulated by a brake control unit, or electric brake controller.

A brake controller is an electronic device that activates and, as the word suggests, controls the electric brakes of a trailer. A brake controller can be roughly split in an interface, positioned in the cab within the driver’s reach, and a main part, responsible for activating the brakes of the trailer. Electric brake controllers can essentially be classified in non-proportional, or time-based, and proportional, or inertia-based types. The older non-proportional electric brake controllers are activated when the driver presses on the car’s brakes, applying braking force over time based on the chosen setting. The drawback of this kind of brake controllers is that even though the pressure applied on the tow vehicle’s brake pedal can vary (for instance, compare a gentle brake to an abrupt one), the response of the trailer brakes will be the same, the one configured in its settings. The newer proportional electric brake controllers on the other hand measure the changing momentum, or inertia, of the moving car via an accelerometer; they are not directly connected to the car’s brakes and work independently of them. Continuously monitoring the vehicles dynamics, these controllers send the precise amount of voltage to the trailer brakes to ensure that the speed of the trailer matches that of the tow vehicle. This generally makes for a smoother braking experience and more efficient braking, ensuring your trailer brakes last longer. For instance, when going downhill, you’ll want to engage lower gears to slow down in order to decrease brake wear; inertia-based brake controllers sense that the vehicle is slowing down (rather than the vehicle’s brakes being applied) and therefore adjust trailer braking power accordingly.

Conventionally, electric brake controllers have been installed “in-car”, that is they had to be hard-wired aftermarket within the vehicle that was to be used for towing. The interface would be mounted in the least obtrusive position in the cab but still within reach from the driver’s seat. This would be traditionally accomplished by drilling holes into the dashboard and then fixing the provided mounting brackets with screws and attaching the interface to these brackets. The wiring would then be connected to the vehicle’s wiring loom and ran to the rear of the vehicle, terminating at the vehicle’s trailer plug. This translated into the necessity of having a new brake controller fitted every time one used a different vehicle for towing purposes—for instance, when the trailer is lent, hired, or there is a vehicle upgrade.

Why is Elecbrakes different?

All this has changed thanks to advancements in microprocessors and wireless technology. Launched in 2017, the latest innovation in electric brake controllers is Australian designed and produced, and called Elecbrakes: a remote mount electric trailer brake controller that gets installed directly on the trailer, rather than within the tow vehicle. An intuitive, smartphone-based solution for any trailer that gets towed by more than one vehicle, Elecbrakes eliminates the need of modifying every single car used for towing purposes. In fact, the compact device goes directly on the trailer and contains a high-speed microprocessor connected to sensors, which continuously sample the operating parameters of the brakes. The main unit communicates wirelessly with the driver interface, which takes the form of a simple to use app, compatible with both Apple and Android smartphones. In addition to the added flexibility, Elecbrakes also provides best in class configuration options (up to 5 favourite settings that can be saved in the device’s memory) and continuous monitoring of brake response and key performance indicators. The data is conveyed at your fingertips directly on your smartphone, via the widespread Bluetooth technology. Elecbrakes is compatible with 12V and 24V voltage systems and designed to operate 1 to 2 braked axles. It is also 100% dust and waterproof thanks to its tough fibre reinforced housing with the electronics fully encased in urethane.

We believe a smart, trailer-based, wireless electric brake controller such as Elecbrakes makes towing so much simpler and gives you the freedom to be more flexible and spontaneous to tow with a broader range of vehicles.

Electric brakes and their controllers are essential for managing heavier loads, as significant power and control are required to bring the weight of the trailer (and the towing vehicle) to a complete stop. For any owner considering to tow their trailer with more than one vehicle, Elecbrakes is the best solution in terms of electric brake controllers.

Why do I need an electric brake controller?

Earlier, we’ve covered what an electric brake controller is and how it works here. Now imagine what would happen if your trailer only had its own electric trailer brakes and did not have a brake controller system in place. Let’s say you’re ready to start your first camping trip with your shiny new caravan secured behind your vehicle. You drive down your driveway towards the road, brake to turn and BOOM! Your caravan may push the vehicle into a dangerous situation. Why? Because your trailer’s electric brakes simply did not work. Electric trailer brakes do not activate on their own; they require a brake controller in order to do so.

It’s easy to see why trailer brakes and brake controllers are a legal requirement around the world, and Australia is no exception. The relevant legislation in our country is provided by ADR38, which specify trailer brake requirements based on GTM (Gross Trailer Mass) and are legally binding in all states. Maximum GTM is supplied by the manufacturer and all trailers built since August 1989 are required to list the trailer’s ATM, GTM and tare weight on their Vehicle Identification Plate (VIP).

ADR identify three different trailer categories based on their GTM:

While the law does not explicitly state the necessity of having brakes installed on lighter trailers, and unless the trailer is way under 750kg GTM, it is still good practice to do so in order to aid your tow vehicle’s brakes. To this end, you may choose to install either surge or electric brakes. Read more about how they work here [link to previous post].

We have two options here.

Option one: the trailer can be equipped with mechanical or hydraulic override brakes, which do not require electricity to work and are therefore well-suited for boat trailers, which often end up in water. The drawback of this type of trailer brakes is that it is either “on” or “off”, with no in-between possible. In this case, a brake controller is not required as they activate automatically.

Option two: equipping the trailer with electric brakes, which run on the electricity supplied by the vehicle. In this case, an electric brake controller is required. Moreover, the brake controller needs to be designed in such as way as to enable the trailer’s braking force to be progressively increased and decreased, as opposed to implementing a stable braking force; this requirement entails that the brake controller must be of the proportional, or inertia-based type. Additionally, the brake control device must be controllable from the driver’s seat. Proportional electric brake controllers enable more accurate and controlled braking and reduce wear of both towing vehicle and trailer brakes; while they apply the trailer brakes in proportion to the vehicle’s slowing down, they are also adjustable by the driver.

The law states that trailer brakes are mandatory and must be operational on all wheels; furthermore, they must be designed so that the braking force can be progressively increased and decreased and be adjustable from the driver’s seat.

The law also requires that trailers over 2,000kg GTM likewise have a breakaway system. A breakaway system is a device that ensures that the trailer slows down on its own accord in the hazardous and unpredictable event that it becomes disconnected from your vehicle while moving. Consisting of a battery mounted on the trailer and a cable connecting the trailer to the vehicle, the breakaway system is activated if the trailer breaks free, pulling the cable out of its plug with it. A switch will then trigger the battery and apply the trailer brakes to slow the trailer down. The brakes will remain locked for 15 minutes. It is recommended to always check that the battery is charged (it should be able to operate for at least 15 minutes) and the breakaway system is functioning properly. To test, simply pull the cable: the trailer brakes should lock automatically. Replace the cable in the switch to disengage.

In addition to the above requirement, the NSW Roads and Maritime Services also state (VIB 6, 2007) that the breakaway system must be continuously charged by the towing vehicle and fitted with a warning device, fitted within the driver’s eyesight or earshot, that serves to warn the driver shall the battery charge fall below the required level, rendering the trailer brakes incapable of meeting the requirement.

As we have seen, if you are planning on towing any type of trailer with GTM above 750kg, electric brakes and an electric brake controller are your best bet if your aim is to be safe and compliant with legal requirements.

We at Elecbrakes have developed the electric brake controller that fits the bill. Elecbrakes is a proportional brake controller mounted onto the trailer rather than the car, eliminating the need for hardwiring the tow vehicle. Once installed on the trailer, Elecbrakes will open up a world of opportunities as any vehicle big enough to tow your trailer can now do so, with no additional set up procedures or costs apart from a tow bar. No drilling the dashboard or hardwiring the vehicle is necessary. Elecbrakes works via wireless Bluetooth technology: the trailer-installed device utilises Bluetooth 4.0 to communicate wirelessly with your smartphone via the intuitive Elecbrakes app, continuously monitoring brakes’ conditions and performance, helping you keep an eye on the trailer’s service needs. It is also fully customizable: the driver can easily control the brake response with precise settings (you can choose up to 5 favourite programs) through the smartphone app, available both for Apple and Android. Any adjustments made to the programs are stored in the device’s memory, meaning the owner can fine-tune the programs for any other user wishing to use the trailer in the future. A driver who is borrowing or renting a trailer equipped with Elecbrakes will only need to download the free app on their phone—that is the only set up required, once the trailer is attached to the towing vehicle. Elecbrakes is compatible with 12V and 24V voltage systems and designed to operate 1 to 2 braked axles. It is 100% dust and water proof thanks to its tough fibre reinforced housing with the electronics fully encased in urethane.

The trailer-mounted, compact device employs a high-speed microprocessor connected to sensors, which continuously sample the various operating parameters at a thousand times per second. Its long range capabilities guarantee a consistent, trustworthy wireless connection, without dropouts under typical operating conditions.

Being both proportional and controllable right from the driver’s seat, Elecbrakes fully complies with ADR38 and is the new alternative to traditional, “in-car” brake controllers. No matter how many vehicles will tow your trailer, you will only ever need to install Elecbrakes once—and have the peace of mind of a high-precision, safe, and compliant solution to your towing needs.

Unless your trailer weighs less than 750kg when loaded, you will be required to install brakes. We recommend you to install a proportional electric brake controller, such as Elecbrakes, to ensure compliance, safety and protection of what’s valuable to you, all the while giving you the freedom of using a range of vehicles to tow your trailer.