Tools & Equipment

7 Best Trailer Brake Controllers of 2021

Best Trailer Brake Controller

Photo: Tekonsha

The additional weight that a trailer adds to the tow car means that the brakes need to work harder to stop the vehicle safely and fast. But even with the best braking system, the braking is not always very efficient if you do not have a trailer brake controller.

The trailer brake controller is a small piece of electronics that connects to your brake paddle switch and trailer connector. Its main role is to determine the braking speed of the tow vehicle and adjust the brake rate of the trailer accordingly for safe, smooth and quick stops.

When towing a trailer that uses either electric or electric over brake systems, you need this gadget. Also, in many jurisdictions, it is mandatory to use it when towing a trailer that is over 3,000 pounds.

To help you get a quality model, we have handpicked and reviewed some of the best trailer brake controllers on the market and also explain how to choose the right one.

IMAGE

PRODUCT

FEATURES

Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Trailer Brake Controller

1. Tekonsha 90160 (Best Overall)

  • Excellent build construction
  • Self-diagnostic features
  • Trailer brake boost feature
  • Works proportionally in reverse
Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Trailer Brake Controller

2. Tekonsha 90195 (Best for the Money)

  • Comes as a complete set
  • Shows detailed brake system information
  • Boost feature
  • Distinct LCD display
Reese Towpower 8508211

3. Reese Towpower 8508211 (Best Proportional)

  • Smoother proportional braking
  • Large LED display
  • Simple plug-in installation
Curt 51110 Venturer Brake Control

4. Curt 51110 (Best Time-Delay)

  • Mounts anywhere & at any angle
  • Easy-to-read LED display
  • No internal moving parts
Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control

5. Tekonsha 90885 (Best Self-Leveling)

  • No level adjustment necessary
  • Reverse battery protection
  • Boost feature
  • Quick & easy disconnect feature
Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop Electronic Brake Control

6. Draw-Tite 20191 (Easiest-to-Install)

  • Easy to install & remove
  • Self-diagnostics features
  • Includes boost feature
Hopkins 47297 Insight Brake Control

7. Hopkins 47297 (Simple & Convenient)

  • Convenient separate components design
  • Advanced proportional technology
  • Comes with 7 pre-calibrated settings

PRODUCT

1. Tekonsha 90160

(Best Overall)

Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Trailer Brake Controller
  • Excellent build construction
  • Self-diagnostic features
  • Trailer brake boost feature
  • Works proportionally in reverse

2. Tekonsha 90195

(Best for the Money)

Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Trailer Brake Controller
  • Comes as a complete set
  • Shows detailed brake system information
  • Boost feature
  • Distinct LCD display

3. Reese Towpower 8508211

(Best Proportional)

Reese Towpower 8508211
  • Smoother proportional braking
  • Large LED display
  • Simple plug-in installation

4. Curt 51110

(Best Time- Delay)

Curt 51110 Venturer Brake Control
  • Mounts anywhere & at any angle
  • Easy-to-read LED display
  • No internal moving parts

5. Tekonsha 90885

(Best Self-Leveling)

Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control
  • No level adjustment necessary
  • Reverse battery protection
  • Boost feature
  • Quick & easy disconnect feature

6. Draw-Tite 20191

(Easiest-to-Install)

Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop Electronic Brake Control
  • Easy to install & remove
  • Self-diagnostics features
  • Includes boost feature

7. Hopkins 47297

(Simple & Convenient)

Hopkins 47297 Insight Brake Control
  • Convenient separate components design
  • Advanced proportional technology
  • Comes with 7 pre-calibrated settings

1. Best Overall: Tekonsha 90160 

Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Trailer Brake Controller

Photo: Tekonsha

  • Type: Proportional
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 3
  • Display: LED

The Tekonsha 90160 is our best overall trailer brake controller as besides being well-built to offer a long service life, and it has some fantastic functions such as brake boost.

With the brake boost function, this gadget allows you to apply more initial trailer braking power, making it easier to stop when towing heavy trailers. And you can engage this handy function at just the push of a button.

Proportional reverse function comes in handy when you are reversing into tight spots. Moreover, this model has a self-diagnostic feature which will automatically verify if there are any issues with brakes and alerts you on the LED.

Since this controller comes in a small and compact form factor, you can install it on your vehicle's dashboard without using a lot of space. Better yet, it is a plug-and-play device with snap-in dash mounting clip and all the hardware to make installation a breeze.

The LED display seems relatively smaller compared to others on our list, and the quality of the mounting bracket is also wanting. However, both still work well enough and should not be deal-breakers.

Pros

  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Brake boost is handy when pulling heavy trailers
  • Very useful when backing into tight spots
  • Small and compact form factor
  • Easy to install even by beginners

Cons

  • Smaller LED display
  • Mounting brackets could have been better

2. Best for the Money: Tekonsha 90195 

Tekonsha 90195 P3 Electronic Trailer Brake Controller

Photo: Tekonsha

  • Type: Proportional
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display: LCD

The Tekonsha 90195 comes as a complete kit with everything and at a great price to ensure you get the best value for money. 

With this trailer brake controller, you get comprehensive diagnostics as it will show you everything from the output voltage to warning system alerts. Hence, you can be sure of getting full control over your braking system.

Because the trailer brake controller also includes brake boost feature, you get different levels of braking customization. Choosing your preferred setting is simpler with the distinct and easy to read LCD display.

Other things that make this a fantastic product include the snap-in mounting clip. This clip makes installation a breeze, and the unit comes in a more compact, dash-hugging design.

Some of the buttons feel a little hard to press, but they should be okay once they break-in and you get used to them.

Pros

  • Complete kit offers great value for money
  • Provides detailed information on brake system
  • Easy to read LED display
  • Allows for different levels of braking customization

Cons

  • Buttons are a bit hard to press

3. Best Proportional: Reese Towpower 8508211

Reese Towpower 8508211

Photo: Reese Towpower

  • Type: Proportional
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display: LED

The advanced proportional braking is the highlight of the Reese Towpower 8508211. This feature ensures you get smoother braking as it allows you to apply brake pressure that matches the vehicle's deceleration rate.

Besides proportional braking, the controller provides a boost feature to give you the ability to apply more initial braking power, making it very handy when towing heavier loads.

There is no leveling required when using this trailer brake controller. And with the large LED display, you can be sure of an easy time seeing what is on the screen. Many motorists also love that this unit provides simple plug-in installation for easy setup.

For those looking for a trailer brake controller they can mount in just any direction, this will not be it, but the good news is that it still has quite a wide mounting latitude. Also, you should not have any difficulties finding a proper harness for your vehicle.

Pros

  • Uses proportional braking for smoother stops
  • Allows for greater initial braking power
  • Does not require any leveling
  • Large and easy to read display
  • Easier to install

Cons

  • Cannot be mounted in just any direction
  • Does not come with harness

4. Best Time-DelayCurt 51110 

Curt 51110 Venturer Brake Control

Photo: Curt

  • Type: Time-delayed
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 3
  • Display: LED

With the time-delayed Curt 51110, you get more freedom when it comes to mounting. You can install this unit anywhere in the car and at any angle.

The gadget has a unique design with its LED display that uses five green lines that incrementally increases the more you press on the brake. Therefore, it gives you a visual indication of the amount of power applied to the trailer brakes.

Moreover, this model is quite versatile as you can use it with any trailer that has 1 to 3 axles. And it is a more durable unit as there are no moving internal parts. What's more, the fact that it does not require any leveling makes it even more convenient.

Like most other time-delayed trailer brake controller, this one can lead to more brake wear and tear. However, this should not be a deal-breaker as it is typical of these controllers. 

Pros

  • Mountable at any angle
  • Easy to read display
  • More durable with no internal moving parts
  • Does not require any leveling

Cons

  • Greater wear and tear

5. Best Self-Leveling: Tekonsha 90885 

Tekonsha 90885 Prodigy P2 Electronic Brake Control

Photo: Tekonsha

  • Type: Proportional
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display: LCD

If you do not want to worry about your trailer brake controller, the Tekonsha 90885 should serve you well. The controller adjusts itself to suit varying terrains when driving, making it very ideal when backing up into tight spots.

The trailer brake controller provides numerous mounting options to ensure it will work for your specific situation. When it comes to installation, it has multiple mounting points at the bottom that allow you to quickly and easily install it on your dashboard with ease.

Also, it has a boost feature to apply more force to your brakes with the push of a button. Another great feature is its ability to monitor the trailer brakes continuously and immediately report any problems detected. 

The only caveat we note with this brake controller is its relatively higher price when compared to others on our list. But, you can be sure it will be worth every buck. 

Pros

  • Never requires any leveling
  • Constantly monitors the braking pads for faults
  • Easy to remove and store when not in use
  • Boost feature applies more force to the braking pads

Cons

  • Relatively pricier

6. Easiest-to-Install: Draw-Tite 20191 

Draw-Tite 20191 I-Stop Electronic Brake Control

Photo: Draw-Tite

  • Type: Proportional
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 3
  • Display: LED

For those who have never owned a trailer brake controller before, the Draw-Tite 20191 is an excellent model to consider. This top-rated trailer brake controller is straightforward to install and comes as a kit with all installation accessories, including screws and mounting clips.

Since this is a proportional controller, it continuously calculates the speed at which the trailer is moving and proportionally adjusts the braking force for you. Better still, it has a boost feature, which is handy when backing up with a heavy trailer.

Moreover, this unit can control up to 3 axles, therefore allowing you to control 6 wheel brakes with ease. Best of all, the LED display is quite visible both during the day as well as at night since it is very bright.

Draw-Tite 20191 is self-leveling to eliminate the need for making adjustments when using the controller. And with the self-diagnostic feature, it is easy to tell when there is an issue.

The mounting angle is a little restrictive as the internal sensor does not allow you to mount it sideways, but this should not be a big concern as there are still many other mounting options.

Pros

  • Easy to install and use
  • Smooth and high performing trailer brake controller
  • Does not require any leveling
  • Alerts you automatically in case of an issue

Cons

  • Restrictive mounting angle

7. Simple & Convenient: Hopkins 47297 

Hopkins 47297 Insight Brake Control

Photo: Hopkins

  • Type: Proportional
  • Number of Axles: 1 to 4
  • Display: Digital

The Hopkins 47297 is a simple mini trailer brake controller that comes with separate components to allow you to mount them just where you want, which is super convenient. 

This device uses advanced proportional technology to mimic your towing vehicle’s brakes and automatically apply it to the trailer brakes to ensure safe and smooth stops.

Since it can control 4 axles, it will have no problem controlling up to 8 trailer brakes at once. But one of the best things about this model is that it comes with 7 pre-calibrated settings that you can apply on the fly with the push of a button.

Other things like the digital power and sensitivity settings and the fact that controls are in easy to reach places make this an even more fantastic unit.

Although it has limited features when compared to other models on our trailer brake controller review and the LED display is small, this is still a handy product.

Pros

  • Simple but more convenient design
  • Able to control up to 8 trailer brakes 
  • Handy pre-calibrated settings
  • Very easy to install and use 

Cons

  • Limited features
  • Relatively smaller display

How to Buy the Best Trailer Brake Controller

How to Buy the Best Trailer Brake Controller

Photo: youtube.com

1. Types of Trailer Brake Controller: Proportional vs Time-Delayed

Proportional

The proportional trailer brake controller is the most popular type of controller on the market. When the trailer is in motion and at a certain speed, the controller automatically makes adjustments to deliver the right amount of force on the trailer's brake pads.

This type of trailer brake controller has a relatively complex internal design that is more advanced when compared to a time-delayed model.

These controllers are the best when you want to be sure of smooth and seamless braking, and when you need quick reaction time.

If you value comfort when braking, this is the type of trailer brake controller to go with, but you should be ready to pay more, and the installation can be more hectic.

Time-Delayed

The time-delayed trailer brake controller is the oldest of the two types. This controller type sends a signal to your trailer brake pads based on the settings and adjustments that you make.

Unlike the proportional trailer brake controller that makes those calculations automatically, you will have to tell the time-delayed trailer brake controller the amount of force it needs to apply at the brakes.

These are the best controllers when you need something simple and basic that is easier and quicker to install. Also, time-delayed is an ideal option when looking for something more affordable.

However, the downsides include the time delay between the time you push down the brake pedal and when the trailer brakes are activated. Also, there is more wear and tear when using these controllers.

2. Voltage

When it comes to voltage, the trailer brake controller works with either a 12 V power supply or a 24 V. Some systems can output only 12 V DC only, while others support a range of voltages from 12 V to 24 V.

If you use the wrong type of voltage on your trailer brake controller, you risk damaging the device. Hence, when shopping, you need to check the voltage required and what your system supports.

3. Number of Axles

The number of axles in a trailer brake controller dictates how many wheels it can control. The more axles it can connect to; the more wheels it can handle.

In general, trailer brake controllers can control 1 to 2 axles, 1 to 3 axles or 1 to 4 axles for controlling up to 8 wheels at a time.

You will need to choose the right type of axle based on your trailer type. If your trailer has 4 axles, then going with a 2 axle trailer brake controller is not a good idea as it will make it underperform. In such cases, you need 1 to 4 model like the Reese Towpower 8508211.

4. Display

The display is where you get to see what is going on in the trailer's wheels and braking system. Most high-quality trailer brake controllers display a diagnostic of the battery, output current, and brake pad force applied in real-time.

In general, LED displays are very reliable, durable and long-lasting. They are also easy to see at night as well as during the day with no glare.

Moreover, the amount of details displayed in the controller's display is another crucial factor to consider. The more information you get, the better. Here, app-controlled devices like the Curt 51180 always provide the most information.

5. Settings Options

The settings allow you to make different adjustments to your trailer brake controller. If you want the ability to control the force exerted on the trailer's brake pads, you need a model that offers you a boost feature.

Additionally, you may want to switch between a hydraulic and electric trailer brake mode on the fly as these offer you two different types of braking experiences. Hence, make sure what you buy has a setting option for this.

6. Ease of Installation

You do not want a trailer brake controller that is overly complex to install. Therefore, something that takes less time and effort to mount and comes with the mounting hardware is always the best.

7. Size

The size of the trailer brake controller is crucial when you want to install it on your dashboard. You do not want it to be too big if you have a small dashboard.

Additionally, the controller needs to be in a strategic position such that it is easy to reach and make adjustments to when necessary. Hence, make sure the size allows for this. But, you can never go wrong with something small and compact like the Tekonsha 90160

How to Install a Trailer Brake Controller

How to Install a Trailer Brake Controller

Photo: canadianleisurerv.com

Step 1: Make a Wire Harness

Some vehicles already make provisions for brake controller wires and label the wiring harness for this with something like “electric brake controller”. 

If you do not have your wiring harness already installed, you need to make the pre-wiring by splicing wires and connecting them. Luckily, most manufacturers ship their units with the cables so that you can easily install them.

The wires in the trailer brake controller have different colors to show you which wire connects to what. The installation manual also comes in handy here.

Step 2: Install the Controller

Now that you have the wire harness, you need to install the controller in an easily accessible position. Easy access ensures you can make adjustments to your controller system.

In general, people install the trailer brake controller on their dashboard for the best accessibility.

Step 3: Calibrate the Controller

You will find that your trailer brake controller comes with multiple settings. These settings allow you to adjust it based on the type of vehicle you have as well as the weight of your trailer.

Hence, before you can use the unit, it is vital first to calibrate it to suit your specific situation. The process here varies from one model to the other, and manufacturers provide clear directions on what to do.

Conclusion

A trailer brake controller is vital for making sure you stop smoothly and safely when towing a trailer. And now finding the best model should be a breeze as we provide more than enough recommendations above.

That said, the Tekonsha 90160 is our top overall model. This proportional unit is well-built and has a lot to offer, including the boost feature, making it effective and highly reliable.

However, for those looking to get the best value for their money, the Tekonsha 90195 is our recommendation as it is unbeatable for the price. 

Sources

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