Brake Your Trailer the Right Way...

Deciding Between Electric Brakes and Surge Brakes for Your Water Trailer

There are two types of braking systems that are commonly included with water trailers; electric brakes and surge brakes. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, with the main difference being that electric brakes are activated through an electronic connection to the towing vehicle and surge brakes are activated mechanically. While you may have heard of these systems, do you know what the differences are? Or how to decide between the two options? Let’s look a little deeper into these two braking systems.

What are Electric Brakes?

The electric braking system is managed through a controller mounted in the tow vehicle, usually located underneath the dashboard so the driver can easily reach it by hand or foot if needed. The system works through the vehicle and trailer’s wiring. Taking 12 volts DC from the towing vehicle’s electrical system, the electricity is sent back to the trailer to activate the brakes.

There are two ways that electrical braking can be activated. The first is simply by stepping on the brake pedal of the towing vehicle. As the brakes are applied, the wiring activates the brakes on the trailer, causing the vehicle and trailer to stop simultaneously. The second way is through the manual activation lever or button, present with all brake controls. This allows the driver to manually send power from the towing vehicle’s electrical system to the trailer behind.

How do Electric Brakes Work?

A key component of the electric braking system is a magnet that is attached to the backing plate of the brake assembly. When the towing vehicle brakes, it sends electricity to the trailer’s braking system causing the magnet to become magnetized and attract to the drum face. This action causes the actuating arm to move through friction and pushes the brake shoe against the drum to cause the wheel to stop spinning.

What are Surge Brakes?

While electric brakes can be immediately applied by the driver of a towing vehicle, surge brakes are applied through a series of mechanisms and the use of centrifugal force. The neck of the trailer is two separate pieces. The front piece contains the hitch attachment, while the back half contains the braking mechanism. When the towing vehicle applies its brakes, the resulting motion causes the front half of the neck to slide into the back half. It then causes a rod to push into the master cylinder. This action forces fluid to the drum or disc brakes and stops the trailer. A wheel cylinder, located inside the brake, expands with the surge of fluid, pushing the brake shoe against the drum or squeezing the disc which stops the wheels. When the towing vehicle moves forward, the neck of the trailer extends, separating the rod and master cylinder and releasing the brakes.

Emergency Breakaway Systems

For the safety of fellow motorists, federal law requires that the braking systems of trailers must automatically activate should the trailer detach from the towing vehicle. In electric brakes, this is done through a battery-operated activator which energizes the electromagnets on the wheels and stops them from spinning. Surge braking systems include a mechanical cable or chain that is connected to the towing vehicle and activates the master cylinder, causing the trailer to slow and stop.

Which Braking System Should You Choose?

The braking system you choose depends on what factors are more important to you. Surge brakes are popular because the system is completely within the trailer, while electric braking systems require the installation of a controller inside the towing vehicle. However, electric brakes are often preferred for increased safety. With surge brakes, the towing vehicle must first brake before the trailer can causing a split second delay and requiring a longer distance needed to safely stop. Electric brakes allow the trailer to brake with the towing vehicle, making driving downhill and quick stops much safer, especially when towing larger capacity water tanks.

There are two different types of brakes that can come with water trailers; electric brakes or surge brakes. These types of brakes each have their own advantages and disadvantages, with the right choice depending on your preferences. Knowing which brake system is right for you can assist you in making your water trailer decision.

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Our Water Trailer Experts can help you choose the right option:

 Electrical Brake Systems                                                             


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