Safely tow a vehicle behind your RV by installing an RV towed car braking system. Read on for a detailed buying guide plus towed vehicle braking system reviews.
Many RVers choose to tow a car behind their motorhome to use as transportation once they reach their destination. While towing a car behind an RV can be convenient, it also requires additional safety measures to ensure that both the RV and the towed car can stop safely in an emergency. That's where RV-towed vehicle car braking systems come in.
Towed car braking systems are a great way to ensure safety on the road if you are traveling with a towed car. If it is your first time doing so, don’t worry about the details! We discuss everything you need to know about RV towed car braking systems, including what they are, why they are important, and how to choose the right one for your RV setup below!
What is a Towed Car Brake System?
RV towed car braking systems are devices that are installed in a towed car, also known as a dinghy or toad, to help the RV safely slow down and stop both vehicles. When you tow a car behind an RV, the additional weight can put a strain on the RV's braking system. This can lead to longer stopping distances and increased wear and tear on the RV's brakes.
Towed car braking systems help to alleviate this strain by applying the brakes of the towed car in conjunction with the RV's brakes. This helps to reduce the stopping distance and ensure that both vehicles come to a safe stop in the event of an emergency.
How Do Towed Vehicle Braking Systems Work
Towing braking systems work by applying the brakes on the towed vehicle in sync with the towing vehicle's brakes. There are several different types of RV tow car braking systems available, but they all function with the same basic principles. Let’s have a look at them below!
Surge braking system
In a surge brake system, a hydraulic coupler is installed on the tongue of the trailer, which is connected to the towing vehicle's hitch ball. When the towing vehicle slows down, the coupler compresses a cylinder that is connected to the towed vehicle's brake pedal, which applies the brakes on the towed vehicle.
This system is simple and doesn't require any electrical or mechanical connections between the towing vehicle and the trailer. However, it does have some limitations, such as reduced effectiveness at high speeds and the potential for brake lockup in emergency situations.
Deceleration towing braking systems work by sensing the deceleration or slowing down of the towing vehicle and applying proportional braking force to the towed vehicle to match it. These types of systems use sensors to detect the rate of deceleration of the towing vehicle, which in turn signals the system to apply a proportional amount of braking force to the towed vehicle.
The deceleration system is effective and precise, allowing the driver to adjust the braking force based on the weight and speed of the trailer, but it requires the installation of a controller and wiring between the towing vehicle and the trailer.
Pressure towing braking systems are hydraulic-to-air braking systems for towed cars. They use hydraulic fluid to transmit force from the towing vehicle's brakes to the trailer's brakes. When the driver steps on the brake pedal, hydraulic fluid is sent through the brake lines to the trailer's brakes, creating hydraulic pressure that activates the trailer's brakes and slows it down.
This system is effective and reliable but requires regular maintenance to ensure the hydraulic lines and fluid are functioning properly.
Do You Need a Braking System When Towing a Car Behind a Motorhome?
Yes, it is recommended to have a braking system when towing a car behind a motorhome, especially if the weight of the towed vehicle is beyond the prescribed limit. Understanding the significance of a tow car braking system can help ensure the safety of yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road. Here is why a towed car brake system is important!
A braking system for towing a car behind a motorhome ensures the safe transportation of a vehicle being towed behind a larger vehicle. Without a towed car brake system, the weight of the towed vehicle can cause the towing vehicle to become unstable, making it difficult to control and stop. This can lead to accidents, property damage, and even injury or death.
Reduces brake strain
A towed car brake system can also prevent wear and tear on the towing vehicle's brakes. When a towing vehicle is required to stop the weight of both the towing and towed vehicles, it puts a significant amount of strain on the brakes. By having an even braked car towing system, the braking force is distributed between both vehicles, reducing the strain on the towing vehicle's brakes and extending their lifespan.
Required by law
There are also legal requirements to consider when it comes to towed car brake systems. In many states, it is mandatory to have a towed car brake system installed if the weight of the towed vehicle exceeds a certain limit. Failure to comply with these laws can result in fines, penalties, and legal liability in the event of an accident.
Towed Vehicle Brake Requirements by State
All but ten states have towed vehicle brake requirements. The exact weight limit can vary by state or province, but generally, if the weight of the towed vehicle exceeds 1,500 pounds or 40% of the weight of the motorhome, a braking system is required by law. Specifics vary with each state, so it is important to check the requirements for the states through which you will be traveling. Here is a general overview of the requirements for towed vehicle brakes by state.
There are three primary rulings for towed vehicle brake requirements, and states usually have one in place:
A towed vehicle must have a braking system that is capable of stopping the vehicle and holding it stationary on any grade (Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Georgia, Delaware, and more)
A towed vehicle weighing over 1,500 pounds must have its own braking system (Nevada, Connecticut, and Hawaii)
A towed vehicle weighing over 3,000 pounds must have its own braking system ( Alabama, Illinois, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Idaho)
Not following towed vehicle brake requirements can result in legal consequences. Most states charge a penalty or fine for towing a car behind an RV without a braking system. Refer to this braking map by Roadmaster for specific tow vehicle brake requirements by state.
Do You Need a Braking System to Flat Tow
Flat towing is when you tow a vehicle behind your RV with all four wheels of the towed vehicle on the ground. In this method, the towed vehicle is connected to the towing vehicle using a tow bar, which attaches to the front bumper or frame of the towed vehicle and is then connected to the hitch receiver of the towing vehicle.
In most cases, it is recommended to use a braking system when flat towing a vehicle behind an RV or other tow vehicle. This is because flat towing can put a significant amount of strain on the towed vehicle's brakes, particularly when traveling downhill or when the towing vehicle needs to make a sudden stop. So while it may be possible to flat tow a vehicle without a supplemental braking system, it is generally safer and more responsible to use one, particularly for larger or heavier vehicles.
Braking Systems for Towed Vehicles Buying Guide
When it comes to choosing the best tow car braking system, the decision will depend on a number of factors, including the weight and size of your towed vehicle, the type of RV you are using, and your own personal preferences. Here are some factors to consider before choosing a supplemental braking system for your RV.
Type of Braking System
There are four different types of towed vehicle braking systems available in the market. The main difference between these dinghy braking systems is how they work.
Progressive dinghy braking systems work by engaging the supplemental brakes on your toad as soon as the brakes on the coach are engaged. This system is called 'progressive' because, when engaged, it gradually increases the pressure on the toad's brake as long as the towing vehicle's brakes are engaged. These often have sensors in them that will stop the toad's braking after a certain pre-set time has passed so as to not overheat the toad's braking system.
This is a fairly straightforward braking system that is easy to set-up. The downside to the system is that it is really hard on your toad's braking system since it doesn't change the pressure on the dinghy's brakes in tandem with the pressure being applied to the RV's brakes. You may be braking lightly on your RV but the system will keep increasing the pressure on your toad's brakes progressively.
Choose this system if you only plan to tow your vehicle infrequently and on routes that don't feature uneven terrain.
Proportional RV tow car braking systems work by syncing the RV's braking system to the toad's. These braking systems feature an internal sensor called the accelerometer that senses the speed with which your RV is speeding up or slowing down. It then matches that intensity to slow your toad down the same amount. Hence the name 'proportional'.
These systems need to be adjusted as per the toad's braking requirements. But once set you don't need to do any further adjustments. They also have systems in place that don't apply the toad's brakes when they sense your RV slowing down without braking. Proportional braking systems are generally better than pre-set progressive braking systems but they don't work with vehicles with power-assist bakes.
Just as their name, direct RV tow car braking systems are connected to the brake lines of your RV. When working, they sync your toad's brakes to brake exactly when you engage the brakes on your RV. There is no under or over-braking. This is the most precise supplemental braking system on the market because it replicates the same pressure you are applying to your RV's brakes on your toad's brakes.
The direct braking system, once installed, doesn't require much adjustment and is the best towed vehicle braking system if you're planning to tow heavy vehicles or go on off-road trips. The only downside to this system is that it needs to be installed by a professional and you need to check with your RV manufacturer for warranty compliance before tapping into your RV's brake lines.
RV tow car braking systems come in two configurations: portable and permanent. Portable dinghy braking systems need to be installed in your toad every time you need to tow it. They aren't difficult to install but you do have to take them out once your RV is parked and you want to use your toad. This also means you need a place to store these systems when not in use. Choose portable braking systems if you plan on towing different vehicles behind your motorhome and don't mind the additional steps of installing and uninstalling the system every time.
Permanent towing braking systems need to be installed in your toad and most likely wired to your motorhome. Once installed you don't need to do anything to your toad's braking system before taking off. However, these systems are hard to install yourself and professional installation can be expensive. Also, you need to install them separately on each vehicle you wish to tow. Choose these systems if you plan to stick to a single toad and need to tow it frequently.
Different auxiliary braking systems are compatible with different vehicles so make sure to check whether the supplementary system you like actually works with your vehicle. Most vehicles use hydraulic surge brakes, electric brakes, or air brakes. Your supplementary braking system will need to be configured according to whatever braking system your RV uses so it is important to check its compatibility. Plus tow braking system for a car will be different than the tow braking system for a jeep.
Every tow vehicle system comes with some kind of information display. This can range from a simple warning light arrangement to a detailed LED display. Make sure you are getting a system that has appropriate and real-time information display features so you can get warning alerts when the system is compromised in any way. An LCD or LED is a better option as it can help you identify the problem quickly.
Mode of Control
Tow vehicle systems need a control center that helps the driver activate/deactivate the system as per need. This control system can be wired or wireless. Wired controls are connected to the towing vehicle’s dashboard while wireless systems make use of receivers that communicate via signals. No matter which control system you go for make sure it is easily accessible to the driver.
Make sure the supplementary braking system for towed vehicle you choose is compliant with your state's laws. If you frequently travel between states, check compliance for every state you plan to visit. Fines for towing a car behind RV without a braking system can really rack up so make sure you have a compliant braking system in place.
All towed vehicle braking systems come with some kind of warranty. Make sure you read the fine print when it comes to these warranties and choose a system that offers the best one. Also, check with your RV manufacturer because some direct braking systems may void your RV warranty.
Lastly, every tow vehicle braking system comes with its own installation guide. Make sure you understand all the steps and follow them to the tee. For permanent braking systems, it is better to get them installed by professionals since they involve complicated wiring.
5 Best RV Towed Vehicle Braking Systems
Here is a list of the best RV towed vehicle braking systems available in the market.
RV towed braking systems are an essential safety feature when towing a heavy load, such as a trailer or a car. Before choosing and installing a braking system for your RV, make sure to read up on the laws of the state you will be traveling in and see what system fits your RV model best. Happy towing!
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