Last Updated on 05/09/2024 by Glynn Willard

Do Travel Trailers Have brakes?

The answer you’re looking for is, yes. Just about all camper trailers have one of several types of brakes.

For both the sake of safety and the federal DOT legal requirement, manufacturers incorporate camper brakes.

Although a few “resurrected” vintage trailers may not have brakes, they’re few and far between.

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Why Should A Small Trailer (Or Any Trailer) Have Brakes?


There are several reasons why trailer brakes are a good idea.

  • State And Federal Laws
    Not all, but most states require trailers over 3000 lbs to have brakes. Check your state’s DOT requirements if you’re curious about the weight thresholds.


  • Minimize Wear And Tear On The Tow Vehicle’s Brakes
    The added braking ability of the camper’s brakes will improve your stopping power and minimize the wear on your tow vehicle’s brake pads ultimately saving you money.


  • Better Control In Mountainous Terrain

    It’s one thing to pull your trailer up a mountain pass, but it’s a whole different “nail-biting” challenge to descend a mountain pass, especially if the weight of the trailer is high.

    If your tow vehicle is equipped with an engine brake, you’re in luck. It will maintain a safe speed for you without wearing your trailer’s brake shoes and your tow vehicle’s brake pads.

    Regardless, if your trailer did not have brakes, it would put an extreme amount of pressure on your tow vehicle brakes, potentially overheating them and rendering them useless.

    Not cool on a steep downhill grade!

    This is even more true if your trailer has exceeded its weight limit (gross vehicle weight rating.


  • Improved Safety Performance On The Highway
    When and if you experience trailer sway on the highway, remove your foot from the accelerator and engage the trailer brake controller.

    This will usually put a stop to trailer sway.

    Some trailer brake controllers are pre-installed in pickup trucks but they are available as an aftermarket add-on if your tow vehicle is not equipped.

    This acts independently of the brake pedal.

    This affiliate link is similar to the brake controller I had before switching my tow vehicle to a super duty truck.


  • Emergency Stopping Power
    Almost all travel trailers are equipped with a breakaway system that will engage the electric brakes on the trailer if it comes off the tow vehicle during travel.

    The last thing you need is your trailer taking an autonomous joy ride down the road!


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Type Of Brakes On Travel Trailers And Components

Travel trailer brakes
There are several different types of RV brakes. Let’s explore:

  • Electric Trailer Brakes
    This is the most common type of trailer brakes. Electric brake systems rely on an electric current from a brake controller in the tow vehicle via the pin connector, which turns on an electromagnet, engaging the mechanical aspects housed within the brake drum.
    Larger trailers may have proportional brake controllers installed, which engage the trailer brakes proportionally to the tow vehicle’s brakes.


  • Hydraulic Brakes
    You’ll likely never encounter a travel trailer with hydraulic brakes from the factory. This is usually associated with upgrading trailer brakes to disc brakes like on an automobile.
    Hydraulic systems rely on the compression of fluid in a master cylinder which transfers that force down the line, ultimately to the brake calipers.


  • Surge Brakes
    Surge brakes are more common on boat trailers. They work via the momentum of the trailer weight moving forward while the tow vehicle is slowing and engaging a hydraulic cylinder housed in the trailer tongue.


  • Disc Brakes
    Some really high-end travel trailers may be equipped with disc brakes similar to your tow vehicle. There are conversion kits available if you want to up your braking ante. Disc brakes rely on a brake rotor and piston-driven brake calipers.


  • Drum Brakes
    Drum brakes are the most common brakes on a travel trailer and generally rely on an electric current from the pin connector to electrify an electromagnet, which engages the mechanics to compress the brake shoes against the interior of the brake drum.


  • A Note About Wheel Bearings
    Not only should you keep track of your RV brake maintenance, but you should also track and properly maintain your wheel bearing grease.

    Allowing trailer wheel bearings to go too long without repacking is a bad idea. And if you don’t make sure the dust cover is securely in place, bad things can happen over time.

    Ask me how I know!


    Travel Trailer Wheel Bearing Replacement Overview


Trailer Weight Considerations

In an effort to maintain safety on the road and avoid unnecessary wear and tear on your trailer tires, it’s important to understand how much weight you can load into a travel trailer.

This is referred to as Cargo Carrying Capacity.

It’s the GVWR (gross weight) minus the unloaded weight of the trailer.

​Most RV manufacturers will list this number on the VIN sticker.

Staying within this number will allow the mechanics of your trailer brakes to safely work within their parameters.

Also, exceeding your CCC along with improper tire pressure can result in tire blowouts.

When setting your tire pressure, refer the the tire manufacturer’s charts which lays out the proper psi based on the amount of load per tire.


Towing Vehicle Considerations

If you’re going to tow a travel trailer or fifth wheel, make sure you have the right truck for the job.

Just because the dealer states that a certain half-ton truck is rated to pull 12k and has the factory tow package, doesn’t mean it has the payload capacity to handle the weight from the tongue of the trailer.

As far as I’m concerned, smaller vehicles should not tow anything over 3,000 lbs.

You can read a lot more on the subject of towing and tow vehicles in my three articles:

Tips For Towing A Travel Trailer From Zero To Full-Time


Great Truck For Towing A Travel Trailer | Why We Chose A Ford F250


Guide To Understanding RV Dry Weight, GVWR & Cargo Capacity


Wrapping Up Travel Trailer Brakes


If you take anything from this article, I hope you have a better understanding of your trailer’s brakes and their importance.

The trailer you’re potentially looking to buy is most likely equipped with an electric braking system that uses drum brakes.

Keeping them properly maintained on a regular basis is crucial to the safety of you and others on the road.

What kind of brakes does your travel trailer have installed?
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