New Trailer? Which Braking System?

You'll need to consider a number of factors when choosing between different types of trailers. Examples of these factors include your preferences for trailer parts like the number of axles, the type of suspension, and the braking system.

Electric and hydraulic surge brakes are perhaps the most common on modern trailers. Understanding how the two systems work is key to making the right choice for your new trailer. Here is a brief explanation.

Hydraulic Surge Brakes

Hydraulic surge brakes are often referred to as a passive braking system. This is because the system is activated by the trailer's motion. The operation of surge brakes is synchronised with that of the braking system on the tow vehicle.

When you apply brakes on the tow vehicle, the trailer is pushed forward toward the vehicle. The forward motion compresses a master cylinder within the surge braking system, thereby releasing fluid into the brake lines. The brake fluid is then transmitted to the various wheel cylinders. Through this action, brake pads are forced to press against their discs and this brings the trailer to a halt.  

The fact that hydraulic surge brakes don't operate independently is considered a disadvantage. If the trailer begins to sway for example, it's not possible to stop the swaying action without slowing down your vehicle.

Electric Brakes

An electric braking system is not as complex as its hydraulic surge equivalent. With electric braking systems, the brakes are activated using electromagnets instead of hydraulic fluid. Electromagnetic activators are installed within the trailer. An independent brake controller is installed inside the tow vehicle.

When the tow vehicle's brakes are applied, electric current is sent to the electromagnetic activators on the trailer and this prompts the brakes to engage. The presence of the brake controller provides additional braking control on the trailer. In the event that the trailer begins to sway, you'll be able to apply a slight braking force using the controller.

One advantage of an electric braking system is that the trailer will come to a halt before the tow vehicle whenever the braking system is engaged. This makes for a safer towing exercise when driving downhill. It also makes it easier and safer for you to make emergency stops.

Trailers fitted with a hydraulic braking system might be more affordable than those with electric brakes. However, hydraulic brakes are more difficult (and often more costly) to maintain. Ultimately, the choice between the two braking systems is one often based on personal preference.