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Get ready to stop: Installing your brake controller

Young mechanic repairing car in service center

Whenever you’re towing your caravan and put your foot on the brake, power from your vehicle is supplied to the electric brakes on your caravan via a small device called the electric brake controller .

To ensure your caravan’s safety, national towing regulations state that trailers over 750kg gross trailer mass must have an effective brake system fitted (irrespective of the vehicle’s towing capacity)

When set up correctly, electric brakes will stop the weight of the van pushing the tow vehicle forward. The controller needs to be accessible for the driver, so it is usually mounted on or under the dashboard, connected to the car’s battery and from there to the caravan through the trailer socket.

Regular testing of the brake controller should always be part of your caravan safety checklist.

Mounting the brake controller

  1. Decide the best location for mounting the unit – it should be a solid surface, usually on or under the dash, within the driver’s reach. Some models are small enough to be mounted through a standard push-out panel in the dash, while others need to have holes drilled for attaching a bracket. If drilling, make sure the area behind the mounting location is clear so as not to do any damage.
  2. Hold the mounting bracket in the selected position and mark the spots through the holes in the bracket.
  3. Drill the holes in the marked locations.
  4. Secure bracket in position with the screws provided in the kit.
  5. Mount the brake controller in the bracket using the supplied screws.
  6. To connect wiring, follow the instructions for the unit. If you are not familiar with this part of the setup, consult an auto electrician.

Set-up and operation

Different models will have varied modes of operation but almost all have lights showing when the caravan is connected and when the brakes are being applied. They will also have a knob or lever for adjusting the braking level. The manual that came with your unit will specify these.

To test that the brake controller is correctly set up and functioning as it should, follow the instructions for operation in the manual provided.

Remember, the amount of braking required depends greatly on the weight of your caravan and the speed you’re traveling. It’s a good idea to run another test after an hour out on the road to see if the brakes need further adjusting.

If you are in any doubt, have a qualified mechanic test them for you – after all, your safety lies in their efficacy.

By law, caravans weighing more than 2000kg GTM must have a breakaway system that will independently apply the brakes if the caravan is suddenly disconnected from the tug. This article looks at the legal requirements for caravan breakaway systems in Australia.

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