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Breakaway trailer brakes

From: Shanti

Dear Jessica, I am writing to you because you always explain things so clearly and I'm hoping you can help me understand this. My son and I (I'm divorced) just bought our first horse trailer. It was used but in really good shape. We took the horses to my friend's house for a trail ride, and her husband said that we didn't have all of the equipment we had to have legally! We have electric brakes on our trailer. Apparently we need something called "breakway trailer brakes". I tried to get my friend's husband to explain it to me, but I couldn't understand him. I'm not very technical and neither is my son. Our trailer already has brakes. Do we need two sets of brakes? How does that work? Sorry if this is an ignorant question, but I really hope you'll answer it. He couldn't show us how it works because his trailer has another kind of brakes (search brakes? I think that's what he said).

Thank you for everything! Shanti

Hi Shanti! It does sound complicated, doesn't it? But it's really not not all that bad. According to the Department of Transportation, any trailer requiring brakes (and that would include horse trailers) must also be equipped with an emergency breakaway brake activation system.

The reason is simple and VERY sensible: If you don't have such a system, your trailer brakes only work when you activate them from your truck. That's fine as long as the trailer is firmly attached to the truck, but this extra system is meant as a safeguard in case of an emergency. If you do NOT have such a system, and your truck and trailer became separated while you were towing your horses to your friend's house (for instance), you would have no way to make the trailer brakes work. I'm sure you'll agree that the thought of a trailer loaded with horses rolling down the highway by itself is a frightening one!

On your trailer, since you have electric brakes, the emergency breakaway brake activation system would work like this: Your trailer would be equipped with a breakaway switch and a trailer-mounted emergency power battery. The breakaway switch would be operated by a pull-pin. If your trailer and truck became separated while you were on the road, the pull-pin would pull out, activating the trailer brake magnets. They would get power from the emergency battery (remember? that's the one mounted on the trailer, so it would be WITH the trailer), and the trailer would STOP.

Your friends' trailer has hydraulic (surge) brakes, which requires a slightly different system. Their trailer will have a short cable or piece of chain that acts as a linkage - it connects the trailer to their truck, and if the trailer breaks away, the linkage will cause the master cylinder to activate, which means that the brakes will be ON and the trailer will stop.

In both cases, the basic idea is the same: Even if your truck goes one way and your trailer goes another, your trailer brakes should engage and bring the trailer to a stop.

You should be able to get all the pieces for your trailer in one place - ask for an "Emergency Breakaway Kit". This ought to be complete: battery, charger, emergency switch, battery case, and hardware for attaching it to your trailer.

When you have it installed, you'll probably also want an electric brake controller, and you'll need to install an automatic reset circuit breaker in the power cable from the battery to the electric brake controller. Talk to someone at the dealership where you got your truck, because you'll need to be very sure that all of the electrical connections are being done correctly, and "correctly" can vary a lot from vehicle to vehicle. You'll want to be absolutely sure that it's all done right.

Then you'll be protected and legal - and if all goes well, the system will never have to prove itself in action!


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