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Hydraulic Surge Brakes versus Electric Brakes

July 14, 2019

Hydraulic brakes use the force or momentum of a slowing tow vehicle to apply the brakes on a trailer. As the tow vehicle’s brakes are pressed, there is force applied to a hydraulic cylinder located on the hitch that activates the trailer brakes. The quicker you slow down your tow vehicle, the more pressure is applied to your trailer’s brakes. However, the downside of hydraulic brakes is that you do not have independent control over the trailer brakes. Pressure will only be applied to the trailer brakes when there is pressure applied to the hydraulic cylinder from the slowing of the tow vehicle. This can cause issues when trying to backup a trailer, especially uphill.

Electric brakes are the most common braking system on trailers. They are different than hydraulic brakes in that when you apply pressure to the tow vehicle’s brake pedal, pressure is also applied to the trailer brakes. Electric brakes, though, do not apply as much force against the tow vehicle as hydraulic brakes. By utilizing the brake controller, you can adjust the amount of pressure going to the trailer brakes.

  • If you have a heavy load and/or are moving downhill, you can set the gain on your brake controller to a higher setting. This allows the trailer brakes to take more work of slowing down the trailer instead of the tow vehicle.
  • If you have a light load and/or are moving uphill, you can set the gain on your brake controller to a lighter setting.

There will be less wear and tear on the tow vehicle with a properly set brake controller.

Do you have any trailer questions?

Please call us at 877-850-7587 to discuss!


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