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Do Teardrop Trailers Need Brakes?

Not all teardrop trailers have brakes. Many teardrop manufactures have trailer brakes as an option when needed. It’s a good idea to check with the DMV in your state for specifics.

Most states require trailer brakes on trailers with a gross weight of over 3,000 pounds.

There are a few states that require trailer brakes trailers exceeding 1,000 lbs. Some experts believe they are needed on trailers over 1,500 pounds. There are many teardrop trailers under 1,500 lbs. and some over 3,000 lbs. Either way, you should know the weight of the teardrop you’re buying. Fortunately, most teardrops are light and easy to tow. Almost any car sold in America can tow a minimum of 1,200 to 1,500 pounds. Here’s a digest of states trailer brake laws from AA

What you need to know about trailer brakes on a teardrop


If you don’t feel you can stop your tow vehicle and trailer in a safe manner then adding electric trailer brakes is a good idea. Often we add extra options to our trailers along the way after we purchase our trailer. Things like extra batteries, additional water capacity, solar panels, extra propane, kayaks, bike racks, etc. can slowly creep up the weight on the loaded trailer which could impact your ability to safely stop in an emergency. Not to mention additional wear and tear on your tow vehicle’s brakes. It might be time to add trailer brakes at this time.

Brake Fade
In most cases, your tow vehicle’s brakes should do the job but on lighter trailers, things to watch out for are on steep down-grades, your tow vehicle brakes can get hot causing brake fade. As the brake pads and links get hotter it temporarily reduces braking capacity. Applying the brakes intermittently helps reduce overheating and allows the brakes to cool. Best to take your time in mountain areas as there are a lot of variables that can cause issues.

How they work
Typically they have two adjustments on them. The first one is a delay so when you hit the brake pedal on the truck there will be a time delay before these brakes actually start engaging. And the second one would be the intensity or the gain, the power being applied to the magnet. This will have a direct relationship on how active the brakes actually become. The magnets are actually wired with a positive and a negative or a power and a ground. There is no polarity on these. They are wired in parallel so when you apply power to the tow vehicle via the pedal to stop the vehicle it’s going to energize this magnet. This magnet is very close and actually is rubbing around the inside of that drum. When the power is applied, depending on how much gain, will vary the voltage to the magnet and control how sticky they become. If you’re traveling forward it is going to energize this magnet and start pulling this brake lever towards the rear and it, in essence, pushes this front shoe out and when you’re traveling in reverse it will go the other way.

Can you add Trailer brakes to a teardrop? The short answer is yes but there are conditions.  You can purchase a kit that includes trailer hub assembles and an electric controller. Your trailer axel has to have a brake mounting flange behind the existing hub on each side. If not then you either have to purchase a brake flange and have them welded on. Your second option would be to replace the axel with one that already has brake flanges welded on it.

Axletek Electric Brake Assembly PairIf your trailer has flanges then you need to select drum and brake assemblies that fit your axel diameter. There are usually numbers stamped into your existing axel that help you with drum and brakes size. Here is a link with information on determining your axle diameter here. You can select between self-adjusting and manual adjusting brakes.

Next, you’ll need to equip your tow vehicle with an electric trailer brake controller. The controller responds to the tow vehicle brakes which activates your trailer brakes together. This will require running a wire from the controller to the brakes along with various connectors and plugs.

Breakaway Kits Breakaway kits apply the trailer brakes in case the trailer becomes uncoupled from the tow vehicle. If you’re going to install trailer brakes it’s a good idea to go the extra distance and install a breakaway kit.

Adjust Trailer Brake Controller With your trailer hitched to your tow vehicle make sure your brakes wiring harness is plugged in and your vehicle is on a level surface. Afterward the controller should self calibrate with an indicator light signaling it’s ready. The controller has other settings you can adjust as well such as screen brightness and screen angle. Tekonsha 90160 PrimusFind an open area to test and adjust. Drive the vehicle at 25mph then apply brakes. If the vehicle stops slowly the adjust the maximum output to the desired strength. If braking is too jerky then reduce maximum output. There is a sensitivity adjustment to fine-tune the response as needed. Experiment with different speeds while continuing to adjust. There is a manual brake activation that applies the trailer brakes without applying the tow vehicle brakes which is useful for miner trailer sway-control.