Best Towed Vehicle Braking Systems for 2021
(Camp Addict does NOT accept payment from any company to review or endorse their products.)
Bringing along an extra vehicle on your camping trip can be super convenient.
It can also be a lifesaver.
Having to drive your giant motorhome everywhere and break camp is no fun.
Everything has to be put away, you have to breakdown camp, and possibly even leave stuff there to save your spot.
If you DO decide to tow a vehicle behind your motorhome, you have to do it right.
This means having a supplemental braking system for the towed vehicle.
You will also need a tow bar to connect your toad to your motorhome.
In this guide, we are going to teach you all you need to know about different types of supplemental braking systems.
You'll learn how they work and why they are likely required in your state.
Deeper below, we review braking systmes to let you know which ones we would suggest would be best for your setup.
Time to dig in!
Already know all about this subject? Just looking for the reviews? Click the button below to jump down to the product reviews.
Tow Vehicle Braking System Guide
Benefits Of A Dinghy Braking System
Guess what? According to the American Automobile Association, most states require any trailer or towable weighing over 3,000 pounds to have a supplemental braking system.
Yes, laws vary in different states.
For the most part, if you are towing another vehicle behind your RV (usually a motorhome), the towed vehicle must have a supplemental braking system.
Even though some states don't specifically mention pulling a VEHICLE and it needing brakes, nearly all states consider anything pulled to be a 'trailer'.
Most every state has laws about supplemental braking systems being required when you are towing a trailer over a certain weight.
So just because your state doesn't specifically SAY your towed vehicle needs a supplemental braking system, interpretation of the law will likely conclude that a vehicle is a 'trailer'.
This means you need a towed vehicle braking system.
(State weight laws about towing and brakes will vary state-to-state.)
It's a very logical, necessary requirement.
Dinghy, Toad, Towed, or What??
There are several different words that describe a vehicle towed behind a motorhome.
We use all these phrases to describe a smaller vehicle being towed behind a motorhome:
- A vehicle being towed behind an RV can simply be called a 'towed vehicle'
- As a play on words, a vehicle being towed behind an RV can be called a 'toad'
- Borrowing from the nautical world (where a small boat is sometimes towed behind a larger boat), a towed vehicle can be called a 'dinghy'
Benefits of Using a Toad Braking System:
Negatives of Using a Toad Braking System:
Many manufacturers state that their towed car brake systems reduce your RV stopping distance by 20-50% when towing a vehicle.
Obviously a motorhome weighs significantly more than most regular vehicles.
So the stopping distance WITHOUT 3,000+ pounds behind it is already going to be significant.
Putting 3,000+ pounds behind it with no braking system will increase your stopping distance even more.
With a tow braking system, you will not cause an accident because of INCREASED braking distance.
Additionally, you could be sued (with good reason) if you cause an accident and you were not using a tow vehicle braking system (especially if legally you were required to have one).
A brake system for towed vehicles can also protect the warranty on your RV if you are going to be pulling a 'trailer'.
If for no other reason, get a supplemental braking system as 'insurance' for your valuable warranty.
State Laws Regarding Supplemental Brake Usage
As previously stated, each state (and Canadian province) has their own set of towing laws. Here's a quick reference guide by Roadmaster on the particulars of your state (or province) and all the surrounding states.
What Does A Tow Vehicle Braking System Do?
All tow vehicle braking systems perform one major function.
They provide active, working brakes in the vehicle you are towing behind your motorhome.
It's a device you either install once in the toad, or each time you hook up for a trip.
Otherwise, the toad makes the motorhome's brakes work much harder as the toad wil push against the motorhome while braking.
This wears down your motorhome's brakes and also puts a lot of wear and tear on them while increasing your braking distance.
What Types Of Braking Systems Do I Have To Choose From?
First, and to describe systems in the most simple terms, there are two basic categories of supplemental braking systems:
Which is best?
Neither is 'best'.
What is 'best' for you will depend on your setup.
Let's say you get a new toad (towed vehicle) every couple of years, but you don't have money pouring out of your pockets to keep buying new brake systems because you keep buying new cars (heh.
Well then, a portable toad braking system may be best for you.
If you have more than one vehicle to tow (you take the car sometimes, other times you want to take the Jeep) then a portable brake system is almost surely what you want.
(Again, unless money is no object.)
If you have only one toad and you plan to keep it a while, we suggest getting a permanent toad brake system.
Then you don't always have to deal with installing and then taking out the portable system.
Getting a little more in depth, you will have mechanical differences in how the braking systems work.
Here are some of the mechanical types of supplemental braking systems for towed vehicles you will come across:
- Vacuum Assist
Things get a little more complicated when it comes to understanding the mechanical differences.
Let's start off with the easier stuff... how supplemental brakes work and the differences between portable and non-portable systems.
How Does A Supplemental Braking System Work?
It's important to know that there are many different ways that various tow braking systems work, mechanically.
Some work in direct relation to when the brakes are applied in your coach.
Some work using sensors alerting it that the coach slowing down and then applying the supplemental brakes.
Some work in direct proportion to how much you are braking your coach.
Some tow systems are adjustable in braking pressure... some are not.
Some work directly in sync with your motorhome's brakes... some work by sort of 'guessing' how much the coach is braking.
As previously mentioned, there are also portable braking systems and there are permanent (hardwired) braking systems to choose from.
Knowing the differences in how the various RV towed vehicle braking systems work and understanding the style of RVing you will be doing will help you to choose the best auxiliary brake for your needs.
As far as installation goes, there are two types of tow braking systems.
There are removable (portable) braking systems and braking systems that are hard-wired in (permanent) and don't require setup every time you hook up.
There are pros and cons to both types.
Let's take a look at the main differences between portable tow brakes and permanent (hardwired) tow brakes.
Portable Towed Vehicle Brake Systems
A portable towed vehicle braking system is good for those RVers who tend to change tow vehicles every few years.
It's also goo for those who aren't sure that they want to keep their current toad, or who have more than one vehicle that they tow.
With a portable toad braking system, you can easily take it with you if you get a new toad or swap out toads.
This way you don't have to buy a whole new system for your new toad or your second toad.
Also, a portable brake system is cheaper because you don't have to pay for installation.
Installs can cost just as much as the supplemental braking system equipment cost.
In this way, having a portable dinghy brake system is a plus.
However, portability can also be a negative.
Because every time you hit the road, you have to set up the device.
Setting up a portable dinghy brake system each time you hit the road is not complicated.
But it does add another step to your (already long) list of things to do before you take off.
Also, the chance for user error goes up because there are more steps to do to set up a portable dinghy braking system.
Additionally, you will have to store the device when it's not in use (it cannot be left in place in your toad as it goes where your feet go when you drive).
We all know storage space is an extremely valuable commodity in an RV.
Therefore you have to take it out of your toad when you get to your destination and store it.
There are quite a few portable RV toad braking systems.
Brake Buddy, Blue Ox, Roadmaster, and more all make a portable towed vehicle brake system.
Most are made to sit on the floorboard of your driver's side, and against the front of the seat, or the lip of the floorboard.
Typically, there is a rod with a clip at the end that connects to the brake pedal.
The power supply may come through a 12-volt cord and be plugged into a live 12-volt outlet (cigarette lighter style) in the car.
There is usually a set-up process that doesn't take very long which allows the tow braking system to get 'acquainted' with the feel of the toad's brake and the pressure needed for that vehicle.
How Hard Is It To Install A Portable Toad Brake System?
It's pretty easy, usually.
Each model of the portable dinghy brake system has individual installation instructions that need to be followed so that it gets set up correctly.
But to give you an idea of what it takes, we can summarize the general steps it involves for most portable brake systems.
- Connect toad to motorhome
- Place toad transmission in neutral
- Turn toad ignition to 'on'
- Place portable toad brake system on floorboard of driver's seat
- Connect portable brake system arm to toad brake pedal
- Connect power and any other parts associated with the portable brake unit
- Turn brake unit on and follow set up instructions
That's about the gist of it.
When you arrive at your destination, you reverse the sequence to remove the portable dinghy brake.
Unplug, unpower, disconnect and remove the unit.
Then you must store it somewhere.
Now your toad is free to take you to new adventures.
It's not hard at all, especially once you have done it a few times and know the routine.
Just don't forget to DO it before your trip!
Portable Towed Vehicle Braking System Pros and Cons:
Permanent Tow Vehicle Brake Systems
Having a permanent tow vehicle brake system means that it is not removed once installed, or to drive the toad.
The system is permanently mounted (hard-wired) into your towed vehicle and motorhome (if required).
If you have a tow vehicle that you know you will be keeping for a long time, or just don't want to have to mess with installation every time you go on a trip, you should get a permanent tow braking system that installs once and done.
This means one less step to complete before and after you get to your destination.
A permanent tow brake system is nice in that it's out of the way, there's nothing to store, and there's very little to have to do to engage and disengage the system when you hit the road or arrive at your destination.
However, the permanent towed vehicle brake system must be installed in your toad.
This may not be an easy task for many of you.
Unless you have proficient electronics experience and aren't afraid to dig into a vehicle's mechanical (and electrical) system, you will have to have it installed professionally.
This can greatly add to the cost of the overall system.
This is something to consider in the beginning.
You won't likely miss the money once it's spent.
Plus, it's not an ongoing cost.
You just pay once for it to be installed correctly by a competent shop/mechanic.
Still, which permanent dinghy braking system you pick depends on whether you value convenience over saving a few bucks and/or how long you plan to keep your towed vehicle.
Permanent RV Toad Braking System Pros and Cons:
Mechanical Differences Between Tow Brake Systems
Portable or permanent, it's important to know that there are many different ways that various tow braking systems work.
Some work when the coach's brakes are applied.
Some work when they sense your coach slowing down and by knowing that you are braking.
Some work in direct proportion to how much you are braking your coach.
Some tow car brake systems are adjustable... some work in sync with your motorhome's brakes... there are different ways these braking systems work.
Not only do tow brake systems come in different 'packages' (I.E. how they are installed), they also differ in how they work as far as what makes them 'decide' to activate your toad's brakes (mechanical differences).
Here's where it's important to know what the differences are so you can pick the right type of system for your setup.
The most common types of activation systems are:
Let's look at how they differ mechanically (what mechanisms they use to sense your coach's brakes are being used and how they apply your toad's brakes).
Proportional Braking Systems
A proportional tow brake system works "in sync" with your motorhome's braking.
It brakes per the 'feel' of what the motorhome is doing.
How does it do this?
Most work using some type of an internal sensor (accelerometer), which 'feels' how quickly or slowly your motorhome is decelerating (slowing down).
It then matches the intensity necessary to slow your toad the same amount.
Thus, the name 'proportional'.
This is a good type of supplemental braking available for your toad AND for your motorhome.
You slam on the motorhome's brakes, the toad brakes slam accordingly.
You brake slightly going down a hill, your toad will gently brake.
They are pretty well aligned and in sync with one another.
These types of supplemental brakes have systems in place to make sure that it doesn't apply your toad's brakes if your RV is slowing down without the use of brakes (for example, while going up a hill or coasting).
Some proportional tow braking systems have to be set.
We mean by adjusting the amount of pressure needed to brake your particular toad.
There may be a manual adjustment to mess with while testing your new toad brakes.
Once set, there should be no need for further adjusting.
Both permanent and portable toad braking systems may work proportionally.
Proportional Dinghy Brake System Pros and Cons:
- Generally good for any tow setup, except for vehicles with power assist brakes
- Better system for your brakes than a pre-set or progressive system
Direct Braking Systems
This is the system to get if you want the MOST accurate tow braking system possible.
This system is very precise.
It 100% matches what your motorhome's brakes are doing because it is connected to the brake lines of your coach.
Then, when working, it syncs with your coach brakes to brake exactly as your motorhome is braking.
No more under-braking or over-braking.
This is the most precise supplemental braking system you can get.
A proportional braking system use accelerometers to figure out how much braking is or is not taking place in the coach.
Thus, it replicates what it feels that the coach brakes are doing.
Whereas a direct braking system is directly sensing the amount of braking that your RV is doing and can directly replicate that pressure to the toad's brakes.
A direct towed vehicle braking system doesn't have to 'decide' if deceleration is caused by natural slowing (no actual braking) due to an incline or coasting or if actual braking is taking place.
A direct system will only apply dinghy brakes when the RV's brakes are applied.
Be aware, it can be a little risky to install a direct system.
Some motorhome manufacturers will void your warranty if you tap into their brake lines without following certain guidelines.
Most systems are not in accordance with these guidelines.
Check with your RV manufacturer for stipulations.
Remember, towing a vehicle behind your motorhome without ANY supplemental braking system at all can ALSO void any warranty on your motorhome.
If you have a hybrid vehicle (which has a continuous braking system), to use a direct braking system you will need an additional adapter called a brake pressure reducer.
Direct Braking System Pros and Cons:
- Mountainous terrain
- Large, heavy tow vehicles
Progressive Braking Systems
Progressive SOUNDS like proportional, and it's easy to get them mixed up.
We get annoyed with how similar the two words are.
Progressive systems work by simply knowing that the coach brakes are engaged.
Once the braking system gets the signal that the brakes are engaged, the supplemental brakes are applied.
They start to increase in pressure the longer that the coach's brakes are applied.
Up to a point.
These often have sensors which will turn the toad brakes off after a pre-set amount of time to not overheat the toad brakes.
So with a progressive braking system, the amount of braking pressure on the dinghy's brakes is 'progressively' increased to a certain point as long as the RV's brakes are being applied.
It doesn't matter how hard the RV's brakes are being applied, this progressive increasing of the dinghy brakes occurs.
See the problem with this?
You could be applying light braking pressure on your RV, while your toad's progressive braking system is applying what amounts to full braking.
The toad is braking harder than your RV.
Um, that's not good for your toad's brakes!
Progressive System Pros and Cons:
Vacuum Assist Braking Systems
Some supplemental braking systems provide the tow vehicle with power brakes.
This type of system can be direct or proportional.
A system that supplies vacuum assist means that it also doesn't place undue pressure on your brake pedal if your toad has 'dead pedal' when towing.
(Dead pedal means that power to your toads brakes does not exist when towing.)
A vacuum assist braking system will either use your motorhome's vacuum or its own vacuum unit to provide you with power brakes.
Why is this good?
Let's go over (very basically) how brakes work.
Modern Brakes 101
Pretty much all modern vehicles these days have 'power brakes'.
This is also called 'power assist'.
A vacuum is used to create a lot of brake pressure with only a little pressure coming from your foot.
This is why you don't have to apply huge amounts of pressure to bring your vehicle to a stop.
This way braking is easy for everyone.
Anyone can simply exert a little pressure with a big result.
In most vehicles, when they are turned off (such as when towing), the power assist doesn't work.
If you tried to brake your car when it was rolling but not turned on (no brake assist), it would be MUCH more difficult to stop.
A huge amount of brake pressure would be needed to stop the vehicle.
Vacuum Assist Brakes Continued
Therefore, in most supplemental tow braking systems, because the power brakes don't work when towing, the unit is forced to use a LOT of pressure for braking to be effective.
This CAN, after a while, put a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on your toad's brakes.
There can even be damage done to your braking components if you have not configured the supplemental brake intensity correctly or it is positioned incorrectly.
Vacuum-assist tow braking systems put an end to this worry.
This type of braking system provides power in one of two ways.
It either taps into and uses the existing vacuum pump system to create power assist, or it uses a self-contained pump to power assist the toad's brakes.
Vacuum Assist Pros and Cons:
- Frequent towing/the least amount of wear and tear on your toad
There are many good supplemental braking systems out there for vehicles towed behind an RV.
Which one will be best for you depends on your lifestyle and your RVing habits.
Hopefully, now you better understand the different types of systems available and which ones might best suit your needs.
On the simple side, you decide on either a portable towed vehicle brake system or a permanent tow vehicle brake system.
On the more challenging side, you will need to decide if it's important for you to keep your manufacturer warranty, or if you should get a progressive system or a direct system.
Or, if you even need a supplemental brake at all.
Please err on the cautious side... almost every towed vehicle needs a supplemental brake.
Check with your local laws if you never plan to drive outside of your state.
If you do plan to cross state lines, you may as well have a supplemental braking system for your dinghy.
Every state has different laws, and most of them are likely to require that you have a supplemental system.
Whatever you do, enjoy it, and Camp On, Addicts!
Towed Vehicle Braking System Reviews
Aaah, America the free, right?
The American dream is being able to leave it all behind and hit the road for good fun recreating.
Even if it's just for a weekend.
If you have a motorhome and want to bring a vehicle to easily explore your destination, then it's almost guaranteed you also need a supplemental braking system for the vehicle or trailer you are pulling.
Likely, your state towing law says.
There are a lot of different types of supplemental braking systems out there with many variations to them.
We are going to help you out by digging into all of the variables and letting you know the pros and cons of each, along with their particular features.
Most braking systems we looked at were quite good.
You almost can't go wrong no matter what you choose.
Still, you will want to choose the best type for your particular driving habits and needs.
Towed vehicle braking system reviews are immediately below.
We broke down our best towed vehicle braking system picks according to specific needs, safety, and ease of use.
Most supplemental braking systems available will suffice.
But do check into what your needs are compared to what the system offers.
Best Permanent Tow Brake: RVs with Air Brakes
SMI Air Force One
The Demco Air Force One is the most advanced, safest, easiest to use tow braking systems you can purchase for your motorhome that has air brakes. (Not for use with hydraulic brakes.)
Continue Reading Demco Air Force One Review
Best Permanent Tow Brake: RVs with Hydraulic Brakes
This towed vehicle braking system uses a vacuum to energize the toad brakes power braking system.
This eliminates excessive force on the braking of the toad brakes.
It also requires TWO signals to activate, eliminating false braking.
Continue Reading Demco Stay-In-Play Duo Review
Best Portable Tow Brake System
RVI Brake 3
Simply the easiest, most compact, fastest portable brake system for your toad.
Continue Reading RVI Brake 3 Review
Compatible With a Toad OR a Trailer
Brake Buddy Stealth
If you sometimes pull a toad, and sometimes pull a trailer of any kind, this will simplify your life.
Continue Reading Brake Buddy Stealth Review
Best Budget Supplemental Brakes
Budget? NO! Seriously? Don't skimp on brakes. Besides, most braking systems cost about the same- $900-$1300
If you are pulling a toad behind your motorhome, it's almost a sure thing that you need a supplemental braking system for the toad.
Finding the best one is a matter of figuring out what your needs are according to how you travel and camp.
Bottom line is that for your safety and others' safety, you will need a supplemental system.
It's also likely against the law not to have one in your state.
Get out there and do it right, and Camp On, Addicts!
He-llllo. I'm the co-founder of Camp Addict, which my biz partner and I launched in 2017. I frigging love the RVing lifestyle but in December of 2020, I converted to part-time RV life. Heck, I lived in my travel trailer for over 5.5 years, STRICTLY boondocking for pretty much all of it. Boondocking is a GREAT way to live, but it's not easy. Anyway, I'm passionate about animals, can't stand campgrounds, I hardly ever cook, and I love a good dance party. Currently, I can be found plotting and scheming whether or not to start collecting farm animals (or plotting my next RV trip!) at my beautiful new 'ranch' named 'Hotel Kellyfornia', in Southern Arizona.
Camp Addict co-founder Marshall Wendler brings his technical expertise to help explain RV products in an easy to understand fashion. Full-time RVing from April 2014 - December 2020 (now RVing about 50% of the time), Marshall loves sharing his knowledge of the RV lifestyle. Marshall spends the majority of his RVing life boondocking. He is the part of Camp Addict that knows 'all the things'. He's good at sharing his technical knowledge so you can benefit.
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