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Mark Polk, motorhome  and motor coach maintenance expert

By Mark Polk
RV Education 101

This article focuses on an important topic if you tow a vehicle behind your motorhome; a topic that is sometimes overlooked, and seldom talked about. That topic is supplemental braking systems on the towed vehicle.

One requirement for towing a trailer is the trailer must have a braking system that works in conjunction with the tow vehicle brakes. Why should this requirement be any different for a motorhome towing a vehicle? In reality it’s not, but many owners are not aware of the reasons they need a supplemental braking system for the vehicle they’re towing.

Let’s take a closer look at my top 7 reasons for using a supplemental braking system.

1. A common assumption is because of the size of the motorhome there is no need for a supplemental braking system on the towed vehicle. The truth is the brakes on a motorhome are designed by the vehicle manufacturer to stop the weight of that particular vehicle, not the additional weight being towed behind it. This additional weight adds a substantial increase to the distance required to stop safely. Some motorhome chassis warranties are voided if you tow amounts over 1,500 pounds (or less) without a supplemental braking system.

2. Another assumption is the vehicle you are towing is lighter than it really is. The vehicle you’re towing probably weighs more than you think it does. Take your towed vehicle to a set of scales and have it weighed. Make sure it is fully loaded with everything that will be in it when you are towing it. After weighing it, double check to make sure the receiver on the motorhome is rated to tow that amount of weight, and that you aren’t exceeding any of the motorhome weight ratings, such as the gross combined weight rating (GCWR). The GCWR is the maximum permissible weight of the fully loaded motorhome and the fully loaded towed vehicle combined. Most RV chassis manufacturers base their GCWR on the assumption that a supplemental brake system is being used.

3. Many motorhome owners are confused about the requirement for brakes on a towed vehicle and don’t use a braking system because braking laws are not always enforced by individual U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Most states and provinces do have their own laws on the requirement for brakes on a towed trailer. The word "trailer" also applies to a vehicle being towed behind a motorhome. These laws are normally based on the amount of weight being towed. One problem is it might be legal to tow a 2,000 pound trailer with no brakes in the state where you live, but as soon as you cross the state line of a bordering state it is illegal to tow the same trailer without brakes.

4. It’s sad to say, but many times the motorhome buyer is not properly educated on the requirement for a supplemental braking system on the towed vehicle. Travel trailers and fifth-wheels come equipped with electric brakes, and RV dealers educate the RV consumer on the requirement for an electronic brake controller to activate the trailer brakes. Education and safety awareness needs to be improved concerning the requirement for supplemental brakes on a towed vehicle.

5. From a more practical standpoint, brakes on the towed vehicle reduce wear and tear on motorhome brakes and other major components, and shorten the distance required to stop, especially during an emergency stop situation.

6. Other major considerations: Your insurance company may not cover you in the event of an accident involving a vehicle with no supplemental braking system. Also, there is a possibility of increased liability in the event of an accident where no braking system was used.

7. But, the most important reason for a supplemental braking system is for your safety and the safety of others.

There are many different types of supplemental braking systems available on the market. These types include surge, hydraulic, air and vacuum. Some are simple to install and use and some are much more complex. I recommend that you talk to a knowledgeable RV dealer about which system would work best for your particular needs.

Regardless of the type or model you choose, being able to stop completely in less time and a shorter distance will give you an added sense of safety whenever you’re towing a vehicle.



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