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Old 04-09-2013, 08:53 AM   #1
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Towing and Aux Brakes 101

We are brand new to motorhoming and towing. I would appreciate input on towing a vehicle, and especially why the need for aux brakes, when you have air on an Anthem and are stopping only about 45000. I have had big trucks and they stop pretty good with 80000, with comparable brake systems. Do you use them? And do you hook up extra lights for the tow vehicle? Do you need them? I realize the law may be involved here.

Mike and Rhonda Veit
2013 Anthem
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Old 04-09-2013, 09:49 AM   #2
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Welcome to RVing! There is so much to see across this country.

Well the first reason for trailer brakes is, it is required by law with a trailer over a certain weight (I think 2000 pounds). I dial my sensitivity down so they only kick in for emergency braking and a breakaway situation. Motorhome magazine puts out a very good towing guide describing the braking options and lists all vehicles that can be towed and any special procedures needed on each vehicle. You can find this guide on line, just google it.

I bought my braking system off of Craig's List, but you need to buy a new base plate for your towed (don't trust a used one). The base plate is mounted to the frame of your towed vehicle then removable arms attach to the base plate and to the Motorhome.

There are different wiring options available, see the towing guide. You can use the existing tail lights or mount a separate bulb in your tail light specifically for the Motorhome connection.
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Old 04-09-2013, 10:29 AM   #3
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I've researched this pretty well and just finished an upcoming article in FMCA magazine regarding supplemental braking systems.

The law varies from state to state and confusion exists as to what is a "trailer" and what is not so I won't even go there. Besides, you need a system anyway so it's a moot point.

The fact is that you might think you can stop well enough without one, and 90% of the time you can. But there are those times when a supplemental braking system makes the difference between hitting or avoiding the isiot who pulled out in front of you. Tests have confirmed that the braking distance is reduced with a supplemental system. I know it saved my buns once on a very close call.

The other issue is a breakaway. Should your towed vehicle come detached from the motorhome it will become an unguided ballistic missle, capable of causing serious damage, injury, or death to an oncoming vehicle. This stuff happens and a supplemental braking system with a breakaway switch will lock up those brakes and stop the runaway vehicle.

Last year I had an event that further supports the need for a supplemental braking system. We were towing our 5,000 lb Jeep (lots of extras on it) behind our Allegro Bus. I recently replaced the locking hitch pins because the locks were getting hard to work after all those years. I had installed an M&G braking system on the Jeep, along with the optional breakaway switch. The M&G used air pressure from the coach to proportionally apply the brakes on the Jeep and works great.

We were driving along on a 2 lane highway when suddenly I felt and heard a loud shock at the rear of the coach. I looked in the rear view monitor and saw my Jeep being towed behind the Bus but about 10' back instead of where it should be. I pulled over to investigate and found that the new 5/8" hitch had sheared and the tow bar had pulled right out of the RV's hitch receiver. The safety cables held it, which was the shock we heard and felt when they extended and reached their limit. The breakaway switch cable did it's job and triggered the breakaway switch which deployed the Jeep's brakes.

Had I not had a supplemental braking system or breakaway switch the Jeep would have bounced back after reaching the end of the safety cables' travel, impacting the rear of the motorhome. I also would not be able to slow down and come to a stop without the Jeep smacking the rear of the coach but when the breakaway switch applied the Jeep's brakes it kept its distance and I was able to safely pull over and correct the problem by replacing the hitch pin with a spare, reconnecting the tow bar, and going on our way with no damage to either the Jeep or the coach. Without that system I would have been getting estimates at a body shop, even though the safety cables would have prevented a runaway.

In my opinion, towing without a good supplemental braking system is akin to driving without insurance. If something goes wrong it can go wrong in a big way.
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Old 04-09-2013, 10:38 AM   #4
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An 18 wheeler has more axels with brakes. I'm counting at least 5?? We have two axels and some have three of course. So with two I'm stopping 40K lbs. I have towed with and without the systems. I much prefer the braking system.
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Old 04-09-2013, 10:54 AM   #5
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Smitty3509 can you explain your position on a used base plate? You said "but you need to buy a new base plate for your towed (don't trust a used one)" and this has me stymied as a solid chunk of metal is a solid chunk of metal isn't it?

Although if I could find the dimensions for a base plate for a 1994 Jeep Grand Cherokee I would just make one on my milling machine. I am just unsure of the tolerances between the tow bar and the base plate where they attach. I have a Blue Ox unit I picked up from a friend and need the proper base.

My coach doesn't have air so what brake activator do you people recommend?
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Old 04-09-2013, 12:23 PM   #6
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I have been using a Brake Buddy for 9 years. Two cars and two motorhomes. Simple, reliable and lasts a long time.
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Old 04-09-2013, 12:53 PM   #7
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There are lots of decent units out there. I reviweed them in the article but following are a few of my observations:

1) The M&G Tow Brake is the best. It is totally proportional and once it's installed you don't have to mess with it. However, if you don't have air brakes it gets more complicated. They offer a power supply unit, which consists of an air compressor, reservoir and hydraulic proportioning valve to tap into your coach's hydraulic brake system. This gives you the same proportional braking as a coach with air brakes. However, when you add thid and thebreakaway switch to the cost, plus a bit of extra installation labor, it gets more pricey.

2) The former US Gear Unified Tow Brake has been upgraded by its inventor and now sold as Smart Brake. This is an electric unit that once installed is also a hands off operation. It utilizes the input from a traditional trailer brake controller to achieve proportional braking. For a coach without air brakes, this is a more economical system.

3) Portable systems exist. My favorite there is the new RViBrake2 system. Note that this is the successor to the RVibrake. Similar to Brake Buddy in operation but with a few additional features. The wireless remote display also has the ability to monitor tire pressures. That way you can minimize dash clutter by not requiring an additional tire pressure monitoring system.

Any brake system is better than nothing but I feel that these three are the standouts in their respective categories.
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Old 04-09-2013, 05:56 PM   #8
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Mark,
I look forward to reading your entire review ...
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Old 04-09-2013, 06:09 PM   #9
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Cruzer

many of us hang on your advice/words. Thoughts on Air Force 1?
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Old 04-10-2013, 07:26 AM   #10
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SMI's Air Force One is a good system. Like the M&G, it uses air pressure to apply true proportional braking. The difference is that it uses a small air cylinder in the driver's footwell that utilizes a cable to pull on the brake pedal. If you have adjustable foot pedals that won't work because adjusting the pedals will change the relationship between the cylinder and pedal arm, which will tighten the cable and apply the brakes or loosen the cable and create too much slack. The M&G unit mounts under the hood between the brake master cylinder and vacuum booster and isn't affected by adjustable pedals or vacuum boosters. It's totally failsafe and I prefer it. Installation requires you to remove the master cylinder from ther vacum booster and insert the M&G unit betwen the two. This moves the master cylinder forward a couple of inches. In a handful of cases there isn't enough room under the hood to do this. In that case I would look at the Air Force One as a good alternative to the M&G.
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Old 04-10-2013, 08:45 AM   #11
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I would think too that a tow vehicle brake system is going to minimize stress and wear and tear on your tow vehicle suspension, towing gear and the coach hitch and chassis. Think of that 4500 or whatever pounds pushing on all that gear everytime you apply the coach brakes. From the toad's perspective it being stopped by forces pushing in on the baseplate and whatever its bolted to on the toad's "chassis" - which was probably not accounted for in the toad's engineering. A properly operating brake is a good investment for this and all the many reasons previously mentioned.
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Old 04-10-2013, 08:46 AM   #12
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Brakes

The AirForce one system is a very good system. I've had the M&G system and the AirForce one system. They are both very good. The main reason I like the AirForce one system is you can move it to another vehicle if you trade. To get around the adjustable pedal problem when I install the AirForce one system I extend the pedals all the way out. When I hook up the toad I extend the pedals and it is at the point where I set it up. That way you can never accidentally apply the toad brakes when you move the pedals all the way out. I have also tested the pedals in an intermediate position and there is still enough travel to actuate the brakes. Just my preference!!!!! Noel
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Old 04-10-2013, 08:51 AM   #13
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AF1 is universal and not vehicle specific. The M&G is unit specific so if you trade your Ford for a Chevy, for instance, you won't be able to use the same main module. M&G does offer a trade-in program so that you don't have to buy a whole new kit but there is still some cost when you upgrade so that can be a factor to consider.
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Old 04-10-2013, 04:22 PM   #14
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What effect (if any) does installation of one of these systems have on the toad's warranty?
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