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Old 03-23-2014, 10:34 AM   #1
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Smoking Brakes

Hi folks,
I'm a brand new RV'er--we just bought a new Forest River R-Pod 178 and picked it up yesterday (3.5 hour drive over mountain passes so a good test for our 2013 Sequoia which is spec'd to double the weight of the trailer fully loaded). Anyway, other than noticeably poor gas mileage (trip there averaged 15 mpg, trip back was 7.9---somewhat expected from what we had read about the Sequoia being a gas hog when towing), everything went fine. Plenty of speed and power. I was also trying to only use the brakes when necessary----and felt like I was sparingly using them (we had a brake regulator installed to the pre-wired configuration and the dealer helped adjust it and seemed like it was working fine). Anyway, when we arrived at our home, the trailer brakes were both smoking...moderately I would say and a slight burning smell was evident. Does anyone have any suggestions? Is the brake regulator perhaps adjusted wrong? Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!
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Old 03-23-2014, 10:42 AM   #2
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Brake controller might need adjustment, but so might your driving. Did you downshift and use engine braking? When applying the brakes, did you use them firmly to drop speed by 10 mph or so then let off them until next need to apply? Using brakes in the above manner can help. You also need to check if brakes were adjusted too tight and were perhaps dragging.
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Old 03-23-2014, 11:57 AM   #3
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Hi folks,
I'm a brand new RV'er--we just bought a new Forest River R-Pod 178 and picked it up yesterday (3.5 hour drive over mountain passes so a good test for our 2013 Sequoia which is spec'd to double the weight of the trailer fully loaded). Anyway, other than noticeably poor gas mileage (trip there averaged 15 mpg, trip back was 7.9---somewhat expected from what we had read about the Sequoia being a gas hog when towing), everything went fine. Plenty of speed and power. I was also trying to only use the brakes when necessary----and felt like I was sparingly using them (we had a brake regulator installed to the pre-wired configuration and the dealer helped adjust it and seemed like it was working fine). Anyway, when we arrived at our home, the trailer brakes were both smoking...moderately I would say and a slight burning smell was evident. Does anyone have any suggestions? Is the brake regulator perhaps adjusted wrong? Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!
Mike, welcome to both iRV2, and to RVing! I've been an RV'er since 2006, and still consider myself a newbie. I only get out a couple of times a year, but manage to find myself - as you have - will braking issues from time to time. You're going to find a good quality of advice on this forum, although whether you consider mine to qualify, is up to you to decide! Smoking brakes would be disconcerting, but it may have just been settling in. It's the dealer's job to make sure you roll off with properly set up trailer brakes.
First comment is to not trust your brake controller. I've had two fail on me, and, have had a faulty wiring installation to deal with on my tow vehicle. Read the manual, and TEST your trailer brakes before, and during, every outing. My last trip out, I got to a ferry parking lot not knowing if I was going to be able to stop my truck. Lots of downhill stretches, brakes groaning, very little braking. Not a good feeling, especially with family on board. We did stop, but the truck wheels were so hot you couldn't put your hand on the wheels. I thought it was brake adjustment for the trailer, but it wasn't. Turned out to be both a controller malfunction, and a wiring problem. The first thing you do is set your brakes up before you start each trip, as per the handbook instructions. As you start off, test the manual activation of the controller. You should be able to lock the wheels on your trailer, at very low speed, immediately. When I picked up my new trailer last fall, I drove it exactly 80 feet before I asked the dealer technician to come look. The manual activator had absolutely no action on the brakes. The technician determined the controller was faulty, AND the wiring on the truck was faulty. Everything now works properly, but I took that for granted on my previous outing, and that could have had serious consequences. So....test your controller before, and during each trip. Have your trailer brakes inspected, at the outset of each season. Make sure you don't overload your trailer - best to dump the tank contents before you travel, and unless you need to, don't fully fill the fresh water tank. Fill it at destination if you can. Water is HEAVY.

A little thinking, and caution, goes a long way. Enjoy!

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Old 03-23-2014, 12:32 PM   #4
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Brake controller might need adjustment, but so might your driving. Did you downshift and use engine braking? When applying the brakes, did you use them firmly to drop speed by 10 mph or so then let off them until next need to apply? Using brakes in the above manner can help. You also need to check if brakes were adjusted too tight and were perhaps dragging.
Yeah! What he said!
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Old 03-23-2014, 12:41 PM   #5
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A slight smell, with no visible smoke , would not be unusual, for brand new brakes. Used to get the complaint often at work, after brake work.
After 3 or 4 heat cycles the smell should not be apparent.
Read up on the trailer brake maintenance, in your owners manual. Most times they require adjustment in the trailer pre-delivery; a step that unfortunately gets skipped.
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Old 03-23-2014, 01:25 PM   #6
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For new brakes, it's not a huge issue.

What is a brake "regulator?"
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Old 03-23-2014, 01:30 PM   #7
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Old 03-23-2014, 04:02 PM   #8
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Is the brake regulator perhaps adjusted wrong? Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!
In addition to what has already been said, I would add that you should try to get a feel for how to make adjustments to the controller yourself. You will need to make regular, but minor, adjustments to the controller as you use the trailer because the brakes will become properly bedded and then wear normally. Something else related to keep in mind is that trailer brakes are like auto (drum) brakes, they need to be adjusted from time to time so that they can function efficiently and each time this is done you will want to adjust the electronic brake control to compensate for the brake adjustments.

There is a lot of info on this site, and others, on how to adjust a brake controller, but the idea is essentially this - you want it to always feel like you don't have a trailer when braking the tow vehicle. Basically, you want the trailer to handle it's own braking needs without slowing the vehicle or letting the vehicle do the braking for it.

It's obvious how to manage this once you get the feel for it, and it's not rocket science by any stretch so don't be intimidated by making adjustments. Just do some reading and pay attention when you drive with the trailer and you'll figure it out in no time.

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Old 03-23-2014, 07:41 PM   #9
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Old 03-23-2014, 07:47 PM   #10
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Jack up the trailer and see if the wheel spins easily.
If they drag, the setup is bad. If they got hot enough, you may have glazed the shoes and the dealer should owe you some new brakes.
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Old 03-23-2014, 08:45 PM   #11
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I use an IR gun every time I stop. I shoot all the tires to check their temperature.

I'd suggest you get an IR gun and do some testing to see what your brake temps are doing.
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Old 03-24-2014, 07:46 AM   #12
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I believe by brake regulator you mean brake controller.

Which brake controller did you get??? Unfortunately, when it comes to brake controllers, you get what you pay for. Some use inertia to control the amount of braking level, some use a time delay which is harder to set and get it right and varies more based on trailer and tow vehicle weight.

here's a faq: Trailer Brake Controller Information | etrailer.com
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Old 03-24-2014, 09:52 AM   #13
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"Most times they require adjustment in the trailer pre-delivery; a step that unfortunately gets skipped. " Yes, my new car hauler needed several 'clicks' to get one side working properly. The other side was doing most of the work. One side showed same as ambient temp., the other a bit hot.
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Old 03-24-2014, 10:01 AM   #14
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I believe by brake regulator you mean brake controller.

Which brake controller did you get??? Unfortunately, when it comes to brake controllers, you get what you pay for. Some use inertia to control the amount of braking level, some use a time delay which is harder to set and get it right and varies more based on trailer and tow vehicle weight.

here's a faq: Trailer Brake Controller Information | etrailer.com
I had a time delay unit for years. Worked well in the hills. Now use inertia model and do find a difference while going downhill.
Time delay units might drag the trailer brakes more going downhill using less TV brakes, causing the heat. Using gears become very important.
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