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Old 03-09-2014, 09:05 PM   #1
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SMI Air Force One versus US Gear Unified Brake System

Jean and I are newbies. We’ve just taken the plunge and ordered a new Winnebago Forza diesel pusher which should arrive in about 8 weeks. We already own a 2007 Honda CRV which we’ll tow behind. I’ve been studying supplemental braking systems for the last couple weeks. The 3 RV dealers we had serious discussions with all recommend the Brake Buddy or Blue Ox Patriot systems. I am not interested in the hassle of moving these in/out at every use of the toad. They also seem to be someone flaky due to the “just sittin on the floor and sliding around as the brakes are applied” mode of operation. I prefer the more built in nature of SMI’s Air Force One or US Gear’s Unified Brake System.

SMI Air Force One
I don’t recall reading a single online complaint about this system. There are those who say it voids the chassis warranty. I spoke to Freightliner Customer Service who assured me it does not void the warranty. They do say that a coach air brake failure that could to attributed to the AFO would not be warranted. The customer service rep said why not go with an electrically triggered brake system since the required signal is already present on the coach’s rear toad connector. (He also said it’s a progressive signal which in talking with others seems to be incorrect.) The AFO is truly proportional since it’s getting its signal from the air pressure present in the coach braking system. That would seem to be the most direct linkage from the driver’s braking action that is possible. Aside from tapping into the coach’s air brakes, and the possibility of finger pointing after a mishap, the only other downside seems to be the lack of any in coach control or status of the AFO. When the AFO is engaged it does light a diode that is visible via the coach’s rear view camera.

US Gear Unified Brake System
I understand the US Gear UBS engages when the brake lite indicator comes on. The degree of engagement is calculated based on momentum sensors that I presume are similar to the Brake Buddy or Patriot systems. It does provide a coach based control and audible alarm to alter the driver to error conditions such as toad brakes applied when coach brakes are not. The UBS also seems to be the only braking system that ties into the Toad’s power braking system unlike the others that rely exclusively on non-power braking. I have a read about a few component failures of the UBS device that were promptly replaced by US Gear. I am a little leery of the UBS’s cable and pulley system which seems to be more complex than it needs to be when you look at the simplicity of the AFO design.

Which to do? The UBS is about 200 more than the AFO. Half of that disappears because I want to run power from coach to Toad so I don’t have to continually pull a fuse. I am told that power from coach to toad is part of the standard UBS install. The simplicity of the AFO cannot be beat. The lack of any control or status inside the coach is a little scary. The possibility, even if it’s a long shot, of having a brake caused accident after installing the AFO and the accompanying finger pointing between Freightliner and SMI would not be desirable.

I think I really prefer the AFO. Are my concerns about the air brake connection, lack of in coach control/status and no power brakes on Toad over blown? Am I missing any important differentiators? What would you do?

Andy
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Old 03-09-2014, 09:22 PM   #2
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There's no comparison between the air activated toad braking systems and the ones that have accelerometers or similar devices activated by the brake light signal.

I have the AF1 system and has worked great on 2 coaches and 2 toads. Losing the air line between the coach and toad will not affect the coach's braking system. AF1 provides vacuum for the toads power brakes. It also has a small air tank in the toad to support emergency breakaway braking.
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Old 03-09-2014, 10:36 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rvMadness View Post
Jean and I are newbies. We’ve just taken the plunge and ordered a new Winnebago Forza diesel pusher which should arrive in about 8 weeks. We already own a 2007 Honda CRV which we’ll tow behind. I’ve been studying supplemental braking systems for the last couple weeks. The 3 RV dealers we had serious discussions with all recommend the Brake Buddy or Blue Ox Patriot systems. I am not interested in the hassle of moving these in/out at every use of the toad. They also seem to be someone flaky due to the “just sittin on the floor and sliding around as the brakes are applied” mode of operation. I prefer the more built in nature of SMI’s Air Force One or US Gear’s Unified Brake System. SMI Air Force One I don’t recall reading a single online complaint about this system. There are those who say it voids the chassis warranty. I spoke to Freightliner Customer Service who assured me it does not void the warranty. They do say that a coach air brake failure that could to attributed to the AFO would not be warranted. The customer service rep said why not go with an electrically triggered brake system since the required signal is already present on the coach’s rear toad connector. (He also said it’s a progressive signal which in talking with others seems to be incorrect.) The AFO is truly proportional since it’s getting its signal from the air pressure present in the coach braking system. That would seem to be the most direct linkage from the driver’s braking action that is possible. Aside from tapping into the coach’s air brakes, and the possibility of finger pointing after a mishap, the only other downside seems to be the lack of any in coach control or status of the AFO. When the AFO is engaged it does light a diode that is visible via the coach’s rear view camera. US Gear Unified Brake System I understand the US Gear UBS engages when the brake lite indicator comes on. The degree of engagement is calculated based on momentum sensors that I presume are similar to the Brake Buddy or Patriot systems. It does provide a coach based control and audible alarm to alter the driver to error conditions such as toad brakes applied when coach brakes are not. The UBS also seems to be the only braking system that ties into the Toad’s power braking system unlike the others that rely exclusively on non-power braking. I have a read about a few component failures of the UBS device that were promptly replaced by US Gear. I am a little leery of the UBS’s cable and pulley system which seems to be more complex than it needs to be when you look at the simplicity of the AFO design. Which to do? The UBS is about 200 more than the AFO. Half of that disappears because I want to run power from coach to Toad so I don’t have to continually pull a fuse. I am told that power from coach to toad is part of the standard UBS install. The simplicity of the AFO cannot be beat. The lack of any control or status inside the coach is a little scary. The possibility, even if it’s a long shot, of having a brake caused accident after installing the AFO and the accompanying finger pointing between Freightliner and SMI would not be desirable. I think I really prefer the AFO. Are my concerns about the air brake connection, lack of in coach control/status and no power brakes on Toad over blown? Am I missing any important differentiators? What would you do? Andy
You might want to take a look at the M&G braking system while you are at it. Uses air from the coach and no drilling through the fire wall of toad. We just had it installed on our new to us 2012 Terrain.
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Old 03-10-2014, 06:17 AM   #4
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I had to rule the MG system out. It would not fit on a 2011 Jeep GC. I'm glad it didn't fit as they are vehicle specific and I've since changed towed vehicle.
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Old 03-10-2014, 09:58 AM   #5
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I was going to recommend the M&G anyway.
The US gear system is in many respects better than any other system I have seen... Once installed it provided booster vacuum so there is no need to bleed off vacuum. It gives the driver of the motor home full control of the towed's brakes, You can adjust the gain (Porportion of braking power) you can turn it off (Set gain to zero) you can engage it (manual lever) without engaging the motor home brakes..

One might ask "Why would I want to do that?".
Well, imagine hooking up facing down hill.. I did, and when I did I set the towed's brakes from teh driver's seat of the MH, released the MH's brakes and let it roll forward gently till the latches engaged on the tow bar.

It is, far as I know, the only system with this much control.

That said. My next tow system will be most likely the Blue -Ox Auto-stop (Since I have blue ox tow bars) or the Ready Brake for blue ox.

My only complaint with the US gear is that I totaled it here is how that happened.. The connection cable got UNDER the drop hitch and I bottomed out, cutting through the cables and shorting them. this killed both controllers (The remote in the MH and the one in the car).

But frankly I think it is the better system.

My #2 chose (Which includes the ones I'm trying next) includes most any system which is INSTALLED on the car in such a way as to be invisible to the driver of same and which needs no break vacuum bleed down.

Oh, one more advantage to the US-Gear......

One of my concerns is with the brake-in-a-box in the driver's seat systems is if the battery in the towed is getting a bit long in the tooth (Short on capacity) you may well loose it before you arrive and recharge. (Done that and without any brakes to help).

The US-Gear includes a towed-charge line that parallels (Via circuit breakers at both ends) the towed and motor home batteries.

So.. When on Jan-2 I pulled off my lot in Detroit, found my towed tail lights were not lit, Did the diagnosis and found the problem in teh motor home.. I turned on the towed's parking lights and away we went.
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Old 03-10-2014, 10:01 AM   #6
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SMI Air Force One - why? It works great, nothing to instal/remove inside the toad, and - I retired from the Air Force!
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Old 03-10-2014, 05:38 PM   #7
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The AF1 is the ONLY toad braking system that meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. I installed mine for the first time in a CG in Valdez, AK, after the Blue Ox Patriot failed for the third time. We've had the same unit in 2 additional coaches and on two toads. I've changed the coach system over myself, once in a dealers lot and again at home. Not only is it an outstanding system, their customer support is outstanding. I have about 150,000 tow miles on the system with 5 trips to Alaska and innumerable runs (every winter) to Arizona from Delaware.
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Old 03-10-2014, 05:55 PM   #8
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I just had the SMI AF1 installed. Rather than looking for a small light that comes on in the Toad seen through the rear camera when brakes are applied, the installer ran 2 wires from the toad up to the MH dash with a red indicator light. So when the brakes are applied the red light comes on that is mounted on the MH instrument panel. My Chevy Sonic was previously wired for turn indicator, brake and tail lights with a 4 pin connector cable from the MH to the Sonic. To handle the 2 extra wires for the indicator light a 6 pin connector cable was installed with the proper connector on the Sonic and MH. Now I know for sure that the Toad brakes are applied by the dash mounted indicator light. If you have a standard 7 pin connector already on the MH you can use a 7 pint to 6 pin connector and avoid having to run 2 wires from the back of the MH to the dash area in the coach.
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Old 03-10-2014, 07:43 PM   #9
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AF1 provides vacuum.

FWIW, the AF1 indicator light is totally optional. I installed a separate pressure switch and wired a self adhesive LED strip light available at most auto stores. It's mounted on the lower right exterior of my windshield. It's easily seen in the rear view camera. Given the simplicity of the AF1 system, I doubt it would ever fail once connected.
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Old 03-10-2014, 07:55 PM   #10
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I have had the USGear system for 11 years in two motorhomes and two toads. I have never had a single problem except when the wires came loose in a connector due to installer error. I highly recommend it. It is extremely effective and once installed it is dead simple to use. It includes power braking, breakaway stopping, and full-time toad battery charging. There is nothing to hook up between the vehicles except a breakaway cable and one electric cable. The electric cable is the same one that carries your brake lights and turn signals, so hookup is ridiculously easy. The whole mechanism is hidden under my seat and permanently installed so there is never anything to set up or take apart before or after towing. You can't even tell it is there.
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Old 05-14-2014, 12:13 AM   #11
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I am very pleased with the SMI AF1 system. The installation kit and instructions are complete and comprehensive, including chassis specific guide for tapping the coach air lines (my biggest concern!). As the installation has relatively few towing miles, I still crawl under the Bus (supported with jack stands) regularly to check that the air hoses and fittings are secure and not rubbing anything - so far so good. The operational and literal invisibility of the system on the towed is a big plus. Doug
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Old 05-14-2014, 05:58 AM   #12
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I've used my AF1 on 2 coaches and two different towed vehicles. Great product and easily moved vehicle to vehicle.
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Old 05-14-2014, 09:20 AM   #13
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Well you picked the 2 best to be comparing, I did as well and went with the Unified Tow Brake.


Just because I didn't have to do anything on the coach. It's in the second toad now.

If it should ever die, I'll try Air Force One. Then I'll know the difference.

Right now I have no complaints.
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Old 05-14-2014, 10:52 AM   #14
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Hi rvMadness,
Welcome to iRV2. I went with the USGear system. I've been using it for 9 years and 92K miles all over the USA. Had one service call and that was repaired by a local USGear dealer. The dealer even came to my site at the CG. I am pleased with the USGear product and would make the same purchase again. I like the simplicity of the installation. The bottom line is there is nothing for me to do. When I connect the electrical umbilical from the coach to the toad, the USGear system is automatically connected. Connect the emergency brake away cable and I'm ready to go.
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