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Old 04-20-2016, 11:24 AM   #1
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Surge brakes vs electric brakes? Opinions?

Looking at a TandemTow Dolly which has the option of either surge or electric brakes. I have always towed with electric brakes if the trailer had brakes.

Just trying to get more information of the pros or cons between the two.

Yes, I do understand how both work, just more familiar with electric, although not sure if the surge has any ability to adjust how much braking is applied.

Thanks for any input.
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Old 04-20-2016, 11:38 AM   #2
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Electric brakes is more money, but you can fine tune it with the control unit in the tow vehicle.

Surge brakes are all mechanical and self contained on the trailer. No extra connections and can be used between tow vehicles without extra setup. Lot of trailer rental have Surge brakes on tow dollies.
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Old 04-20-2016, 11:55 AM   #3
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If the trailer your towing starts swaying wildly side to side ; in a cross wind for example ; you want to be able to be apply the trailer brakes before you apply the coach brakes, to line the trailer up behind the coach, then apply all the brakes to stop in a straight line.
With surge brakes you don't have the option of applying the trailer brakes first, and if ; for example; you start braking the coach and the right side trailer wheels are far enough out of your lane to be in the gravel at the side of the road, the traction difference when the surge trailer brakes apply can easily add to your control problems rather than aid in regaining control.
JMHO: I'll add that given the way surge brakes apply there is a point where the trailer isn't in line behind the tow vehicle and slowing the tow vehicle will result in no action on the surge brakes. Rare but a possibility.
Highway towing , electric trailer brakes .
Boat trailer where the axle is under water frequently, surge brakes.
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Old 04-20-2016, 12:17 PM   #4
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I've towed a car trailer with surge brakes and a 5,500 pound car on it. I had no problems. The rental folks showed me how to adjust the brakes if the need arose. There was plenty of weight on the tongue so no sway issues. Surge works based on the difference between the tow vehicle deceleration and the towed vehicle deceleration. The harder the vehicle in front hits the brakes, the more braking force is applied on the trailer, according to the adjustment. If adjusted properly, the surge brake system can be very effective. The trailer surge brakes always follow behind the tow vehicle brakes. This might be bad in some situations.

If the option exists and you can afford it, go with electric brakes and use an adjustable controller. There are situations where you would want to be in control of the trailer braking force from the tow vehicle, and one of them was mentioned above. Others would be if the trailer is very lightly or unloaded, you can turn the braking force down from inside the tow vehicle using the numbers on the dial or the digital display. Surge brakes might involve more guess work to get the adjustment right for different loadings.
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Old 04-20-2016, 01:41 PM   #5
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Thanks for the feedback. I've towed multiple trailers over the years including my 35' TT. I definitely have needed the separate braking action of the trailer in high winds or to maintain a strait unit as a semi passed a little too quickly. This is even with being meticulous on leveling, tongue weight and overall weight.

The only experience with surge brakes was a cement trailer which was a pain to back up, although I wouldn't think a tow dolly would be easy to back up if it's possible with a vehicle on it.
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Old 04-20-2016, 01:43 PM   #6
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You can back up a tow dolly. Maybe not far or easily, but you can.
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Old 04-20-2016, 01:46 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rebel4x4 View Post
Looking at a TandemTow Dolly which has the option of either surge or electric brakes. I have always towed with electric brakes if the trailer had brakes.

Just trying to get more information of the pros or cons between the two.

Yes, I do understand how both work, just more familiar with electric, although not sure if the surge has any ability to adjust how much braking is applied.

Thanks for any input.
I have never used surge brakes so I can't reply to their usage but I have electric brakes on my TandemTow HDXL and have never had an issue. I have driven about 12K miles without an issue, and believe me there were times when I was glad I had brakes on the dolly.

Hope this helps.
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Old 04-20-2016, 02:33 PM   #8
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I had electric brakes on my previous TT and they never worked right. The year before last I bought a boat with surge and didn't think I would like them but they have been great to tow with my F150 or Motor Home. Never had an issue stopping.
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Old 04-20-2016, 02:59 PM   #9
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If your dolly starts swinging wildly side to side, you better have brakes on the back of the toad. Dolly brakes are not going to help, until the toad flys off.

I tow a dolly with surge brakes. They are seamless, self activating and smooth stopping. The more it pushs, the more it brakes. The more it brakes, the less it pushs. Of course you can't feel the suttle changes.

If the winds are high, the MH sways more then the car on the dolly. Even in high winds, I have never seen my dolly sway behind me.

A toad that can throw a MH into a jackknife situation was too big, in the first place.

If you want to back up, they make a solenoid that gets wired into the reverse lights to lockout the surge brakes. Not that backing up a combo will be easy.
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Old 04-21-2016, 08:43 AM   #10
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The information that I received from UFP, who makes trailer brakes including those on my dolly, indicates that if you tow in very hilly areas and have a tow vehicle that can use engine/exhaust to slow the tow vehicle on a downhill, you are better off with electric brakes to keep surge brakes from activating all the way down the hill and overheating.

My dolly has surge brakes. They work very well and are seamless, however there have been times when I wish I had electric because of this downhill heating issue. If I had it to do over, I might go with the electric for this reason. I think you have a bit more control over brake application.
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Old 04-21-2016, 10:20 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rebel4x4 View Post
Looking at a TandemTow Dolly which has the option of either surge or electric brakes...

...Yes, I do understand how both work, just more familiar with electric, although not sure if the surge has any ability to adjust how much braking is applied.

Thanks for any input.
For a tow dolly, I submit that surge brakes are better than electric for several reasons.

~Surge brakes infinitely adjust the braking pressure automatically based on the weight on the dolly = the amount of pressure placed against the ball hitch. From an unloaded dolly to loaded, from a car swap to a loaded car full of stuff, the braking pressure is set by the head of the dolly. There is NEVER a situation where the brakes are too light (no brakes) or too strong (wheel lock) with a surge system...and no adjustment everytime you load/unload.

~Surge brakes have a built-in brake-away system...no external battery...no external wiring.

~Surge brakes can never fail due to the trailer wiring parting.

The issue of controlling a wild sway is SO simple with surge brakes...you just hit the RV brakes. Slows the RV and the dolly toad.

The issue of overheating brakes on L-O-N-G hills is addressed 2 ways:
~Get Disc surge brakes = Better cooling and reduces problem.
~Use the standard lock-out device (solenoid or mechanical) to disable the brakes until the risk is passed (we have disc surge brakes, so have never had to do this).

We have used both systems (electric and surge) and each has a niche'. Dolly's can use either type brakes successfully - but surge brakes are just so mush easier to use.

Best luck

P.S. Electric brakes are usually less expensive at purchase vs. surge...but the controller and install must be added to the price (a one-time expense).
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Old 04-23-2016, 08:00 PM   #12
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I went with electric brakes when we bought our dolly. We have a proportional controller already wired in the motor home so there was no extra cost involved. The surge brake model was actually more expensive than the electric brake model which was a bonus. It just seems like you have more positive control with electric brakes. Braking in the motor home activates the brake on the dolly, not the momentum of the coach and toad.
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