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Old 09-08-2013, 02:05 PM   #1
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Wireless TOAD Brake Monitor

Hi All,
After many years of RVing I am going to start pulling a car behind my 2005 Dolphin. We have always rented a car when we got to where we were going but that is not always convenient. Okay, so now I have set up my wife's car (2011 Ford Escape) to be towed. I have read where the auxiliary brake system fails and locks up the TOAD brakes creating things that might happen I can only imagine.

I am using the SMI Play N Stay DUO brake system I purchased used off eBay. I installed the system and it works as designed, however, for safety monitoring they use an LED panel that sits on the dash and illuminates whenever the brakes in the toad are being applied. That's GREAT and it works, my concern is; what if I'm not looking at my backup camera and something fails.

I wanted something a bit more robust. What I did was to buy an RF link that has digital encoding for security, reliability that also helps with interference. I have the wireless link working quite well but I am going to add some additional logic to the system for additional monitoring and safety. After the logic has been added the system will monitor both the coach and the toad independently. As long as both systems are functioning correctly there will be 2 green LED's (one for the toad and one for the RV) on the monitor that illuminate each time the brakes are applied. In the event either system fails to activate a red LED and a sounder will alert the driver to a problem. The monitor in the RV will require a 12 volt connection plus a connection to the RV brake light switch. The transmitter in the toad requires a connection the brake light switch only; a very simple installation.

It would be simple to turn this into a product. I am getting close to retirement and might be able to generate some extra income and I am wondering if this is something other RVers might be interested in? It will function with any/all auxiliary brake systems currently available. I am not trying to sell anything at this time just interested in your comments. I think the final cost would be about $75.00 to the end user.

Thanks for your time,

Bill
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Old 09-09-2013, 09:34 PM   #2
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I have an M & G braking system. It's design is such that, the only way it can fail is if it loses air pressure. If that happens the towed will not have braking available. That is just one reason I purchased the system.

How do you tow the Escape, 4 down? My wife wants to replace her Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4, but most 4X4's today are not true 4WD, they are a blend of 4X4 and automatic AWD, which is not 4-down towable according to Jeep.
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Old 09-10-2013, 08:44 AM   #3
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Hi Ray,

The monitor I am building will detect and warn you the system is not activating properly, but its main function is to warn you the brakes have been activated when they should not be. This could be caused by several different conditions i.e. a bad brake light switch or a break-a-way switch. I have read where brakes were being applied to the toad when they should not be and lots of damage will occur. The SMI system has an LED bar that sits on the dash of the toad that illuminates whenever the toad brakes are being applied. However if you are not looking at your backup camera you will miss the failure in the event of a failure. SMI says you can run a wire from the brake unit in the toad all the way to the front of the coach and place the LED monitor in the RV. The wireless monitor eliminates having to run any wires. I also added some logic that monitors the RV brake light switch for better alarm conditions.

As far as the Ford Escape goes, it is not a good choice for a toad. Ford no longer recommends towing the Escape with all 4 down. Its a great car but there has been a lot of transmission failures when being towed with all 4 down. A friend who is a service manager at a Ford dealer says most of the transmission failures he has seen was to cars that were being towed behind a diesel pusher MH. This was due to the heat coming from the rear mounted engine and exhaust. He said many cars are doing just fine when towed behind a gas rig with proper attention paid to speed and stopping every so often and going through the gears to help with lubrication. I also have a friend that has been towing his Escape for many miles with no problems. He has a gas rig similar to mine.

When I bought the Escape the manual claimed it could be towed all 4 down. I even had the dealer put a note on my contract I was purchasing the car to be towed behind my MH. I don't know if that will help in the event of a failure but it won't hurt. You can also add a pump to the transmission but that add much cost to the car. I have heard Ford has installed these pumps for some people at no cost but it is like pulling teeth to make this happen. I would look for a better choice of car if I had it to do over again. All that being said I will tow the Escape for many years to come. I HOPE!!!

~Bill
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Old 09-11-2013, 05:27 PM   #4
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Bill, sounds like you've built a "better mousetrap". Please contact me by PM when you have it ready to market.
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Old 11-20-2013, 12:22 PM   #5
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WELL!!! I have not have a lot of time to dedicate to this project until I hurt my back several months ago. Been off work ever since and had surgery 3 weeks ago. I had plenty of time after the surgery and actually going crazy with nothing to do. With all this time available I finished the first prototype and want to share it with those who may be interested.

I did not want to design a transmitter and receiver when these things are available from many sources so I purchased a set off eBay for $13.50 from China. There is no way I could build the set for that price.

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Next I designed a digital board that could be interfaced with the receiver. What this board does is; it checks to see that there is a signal from the Toad (via the receiver) and also checks that the brakes are being applied in the RV (via the RV brake light switch). There is a green LED for each function. If both green LED's are illuminated everything is OK. Should only one of the green LED's illuminate the board signals the driver by a red LED and also sounds a Sonalert speaker. The transmitter in the car connect directly to the cars brake light switch so anytime the brakes in the toad are being applied the transmitter sends a signal to the receiver in the motor home. So should the brakes be stuck on for whatever reason the transmitter sends a signal. If the motor home brakes are also being applied then the unit is happy. The monitor can be connected to any car and any auxiliary braking system.

Here is a picture of the Receiver unmodified, a picture of my board and a picture of my board installed on the receiver.

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Here is a closeup picture of my board installed on the receiver.

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Here is a picture of the modified transmitter and receiver mounted in there cases.

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I am going to spin the board again to add a switch that will silence the receiver in the event you are not towing. I wish I would have thought of this prior to ordering PC boards... Oh well, live and learn.

I feel this approach to monitoring the braking system is much better then looking in my backup camera to see if I can see the LED bar provided by SMI. Half the time I could not tell if the LED's were illuminated or not. And I almost never looked at the backup camera to see if the brakes were being applied unless I was applying the brakes in the motor home. I do not think I could caught a failure in the event there was one. With the wireless system I feel much more at ease.

Thanks for looking, ~ Bill
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Old 11-21-2013, 09:37 PM   #6
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sure ,, This sounds interesting .. better than the light I was going to put on the dash of the toad to view in the MH backup camera
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Old 11-22-2013, 10:11 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill WA6YBD View Post
I think the final cost would be about $75.00 to the end user.



Bill
You will never sell any. The price is far too cheap for RVers who are accustomed to paying $1200 for a $20 Bimba air cylinder and some hardware. They won't think it can possibly work.

Good Luck it sounds like a useful device.
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Old 03-12-2017, 08:21 AM   #8
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Wireless TOAD Brake Monitor

Bill, don't know if you are still there but I would be interested in your wireless monitor. SMI does have an optional product, the SMI Coachlink but the cost is $224 + depending on where you get it. It seems to me that something like you devised that would work with any Toad brake system should be available for under $100. I would sure buy it if I could find one! I can't see the supplied indicator LED for my SMI Duo in my rear view camera except at night.
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Old 03-13-2017, 10:34 AM   #9
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Hi Larry,

I modified and spun the design once more to eliminate an over sight then built several prototype units and gave them to friends for alpha testing. They all worked as designed but I did not continue with the project due to my work schedule at the time. I have since retired and now working on many honey doís. As many retired people say, ďwith all I have to do at home how did I ever find the time to go to workĒ? But thatís another story.

Unfortunately I do not have enough parts to complete another unit. I checked on eBay to see if the RF parts are still available and they are not. There are similar units but I do not know how well they would work in this application.

The transmitters I used came in a plastic case that included an antenna and enough room to add some circuitry to eliminate the battery. All this made it perfect for the application. The receiver also came in a plastic case with enough room to add my PC board. Again perfect for the application.

My system required tapping into both the toadís and RVís brake light system for proper operation. I did this so the monitor could be used with any braking system. It also allowed for an audible alarm should the brakes in the toad ever get stuck on. There were 2 green LEDís that indicated brakes were being applied to both vehicles properly and a red LED and sounder on any failure.

I just watched the video at etrailer about the SMI monitor and it is very similar. It also requires tapping into the toadís brake lights but not the RVís. The SMI system gives you an audible signal whenever the brakes are being in the toad (if selected, and very annoying) where my system only gave an audible in the event of an actual failure. This feature required tapping into the RVís brake light system. I was glad to see the SMI system also monitored the actual brake light system in the toad. I was confused about using only one tee splicer and one butt splicer, but to each his own I guess.

All in all the SMI system is a plug and play unit (almost) and that is why they are getting $225.00. One could, for as little as $10.00 duplicate their approach, brakes applied in toad, no alarm, LED only. One could add a sonalert audible for another couple of bucks. There was someone on eBay selling such a kit for approximately $75.00 minus the sonalert but I no longer see that item listed.

Who knows, maybe after catching up on all my honey doís I will look into this project again. Perhaps even offer it as a kit.

~Bill
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Old 04-03-2017, 05:36 PM   #10
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Being a EE myself, I looked at various DIY solutions including a wireless system using commerical transmitter/receivers. But i opted for a simpler solution.

My motorhome is on a 2006 Ford F53 chassis that had the trailer brake controller pigtail connector under the dash.

I repurposed the motorhome brake controller wire at the 7-way connector to send the brake_applied signal up to the dash of the motorhome. I bought a standard Ford brake controller pigtail off ebay and wired the blue wire to an LED thru a 1K resistor and a dimmer pot in series (the latter is not required as the LED was not too bright at night) with other leg of the LED to ground. I drilled 2 holes on an unused switch panel on the dash motorhome for the LED to stick thru and glued from back, as well as mounting the dimmer pot using its nut. Simply unplug from the brake controller pigtail if you want to connect a standard brake controller for something.
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