Towable RV owners know that factory-installed brakes don’t always meet our expectations. The electric drum brake systems on our rigs sometimes lack the smooth and reliable stopping power we enjoy in passenger cars and trucks. After messing with our own fifth-wheel’s brake controller one too many times, we decided to take the plunge and invest in an electric over hydraulic trailer disc brake conversion for our 27′ Arctic Fox fifth wheel.
Why We Upgraded Our Trailer Brakes
Correct and reliable braking eluded us for almost a decade as RVers, even when we purchased a better trailer brake controller. When we upgraded to a larger and heavier fifth wheel we began exploring information about the electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes we kept hearing about. Many RVers rave about the stopping power of these brakes because the system utilizes the same disc brake technology installed on passenger vehicles. Apply the brakes and you can feel your RV slow down and stop just like your car or truck. As a bonus, you don’t need to make any brake controller adjustments on the fly. “Set your gain and go,” says Ronald Russel, president of Performance Trailer Braking. “There is no need to continually adjust the controllers gain,” he explains.
I’m not a mechanic, but here’s a very general explanation of how an electric over hydraulic brake system works:
- The driver steps on the brake pedal.
- An electric signal gets delivered to the trailer’s brake actuator.
- The actuator delivers hydraulic fluid pressure to the brake calipers.
- The driver enjoys smoother braking as the trailer slows with the tow vehicle.
Many big rigs and luxury towables have dumped their old braking systems in favor of these nifty hydraulic brakes. Regardless, the towable industry is still manufacturing almost all trailers with traditional drum brakes, Russel says. From the manufacturer’s perspective, there is good reason to stick with drum brakes: an electric over hydraulic trailer disc brake system would add a couple thousand dollars to the unit. The vast majority of RV owners only use their rigs for vacations and weekend jaunts, so it’s understandable that manufacturers use discretion in deciding which RVs have these systems on board.
But for those RVers who either travel full-time or can afford the very best of everything, an electric over hydraulic trailer disc brake system is a game changer. Companies like Russel’s Performance Trailer Braking handles this major conversion for RV owners. A conversion generally costs about $3,000 depending on the RV. Those RVers who know how to turn a wrench and have a set of tools can expect to pay about half that amount.
Putting Electric Over Hydraulic Trailer Disc Brakes to the Test
A week after our brakes were installed we knew without a doubt that we made a great investment. While crawling through rush hour traffic in San Antonio, a driver cut us off, forcing us to hit the brakes hard. In our old days with drum brakes, a whiplash-inducing maneuver like that would have pushed our trailer into the truck at full force. But this time when we hit the electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes we hardly felt a thing. Since that incident, the brakes have repeatedly proven their value. From our trips over tall peaks in the Colorado Rockies to our reluctant travels through congested urban areas, they’ve never let us down. RVing with electric over hydraulic trailer disc brakes is a whole new experience. Driving a heavy towable in challenging traffic situations doesn’t get any better than this.
About the Author:
Rene Agredano, a Coach-Net member since 2015, is a self-employed full-time RVer who enjoys writing, jewelry design and animal advocacy. Her adventures with a three-legged dog and husband Jim are chronicled at LiveWorkDream.com.
Paul M. ~ “Thank you for the immediate response to our breakdown at a rest stop. The tow truck driver was friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. We were able to get home that same day.”