Pop up campers are a popular option for RV enthusiasts looking for a lightweight and versatile camping vehicle. But with their smaller size comes questions about whether essential safety features, like trailer brakes, are included. Let’s explore the world of pop up camper brakes and find out what systems may be in place on your rig.
What Are Trailer Brakes and Why Are They Important?
Trailer brakes are brake systems built into the wheels of travel trailers and campers. They provide additional stopping power when a tow vehicle is slowing or stopping. This takes pressure off the tow vehicle’s braking system.
Having properly functioning trailer brakes is crucial for:
- Vehicle control – Braking only the tow vehicle can cause the trailer to push or sway. Trailer brakes help keep everything aligned.
- Shorter stopping distance – The additional braking power means you can stop safely over a shorter distance.
- Reduced wear – Trailer brakes take stress off the tow vehicle’s components, reducing maintenance needs.
- Legality – Many states require trailer brakes above a certain weight. Check your local regulations.
Without trailer brakes, towing a pop up camper would put excessive strain on your towing vehicle and make stopping safely much more difficult.
What Types of Brakes Are Used on Pop Up Camper Trailers?
There are two main types of trailer brake systems used on pop up camper trailers: electric trailer brakes and surge brake systems.
Electric Trailer Brakes
Electric trailer brake systems use electromagnets to actuate the brakes. When the tow vehicle’s brakes are applied, an electric current engages the magnets in the trailer brakes.
The amount of brake pressure applied is proportional to the amount of voltage sent from the brake controller. More brake pressure equals more voltage to the magnets.
Benefits of electric trailer brakes:
- Smooth, proportional braking
- Reacts quickly for rapid slowing
- Less wear on tow vehicle’s brakes
Surge Brake Systems
Surge brakes utilize a hydraulic cylinder mounted near the coupler. When the tow vehicle slows down, the momentum of the trailer pushes the cylinder inward, applying the hydraulic pressure to engage the brakes.
The faster the trailer is slowing, the more pressure is created for braking force.
Advantages of surge brakes:
- No need for brake controller or wiring
- Operate independent of tow vehicle
- Self-adjusting to load weight
Both electric and surge trailer brake systems are common options on pop up camper trailers.
Do Pop Up Campers Have Trailer Brakes?
The short answer is: it depends. Pop up campers can certainly be equipped with trailer brakes, but not all models include them.
Here are key factors that determine if trailer brakes are present:
Weight and Size
Heavier and larger pop up camper models are more likely to include trailer brakes. Once a trailer exceeds a certain loaded weight, many states legally require brakes.
For example, Ohio mandates trailer brakes for any trailer over 1,500 pounds loaded weight. California sets the same limit at 1,500 pounds unloaded weight.
If your pop up camper is on the heavier side, trailer brakes are practically a must legally and for safety.
Age and Wear
Many older pop up campers may not have come equipped with trailer brakes when first built. Braking technology has improved over time, so newer models are more likely to include them.
Additionally, trailer brakes have wear components that may fail over time. Older campers may once have had functional brakes that are now inoperative. Always inspect brakes before purchasing a used pop up.
Model and Features
Simple, budget pop up camper models focused on lightness and affordability may not include trailer brakes as a standard feature.
But most mid-range and luxury models have them standard or as an add-on option. High-end brands like Aliner and Rockwood know brakes are an expected safety feature.
Even if your pop up didn’t come with trailer brakes originally, many owners choose to have them installed aftermarket for added safety and control.
Electric and surge brake kits can be added to most pop up campers by an experienced mechanic. If your state requires trailer brakes, an aftermarket install is a smart idea.
How to Tell if Your Pop Up Has Trailer Brakes
Wondering if your own pop up trailer already has functional brakes installed? Here are tips for checking:
- Look for a brake controller in the tow vehicle. The controller indicates trailer brakes are present.
- Inspect the wheels for brake drums, discs, pads, and hydraulic cylinders. Physical brake components mean they’re installed.
- Check paperwork like the owner’s manual for any mention of trailer brakes.
- Test functionality by having someone attempt to pull the trailer while brakes are manually applied. The wheels shouldn’t turn.
- Ask the manufacturer if uncertain. They’ll have the specs for your exact trailer model.
Don’t assume trailer brakes are present or working properly. Always verify their presence and test them for effectiveness.
Adding Trailer Brakes Aftermarket
What if your pop up camper needs trailer brakes added after purchase? This is a very common scenario for older used campers or budget models that didn’t include them originally. Thankfully, retrofitting brakes aftermarket is straightforward with the right skills and parts.
For electric trailer brakes, the process will involve running wiring from your tow vehicle’s brake controller back to the trailer’s brake assemblies. The brake controller sends voltage through the wires when braking to activate magnets in the brake assembly, applying the pads or shoes. A brake control unit must be purchased and mounted in the tow vehicle as well.
Surge brake systems avoid wiring by using a hydraulic cylinder mounted by the hitch that presses fluid through lines back to each brake. The hydraulics are activated by momentum when slowing. For either system, the brake assemblies must also be bolted onto the wheel hubs. Expect full aftermarket installation to take 8-12 hours by an experienced trailer mechanic. Costs typically range from $800-1,200 in parts and labor.
Adding brakes aftermarket takes effort and expertise, but dramatically improves safety. Consult local trailer repair shops to explore options for installing brakes on your pop up camper.
Maintaining Pop Up Camper Brake Systems
If your pop up already has trailer brakes, be sure to maintain them properly:
- Inspect brake linings for wear periodically and replace as needed.
- Check magnets on electric brakes and clean any road debris.
- Test brake controller settings to ensure proper voltage is activating brakes.
- Flush hydraulic systems on surge brakes regularly.
- Lubricate and adjust moving components like calipers.
- Road test often to check for issues like trailer sway, noises, or uneven braking.
Properly functioning trailer brakes are critical for safe towing. Keep them in top shape with regular maintenance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pop Up Camper Brakes
Are trailer brakes required by law on pop up campers?
Laws vary by state, but in general, trailer brakes are required once the gross trailer weight exceeds 1500-3500 lbs loaded. Some states go by unloaded weight. Check local regulations.
How much does it cost to add electric trailer brakes?
Adding electric trailer brakes aftermarket will likely cost $800-1200 in parts and labor by a professional. DIY is cheaper but more complex.
Can I use my tow vehicle’s 7-pin connector for trailer brakes?
Yes, the 7-pin connector has a specific pin and circuit for trailer brakes. A brake controller can integrate with the 7-pin to activate electric trailer brakes.
How do I adjust electric trailer brake strength?
Use the brake controller (often mounted in driver’s area). Adjusting the gain setting changes the voltage sent to the trailer brakes for more or less braking power.
Should I use electric or surge trailer brakes?
Electric brakes integrate with the tow vehicle’s system and offer precision control. Surge brakes work independently and self-adjust. Choose based on your needs and preferences.
Driving and towing a pop up safely means having adequate braking ability. While not universal, many pop up campers do come equipped with trailer brakes from the factory. And if not, aftermarket retrofit kits make adding brakes straightforward.
By properly maintaining your trailer’s braking system and verifying functionality before each trip, you can feel confident in slowing your rig smoothly and stopping in time. Trailer brakes provide peace of mind and prevent the hazards caused by towing heavy loads without adequate stopping power.