Before heading out on the road for the new camping season, now is a good time to refresh your RV camper trailer with a few accessories. Consider installing a new weather-resistant ball mount or coupler and leave at home worries about rust and corrosion. Or step up your trailer parking – fit in tight corners and narrow spaces with our original 5X trailer dolly.
Understanding your trailer brakes is crucial to understanding how to move your trailer safely and securely. Also known as Hydraulic Surge Brakes, surge brakes are extremely common in boat trailers and rental or leisure trailers. Surge brakes are not exactly driver-controlled; they activate automatically whenever the driver slows the tow vehicle.
In the next few minutes, you’ll learn how surge brakes work, why they are the most popular form of trailer brake, and how to maintain them.
Boat Trailers with Surge Brakes
Boat trailers with surge brakes can often be submerged in water when boats are being retrieved and launched, causing premature corrosion on the components of electric brakes. Surge brakes require no setup or knowledge of the braking system to operate, no electric controller or special wiring, and can be submerged in water.
Learn More: Understanding your RV Electrical System
The other types of brakes found in trailers are electric trailer brakes and air brakes. Both of these types of brakes require specialized experience and don’t perform well in water or extremely cold conditions. Surge brakes remove safety hazards in the water and with operators who aren’t familiar with other trailer brake systems. The brakes work like normal for drivers, unless you’re backing up your trailer, and we’ll get to that later.
All trailer brakes have their pros and cons, but surge brakes take the cake when it comes to ease and versatility in the trailer braking world.
Learn More: How to Build Your Custom Teardrop Trailer
How Surge Brakes Work
When a trailer is designed to carry 3,000 pounds, it must have a working braking system. The neck of a trailer is two pieces. The front side with the hitch is separate and slides on the ledge to the back half of the neck. A master cylinder for the trailer brake is mounted on the back half of the neck and has a rod extending to the front half. When the load gets heavy the rod extends between the two parts of the neck and the weight is distributed between them. The master cylinder piston increases fluid pressure in the brake lines, and pressurized brake fluid flows to each brake drum/rotor through individual brake lines.
Makes sense, right?
What happens when surge brakes are applied?
Trailers with surge breaks typically start to slow when applying the brakes. The momentum pushed the trailer and the trailer load to the front half of the neck and forces it in. Learn the best way to load a trailer here. When the front neck is then pushed into the back, that rod pushes into the master cylinder and then the brakes are applied.
When the tow vehicle moves forward and releases the brakes, the neck extends and releases the surge brakes. The rod can be modified for the brakes to come sooner or later, whatever makes you feel more comfortable.
Related: Choosing the Right Tow Dolly
Backing up a trailer with surge brakes
A trailer with surge brakes needs a special pin to be backed up. The pin is placed in the neck so putting the trailer in reverse does not activate the surge brakes while a driver is backing up or a trailer dolly is guiding the trailer with surge brakes. The pin can be removed when the trailer is ready to travel again.
This is the only tricky part to remember when using a trailer with surge brakes. But, it’s a small price to pay for ease surge brakes give when operating your trailer.
Surge Brake Maintenance
One reason surge brakes are the most popular trailer braking technology is because the entire system is contained in the trailer itself. Periodic maintenance is required, but simply follow the manufacturer recommendations to get the most out of your hydraulic surge brakes. Mainly, maintenance will be required on the brake pads, brake lines, or brake fluid levels.
Your surge brakes have got your back, but always practice increased safety when driving your trailer with a tow vehicle. Pack your stuff tight, don’t want the inertia throwing everything around, leave plenty of room to brake, avoid speeding, and anticipate braking so you take it easy on your brakes and require less maintenance over time.
Your surge brakes will make or break your ride, and we’re here to make sure your trailer experience is the best it can be.
Is it possible to transform the solid tounge and install a swing away hinge? I do have surge brakes on my trailer. Any thoughts???
It certainly is possible, however the hinge joint design (and fabrication) should be reviewed by a professional Engineer or Structural Engineer to analyze the forces and make material recommendations. The brake lines are simple to manage— just include a rubber flex line of sufficient length (at the hinge point) to connect the hard lines from the front hitch section and the rear section to allow the hitch to be folded. Folding hitch tubes are often found on small utility trailers and boat trailers—check them out to see how these are constructed to get an understanding how folding hitchs are built. Good Luck!
This problem is stumping everyone . 2018 And 2020 F150 4×4 . Pulling a boat trailer dual axle . Tritoon Pontoon . Hydraulic Surge Brakes .Magic Tilt Trailer . The # 74 10 Amp fuse in truck contiunes to blow . Dozen and a half times . When blown I can not back up until I install the Bypass device . I did away with the trailer adapter pig tail . So whats my issue look like they’ve given up on me . Im afaird to install a larger fuse . Is the 10 Amp just not big enough. Ram suses a 20 Amp. PLEASE HELP
Some trailers use the white wire as a ground instead of backup lights. Every time you put it in reverse, it is going directly to ground and blows the fuse.
There is an electric solenoid valve in the hydraulic circuit from the actuator (master cylinder) to the wheels. Typically the power wire energizing the solenoid is blue. That wire is connected to the vehicle backup lights or, if so equipped, to a separately-fused backup signal (e.g. on vehicles with factory-provided “tow package”).Your vehicle probably has a separate fuse for the backup signal. When energized,the solenoid valve closes preventing hydraulic pressure from being applied to the wheel cylinders. Since you didn’t indicate any problems with the trailer unplugged, I’ll assume that the problem is in the trailer. The trailer connector, wire running to the solenoid, or the solenoid itself probably has an intermittent short to ground. I’ve rarely seen the male or female trailer connectors exhibit such a problem (it would be possible that there is such a short in the male or female connector that only occurs when plugged together, but it would be very rare). First physically examine the wire from the connector to the solenoid for bare spots that could short to the frame or other ground wire. You could measure the resistance from the blue wire to ground and wiggle the wiring to see if it changes. If not shorted, you’d be measuring the resistance of the solenoid coil. If the resistance drops to near 0, that would indicate a short. Beyond that, I’d suspect the solenoid valve itself and probably replace it.
Is there a mechanical over ride for those surge breaks that use a five pin connector. I m thinking how fussy trailer lights can be. Hate to have a trailer I can’t back up because of a bad connection that I can’t fix on the road.
yes there is a setup where it is wired into your backup lights so it then knows when you are backing up and will not engage
A car is the most important part of our life. For making life easy with a comfortable journey, you must need your own car which helps you some of the important issues such a save your time, long drive, easily move from one place to another place and many more which already you described.
I just bought a 99 zieman boat trailer with a lund 18ft boat.hydrolics yes.well I took it to les swhaab to get bearing repacked and they told me the hydrolic line was not connected.they said there was no hydrolic fluid as well.I have not had issues for 4 times to the lake.took it for 7 hrs ride counting there and back and when I tried to back it in it wouldn’t let me.first..I checked hyrolic reservoir and it was low wondering what kind of hydrolic fluid to use and 2nd I crawled underneath and the hydrlic line goes into axle that is connected to both sides.what to do????
I have surge brakes on my 2004 Dutchmen Tab Teardrop that I recently purchase. At the end of my first trip the brake has started to make a loud noise when pulling off from being stopped. Does the brakes have fluid that could had leaked out thus making the noise?
Does the truck you use need to have something installed for the surge brakes to work properly?
I had a salesman telling me that they would have to install something on my truck?? From reading this it sounds like the trailer should have everything I would need.
You need to have at least a five pin connector. The fifth pin is energized by the back up light on your truck. Anytime you put your truck in reverse the back up light sensor signal to the solenoid that prevents surge breaks from engaging.
I have a boat trailer with Hydraulic break when I tow the boat they have no break, but when I backing they lock on me
This was very helpful. I had no knowledge of surge breaks and didn’t know they helped breaking until my fluid got low.
I have trailer with surge breaks and 5 pin plug do I drive with pin in or out i think tag says keep pin in while traveling is this correct
5 pin means thee is an electric thingy that disengages the brakes in reverse, no pin stuff required.
very informative ,learned a lot thanks
Thank you for the info. I am buying a used boat and trailer and it has surge brakes. Did not know how they work until this article. I’ll need to check for the pin for backing up since backing into my back yard and at a boat ramp I assume I would need to put the pin in place , then remove for road travel..correct?
Can i pull a disc brake trailer with the brake pads removed ? Tandem axle loadrite trailer i removed the rotted pads reinstalled the calipers with a couple washers as a spacer to keep them centered. Will the piston hit the rotor when applied.
A typical brake caliper on a disc brake will push the puck (piston) out of the bore if you apply the brakes without the pads in place. It will likely leak brake fluid past the piston o-ring and make a mess in short order! If you are traveling with the trailer in tow, the piston will definitely hit the rotor with a splendid light show! (sparks) for everyone behind you. I would not recommend this. If you want to eliminate the braking action temporarily, drain ALL the fluid from the reservoir, or simply install the lockout pin in the slider section so the master cylinder can’t move.