Most RVers know that RV braking systems exist, but not much beyond that. Why? You don’t need to know much about them unless you are operating a motorhome.
Keep reading to learn the basics about RV braking systems and supplemental brakes.
What Are RV Braking Systems?
Of course, your RV comes with brakes, but did you know there are also supplemental RV braking systems for your towed vehicle?
Supplemental RV braking systems were explicitly created for motorhomes towing a car, truck, or SUV behind them. They allow communication between your motorhome brakes and tow vehicle brakes so that the RV and tow vehicle (toad or dinghy) brake simultaneously.
Do You Need an RV Braking System?
First, you need to determine whether or not you plan to tow a car, truck, or SUV behind your motorhome. RVers tow a vehicle behind their coach for use when they reach their destination. Although RV’s are comfortable for travel days and at camp, they aren’t really great for exploring. Motorcoaches are hard to park and maneuver in highly congested tourist areas. Also, it's complicated to set up camp and then pack up each time you want to go to a restaurant, drive to a local attraction, or go to the grocery store.
Not all vehicles can be towed behind your coach. Check with your vehicle dealer or a reliable source such as the FMCA towing guides. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for specific towing procedure information.
If you plan to have a dinghy behind your motorhome, you need a supplemental RV braking system. Here’s why: most states require them, they protect your RV tow bar and brakes, and for overall safety.
All but a handful of states require motorhomes towing loads over 3,000 lbs to have supplemental RV braking systems. For some states, the towing loads are even smaller. If you don’t have a braking system and get in a wreck, you could be liable for damages, or your warranty could get voided.
RV Brake Protection
A supplemental braking system can help protect your RV brakes from severe wear and tear. Manufacturers designed the brakes on your motorhome to handle the weight of your RV, passengers, and supplies. They were not made to handle additional weight from another vehicle.
Your motorcoach already takes a lot to slow down; now imagine the impact of adding another vehicle behind it. It’s going to take even more time and distance to slow down and stop. An RV braking system can reduce your motorhome and toad stopping distance by as much as 20-50%. That shortened stopping difference can make all the difference in an emergency stop situation. It can also help prevent running a red light!
Types of Supplemental Braking Systems
There are several different supplemental brake systems, and they all work differently.
Portable VS Non-Portable
Portable braking systems can be uninstalled and reinstalled in various vehicles. They are faster and easier to install, but you must reinstall them every time you drive. Selecting a portable system might work if you have multiple vehicles and switch them up for RV trips or you plan to upgrade your vehicle soon.
Non-portable systems are installed in one vehicle. Most systems can be removed and reinstalled on another vehicle at additional costs. If you just purchased a car or truck and know you will keep it for a while and take it on your RV adventures, a non-portable system might be a better option for you.
Compressed Air VS Hydraulic Brakes
Before selecting the proper RV braking system, you need to know if your motorhome uses compressed air or hydraulic brakes. Heavier coaches usually have compressed air systems. The type of brakes on your motorhome will affect the kind of supplemental system you can install.
Proportional systems monitor your RV's primary brakes with an accelerometer or a sensor. The accelerometer measures acceleration and deceleration. The sensor monitors the pressure applied to the coach’s brake pedal, and the system applies proportional pressure to the toad. So both the motorhome and towed vehicle brake with the same intensity.
With progressive systems, the motorhome brakes and the toad registers the braking. The supplemental brake system applies the tow vehicle’s brakes with increasing pressure. Although there is a point where the brake system stops using the brakes, the brake system keeps increasing the braking pressure as the motorhome brake pedal is depressed.
Braking Systems We Recommend
Demco Air Force One
The Demco Air Force One (AFO) is for air brake coaches and comes in a compact size to fit almost any vehicle. Its flexible mounting makes securing it to your coach simple. When you apply your coach’s brakes, a pilot signal delivers direct proportional braking to the toad’s brakes.
AFO uses the coach’s air supply to apply the toad’s power brakes, so an electric pump isn’t needed. There are no moving parts. Its small operating unit fits under the hood of your dinghy. The brake actuator is also compact and mounts onto the brake of your toad with one self-drilling screw.
In the event of motorhome and dinghy separation, AFO seals the coach’s air supply protecting the coach and allowing it to stop normally. The breakaway system on the toad also activates its brakes.
The AFO comes with CoachlinkTM to give you visual feedback when applying your brakes. CoachlinkTM will also notify you if there is an issue.
Demco Stay-In-Play Duo Towed Vehicle Brake Control With Coachlink (non-Portable)
The Stay In Play Duo is for hydraulic brake coaches and installs under the hood of your car, truck, or SUV. A small operating module controls the toad’s brakes without a physical connection to your coach. You can use your towed vehicle like usual when you reach camp, with no braking system to remove.
DUO uses both air pressure and vacuum, combining progressive and proportional systems. The vacuum energizes your toad’s power brakes, and the air pressure applies the brakes. The DUO also uses two separate signals to activate your towed vehicle's brakes, eliminating complex electronics and undesired activation of your toad’s brakes.
The CoachlinkTM system plugs directly into your coach’s power port. It gives you instant visual feedback when the brakes are applied. The CoachlinkTM will notify you with visual and auditory alerts if there is an issue.
Demco SMI Delta Force Supplemental Braking System
The Delta Force is the smallest portable braking system on the market made to fit most cars, trucks, and SUVs. You can use the Delta Force with either compressed air or hydraulic brake coaches. It comes with easy installation and use. The simplified tether system installs with one self-drilling screw. All you need to do is clip the stainless-steel carabiner to the actuator, reducing wear on components. Unlike most pedal clamps, the downward force applies pressure to the floorboard and not the toad’s seat. The systems’ pedal clamp engages and releases automatically by pushing down or lifting the actuator.
The system can detect air leaks and issues with the pedal clamp connection. It also relays fault codes to the motorcoach receiver. The Delta Force system is proportional in both directions.
Like the Stay in Play Duo, the Delta Force also comes with CoachlinkTM, giving you instant visual feedback when you apply the brakes.