How Much Weight Can You Pull Without Trailer Brakes

It could be owning a trailer for hauling cargo, or you now have an RV. Sometimes it might be a requirement to have brakes on the trailer, while other times, it is not necessary. If you are an RV enthusiast, you would want to know when it is necessary to have the brakes installed.

The requirement for the trailers to have brakes can vary from state to state. However, so long as the trailer is over 1,500 to 5,000 pounds and it is 30 to 60 feet in length, then it will need trailer brakes. You will also notice that trailers that are 8 feet wide also need brakes.

As you can see, the last thing you would want is to have a trailer you cannot control because its weight is too much for the car’s braking system.

Will it be illegal to have a trailer with no brakes?

As mentioned earlier, it largely depends on the state laws. These local laws will explain more about the weight and size of the trailer that you should keep in mind while towing. There is a bigger emphasis on the trailers measuring 8 feet wide. For such a trailer, it must have a separate braking system.

Failure to adhere to such rules might leave you in trouble with the local authorities when they randomly stop you for a check. The worst is when you have an accident, and now the report shows you did not have a separate braking system when you were supposed to do so.

So, it is best to consult with your local attorney to find out more about the different laws on trailer brakes before getting one. You may notice that some states, such as North Carolina, have a weight limit of 4,000 pounds for towing with no brakes, while others have as little as 1,500 pounds.

Here is a quick video explaining when and why you may need trailer brakes

Factors that Determine if you Need Trailer Brakes

We have already mentioned how the pull weight will be an important determinant of whether you need trailer brakes or not. So, what are the other factors to consider?

  1. Car’s towing weight

One thing that is always important to consider is the car’s towing capacity. Remember that cars come with different capacities, so it is vital to keep that in mind before even you can get yourself the trailer.

A good example is that a Toyota Camry would have a towing capacity of 1,000 pounds while a Toyota RAV 4 would be 3,500 pounds.

Half-ton trucks can pull as much as 8,500 pounds, while three-quarter-ton trucks will do 15,000 pounds. It might help to check the car’s manual or driver-side door label to find out more about the vehicle’s towing capacity.

  1. Vehicle weight

The vehicle’s weight plays an important role in determining the maximum pull weight you can subject the vehicle to without needing trailer brakes.

Like for Arizona and Florida, the driver needs a separate braking system if the trailer weight is more than 40% of the overall gross vehicle weight. This weight includes even when people are in the vehicle.

You should check with your local state to identify just how much weight is allowed before you need to get a trailer with brakes.

  1. Trailer age

Of course, the trailer age is also important. Luckily, only California has stipulations on the trailer age in relation to having brakes or not.

For this state, you only need to get an independent braking system for trailers built after 1945. If your trailer was built before 1945, you do not need an independent braking system.

Looking at most trailers around, you may find that this law does not apply to many people. Most trailers are mostly built after 1945.

  1. Speed of the vehicle

California is the only state that recommends a minimum speed of 20mph if you drive with a trailer with no brakes. If you go over 20mph, you must get a trailer with an independent braking system.

This might not be easy for people who want to get their RV to their parking spot faster. This would largely apply to those working on farms where they can work with such speeds. Take note that it is in just California.

  1. What you are hauling

This would also definitely vary from one state to another. Some might indicate the hauling weight as a determinant of whether you need a braking system or not.

For example, in Missouri, there is no mention of the maximum weight for trailers with no brakes, but those hauling more than 3,000 pounds of hazardous materials require independent braking systems.

As you can see, the laws can differ from one state to another. With proper guidance from an attorney, this should not be a problem.

Types of Trailer Brakes

Types of Trailer Brakes

Now that you see trailer brakes would be important, what are your options?

There are three main types you should know about. They include surge brakes, electric-over-hydraulic brakes, and standard electric brakes.

Surge brakes

These are the most common trailer braking mechanisms in the market today. They get the name surge brakes because of how they are activated. They work based on the trailer mass surging forward whenever you apply brakes to the tow vehicle.

These brakes are completely mechanical, have no special controllers, do not need electricity, and cannot be tied directly to the tow vehicle braking system.

Electric-over-hydraulic brakes

These brakes work similarly to the surge brakes, only that they use hydraulic pressure to initiate the braking system. You will also notice that it has an electronic actuator rather than having a hydraulic piston setup found in the surge brakes.

An electronic signal is sent to the actuator to initiate the braking power whenever the driver presses the brake pedal.

Standard electric brakes

These are also common brakes on trailers. They are designed to look and work just as the drum brakes common on cars. The only difference is how they get their actuation mechanism to stop the trailer.

The actuation mechanism includes an electromagnet that sticks to the drum face. Sending more power to the actuator means the magnet sticks harder. Increased magnetism leads to more pressure on the pads, thus creating the braking power the trailer needs.

Here is a video explaining how electric trailer brakes work


At what weight do you need to get trailer brakes?

It varies from state to state, but most will introduce this requirement when the towing weight is over 1,500 pounds. Some might do the same only when it is over 4,000 pounds.

Is there a minimum speed for trailers with no brakes?

It depends on the state. Only California requires the trailers with no brakes to be driven at 20mph.

What are the main options for trailer brakes?

There are three main types of trailer brakes. They include standard electric brakes, surge brakes, and electric-over-hydraulic brakes. Use the one that delivers good stopping power depending on what you are towing.

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