Brake Controller Calibration

Just having functional brakes on the trailer won’t translate to a safe, anxiety-free towing situation. Ideally, you’ll want your tow vehicle to feel as normal as possible when braking, even with the added trailer weight. To make that possible, you’ll want to properly set the strength (gain or output) and sensitivity of the brake controller. 

Brakes set too strong will cause the wheels to lock up, causing the trailer to drag in an unsafe situation. Too little strength will push your tow vehicle when you’re trying to slow down or come to a stop. Luckily, it’s easy to make the little adjustments for a comfortable and safe braking experience!

*Devices like the CURT Better Weigh® can give you a fantastic starting point for your brake controller’s settings. If you don’t have one of those devices… no problem! People have been setting their brake controllers without fancy equipment for years! Here’s how!

The Tried & True Method:

Reminder: The goal is to make your tow vehicle feel like you aren’t towing anything when you’re slowing down or stopping. Fine-tune your settings to get as close to that feeling as possible.

Step 1: Verify that the brake controller is connected

Whether you’re using a hard-wired brake controller, or a wireless device like the Curt Echo®, you should be able to discern that the brake controller is connected and communicating with the trailer’s brakes. 

  • The brake controller or app will visually display that it is connected
  • You can audibly hear the brakes activating. It should sound like a quite hum or whine tone at the trailer’s brakes with the tow vehicle’s brake pedal is depressed.

Step 2: Automatic Calibration

When the brake controller is connected, give it a moment to “self-calibrate.” It starts the process of verifying its ability to communicate with the brakes and sets a baseline for your adjustments.

Step 3: Maximum Output Power

Adjusting the maximum output of the controller is much like telling your foot how hard to push down on the brake pedal in your tow vehicle, except it’s setting the controller’s maximum brake pressure. Heavier loads will need more maximum output power, and lighter loads will require less maximum output power.

  • Set a starting “base-line” maximum output power.
    • While stationary, push the brake pedal down and adjust the brake controller’s maximum output to about 50%. You may need to consult the brake controller’s manual for details on this setting.
  • In a clear, safe, and flat area, drive forward at about 25 miles per hour and apply your brakes.
    • If the braking experience feels “normal” and you don’t take more distance then usual to come to a stop… You’re good! 
    • Adjust the maximum output power higher: IF it feels like the trailer is pushing the tow vehicle and it takes more distance to stop.
    • Adjust the maximum output power lower: IF the trailer stops too quickly or the trailer’s wheels lock up and drag.

Step 4: Sensitivity Level

The goal in setting the sensitivity is to adjust how quickly or slowly the brake controller applies the output power to the trailer’s brakes. Too sensitive and it’ll be as if someone stomped the brake pedal down. Not sensitive enough, it’ll feel like the trailer is pushing the tow vehicle at the start of each braking incident.

  • In a clear, safe, and flat area, drive forward at about 25 miles per hour and apply your brakes.
    • Increase the sensitivity value on the brake controller: If you’re stopping too slowly or feel like the trailer’s brakes have to catch-up
    • Decrease the sensitivity value on the brake controller: If you feel like the trailer is braking too “aggressively”, but the wheels are locking up on the trailer
  • You can always fine-tune these settings as you travel and as there are changes to the load you’re pulling. 

Step 5: Manual Brake Activation

There could be situations where you want to apply the trailer’s brakes without applying the brakes on the tow vehicle. If the trailer is starting to fishtail or sway a little, slow down the trailer before the tow vehicle begins to decelerate. This is often the safest way to get things back under control.

Most brake controllers will have a way to activate the brakes manually. This could be a thumb button, a push-button, or a “button” on the brake controller’s app on your smartphone. Most brake controllers with this function will have an optional setting for the manual button to apply either the maximum output power setting you set in your setup routine, or it can use the full 100% maximum output power available. We most often suggest using the setting you set up for your current load.

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