Electric vs Hydraulic Trailer Brake Systems -What You Should Know

Brakes are rarely considered until we have cause to be overwhelmingly thankful for their existence. Many sailboats and powerboats make a towed trailer heavy, especially going downhill, so it is worth examining the differences between electric and hydraulic braking systems, drum and disc brakes. We discuss why a boat trailer can have an electric brake system without concern and what you should be aware of with a hydraulic brake system.

 

Using the wrong braking system can have terrible consequences; your brakes can overheat or result in a longer stopping distance threatening your and other drivers’ safety; you need to be aware of the weight you are hauling and choose your brakes accordingly to protect you and all others you encounter on the highway.

 

Visit our extensive selection of hydraulic (surge) and electromagnetic (electric) brakes on our brake page, and their related accessories (individually highlighted below) Please ask us any questions you may have; we are experts in all things trailer parts and axle related. Call Standard Axle at (519) 451 1116 Mon – Fri, 8-5 pm.

 

Your trailer has its own braking system separate from your tow vehicle. And that’s a very good thing.

Many customers don’t even realize that a trailer has a braking system. Not knowing can mean real trouble, especially if you’ve purchased a used trailer without having its brakes inspected. 

 

 

A boat trailer can have an electric brake system without concern.

Surge/ hydraulic braking systems are the most common on a boat trailer since water doesn’t pose a concern for hydraulic brake systems. It is (wrongly) also believed electric braking systems are not water-proof. Now, electric braking systems are well insulated and use heat shrink connections, so are fine for submerging. Of course, rinsing the components with fresh water afterward will extend the life of the magnets in the electric brake connection. Unplugging the brakes before submerging is still an option, but it won’t be a concern as long as the electric lines are kept in good shape.  

If, after reading our article, you would like to know more about switching brake systems, don’t hesitate to contact our competent staff at London, Ontario’s Standard Axle.

 

Trailer brakes (like the tow vehicle’s) are either disc or drum brakes; both types of brakes are components of hydraulic and electric braking systems.

Disc brakes employ rotors inside each wheel that brake pads squeeze against to create the friction required to stop. They tend to have greater advantages, especially regarding their stopping power, making them a better choice for trailers. Disc brakes can easily replace existing drum brakes. Disc brake rotors reduce the heat caused by friction by keeping the air inside to maintain a cooler temperature. 

Drum brakes use friction similarly to disc brakes but are hollow, cylindrically shaped drums that rotate in the same direction as the wheel, with brake pads lining the inside. When the brakes are applied, the pads expand against the rotating sides of the drum, using friction to slow down the vehicle.

Brake pad materials are used in both brake types, drum and disc, and can vary in their materials and quality.

 

The two types of braking systems:

1) Electromagnetic (electric) brakes

The tow vehicle’s brake pedal pressure activates an electric braking system; when the tow vehicle brakes are pushed, voltage is sent to the trailer’s electromagnetic actuators, engaging the trailer brakes first, which is safer for downhill driving. We recommend using electric over hydraulic brakes for any boat heavier than 1,550 kg (3,500 lbs) 

Brake controllers: Electric brakes on trailers include the utilization of a separate brake controller (mounted near the dash in the tow vehicle) that adjusts the amount of braking pressure going to the trailer. The ability to adjust the gain means less deterioration of the tow vehicle brake system.

  • When you’re going downhill or towing heavy weight, set your brake controller gain higher to adjust the braking responsibility more toward the trailer
  • When travelling uphill or towing a light load, set the gain to a lighter setting

 

2) Hydraulic (surge) brakes 

The difference between hydraulic and electric brakes lies in the advantage of the independent brake control with the electric brake controller for the trailer brakes. 

Hydraulic brakes utilize hydraulic fluid and its pressure to stop wheels from turning. The faster you slow down, the more hydraulic braking pressure is applied to the trailer brakes. 

Pressure (or braking) only reaches the trailer’s brakes when the hydraulic cylinder on the tow vehicle is triggered (pushing the fluid from a master piston into the other two pistons, which push together to cause friction against the disc brakes.) The actuator on the trailer moves within the coupler frame allowing the pressured hydraulic fluid to move through the brake lines to the brakes as dictated by the braking pressure of the tow vehicle.

Also, see our brake line kits.

 

Hydraulic brakes cause concern when backing up a trailer, especially on an incline (like a driveway). The answer to how to fix it is here:

  • When backing up a trailer, especially on an incline, hydraulic braking systems will sense the pressure on the tongue as if you are applying the brakes. The actuator engages the trailer brakes, and you cannot continue backing up.
  • There should be a lock-out pin or lever already on the tongue that you can engage to allow backing up on an incline. When you move forward again, it automatically resets. 
  • Sometimes, disc brakes have less effect.
  • If your braking system is hydraulic, address this before heading out for a holiday. 

 

Call Standard Axle with questions or orders by phone at (519) 451 1116 Mon – Fri, 8-5 pm. 

Shop and place your online order here.

 

How to Pass Vehicles While Towing a Trailer – Important Data.

Use caution when passing a vehicle while towing a trailer, especially if you are hauling an unbalanced load like a boat or one with loose materials. Ensure the safety of other vehicles on the road. 

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, half of the reported trailer collisions involve single vehicles, while a further 20% are rear-end collisions.

 

 

Where the fault is that of the tow vehicle driver, about 30% of the drivers reported they had “lost control of their vehicle.”Ministry of Transporation / Driver’s Handbook / Towing.

 

If you’ve ever tried to pass a vehicle while also towing a weighty or awkward load on a trailer, you might have quickly found yourself panicking or, in the worst case, in real trouble trying to control the trailer. There is a lot to consider, including knowing when you should not pass another vehicle on a highway or gravel road. 

Rain, wind, and the sun hitting your eyes just the wrong way make passing even more of a challenge.

 

Use Standard Axle’s Towing Checklist – prepare your vehicle for safe towing and passing.

Check all of your tires’ pressure, including the trailer tires: 

Read your trailer manual; the trailer tires may often require higher pressure. Rubber hardens with lack of use; even if your trailer tires have lots of tread, months of nonuse can flatten the tire bottoms and moving them can cause that rubber to crack. It can be a good idea to push or pull your trailer to expose a new tire area every month. 

See our selection of our best trailer tires.

 

Have at least one spare trailer tire:

Have a lug nut wrench specific to the trailer wheels and a jack correctly sized to your trailer, so you don’t get stranded on the side of a road. 

 

Invest in wheel chocks:

Wheel chocks are heavy-duty composite wedges that are placed in front of and behind your trailer’s tire to prevent movement (rolling away)

 

Buy trailer/tow mirrors: 

If your trailer is wider than your vehicle, tow mirrors are the best way to ensure you see possible blind spots. Passing is made simpler with tow-mirrors, allowing you to easily see the length of your trailer.

 

Check all of your trailer lights before leaving:

With a friend, check that all your trailer turn signals, brake lights, running lights, and hazard lights are functioning, and double-check the electrical wire connection from the back of your vehicle to the front of your trailer. Visually assess the condition of the coupling. Corrosion and weather can unwrap tape, and accidental pulls can separate the wires from their connections.

 

Check your trailer brakes:

When experiencing trailer sway (see the trailer-sway section below), you should avoid braking; allow your vehicle and trailer to slow on their own. However, in extreme cases, use your trailer brake (never your tow vehicle brake). See our trailer brakes.

 

Have the correct ball mount trailer hitch. Incorrectly sized hitch balls are a primary cause of accidents. Trailers that become unhitched are accident causes:

Your hitch ball must be properly sized. Tongue weight capacity, distance from the hitch pin to the ball centre, and the height of the rise are all measurements and capacities that must be correct. See our hitches, and please call us at (519) 451 1116 for help choosing your trailer hitch.

 

Use trailer safety chains:

The chains should have enough slack to allow sharp turns but not drag on the ground.

Always cross the safety chains to create a cradle for the tongue. In the case of a disconnection, the tongue is suspended instead of digging into the asphalt.

 

Consider getting a larger fuel tank for your tow vehicle:

If you are planning to make towing part of a lifestyle change, a larger fuel tank saves time from needing to stop more often to tank up.

 

Be patient and have a high degree of driver attention. Go slower on the highway because your speed can lead to circumstances you may not know how to rectify. 

Always drive in the far right lane.

When towing something physically longer and less balanced than your vehicle is not an easy thing to do. Add to that the weight of your load and these factors significantly affect how quickly you should try to stop or might be able to. 

 

Never drive faster than the posted speed limit: 

When towing a loaded trailer, things can go wrong without notice, and you need time to consider what to do if you feel one side of your trailer lifting or shifting out of your lane going around a curve too fast.

 

You cannot accelerate as fast as you want to: 

Do not attempt a last-minute pass like you might driving a non-towing vehicle. Even vehicles with large engines will take longer to reach a speed.

 

You cannot slow down as fast as you want to: 

Travelling downhill with a heavy trailer load behind you requires more space between you and the car in front of you for stopping. If your trailer has a gross trailer weight, vehicle and load of 1,360 kilograms (3,000 pounds/lbs) or more, your car must have brakes strong enough to stop and hold the trailer.” – Ministry of Transporation / Driver’s Handbook / Towing.

 

 

 

Only pass when absolutely necessary; stay alert and vigilant: 

Do not pass at all if it is a two-lane roadway; the chances of your trailer going onto a soft shoulder should be avoided: 

Never pass when approaching an incline, and never pass when on a steep descent. The trailer weight will create problems for both scenarios.

 

Remember your trailer is longer than you might imagine it: 

Accidents are often a result of a driver not correctly allowing for the length of their trailer. Watch the length the whole time while you are passing a vehicle. Make wider turns and take curves at a broader angle to ensure your trailer tires stay on the road.

 

Use all of your mirrors (more than you would typically):

Passing a vehicle while towing a trailer requires full awareness of everything behind you while you pass. Make sure another car isn’t pulling out to pass at the same time that you are. Use your mirrors when merging back into a lane to check the length of the trailer.

 

Signal early. Avoid sudden trailer-sway that results from needing to pull back into your lane quickly:

Make sure you are doing everything to alert other drivers early of your pass.

 

Make small and slow movements with the steering wheel to prevent trailer-careening or trailer-sway: 

Trailer sway is also called the crack-the-whip effect, named after the children’s game where the effect of an initial and quick change in direction is amplified by the length of the chain of hand-holding children, or in this case, your trailer.

 

 

Once trailer-sway is happening, it is hard to regain control.

What is trailer-sway?

Trailer sway happens when there is a side-to-side movement of the trailer. There are many names for it; is also called the crack-the-whip effect and fishtailing.

 

What causes trailer-sway?

Moving your steering wheel too quickly at high speeds, buffetting of passing vehicles, and even windy conditions will cause the trailer to sway. 

 

Should you brake if you experience trailer-sway?

Never apply your brake; it will only amplify the effect. Keep both hands firmly on your steering wheel and let your foot off the gas. In extreme situations, you should use your trailer brake, not your tow-vehicle brake.

 

 

Contact London’s Standard Axle with any of your trailer and axle needs. We are a knowledgeable team here to help you.

 

 

Should Trailer Axles be Straight or Curved – What are Spring and Torsion Axles? 

There are two types of axles; torsion axles and spring axles, both of which have a curve that allows some spring action, designed as a suspension advantage. A spring axle’s camber is more noticeably pronounced than a torsion axle’s because of its design. Both axles are higher in the centre and curve to each end to properly distribute your trailer’s load. 

 

One type of axle is not better than the other; torsion axles or spring axles are simply different, each with its unique benefits. Standard Axle, located in London, Ontario, on top of providing parts for both, manufactures spring axles to the specifications best suited for your trailer.

 

The upward bend, curve, or camber of both torsion and spring axles, are designed to straighten under the load typical for your size trailer.

Cambers are found everywhere in engineering. Bridges, railroads, roads, wheels, and axles all take advantage of the strength of an upward curve to help handling and suspension.

When a trailer is unloaded, the wheels naturally extend outward at their tops, straightening when the trailer is loaded.

When the load is too heavy, your axle bows downward, and this causes your wheels to point inward at their tops, wearing them improperly on the inside shoulder of the tire and shortening the tires’ lives.

An excessively high camber angle in an axle spring will produce constant increased tire wear, and the camber may be so high that it rubs on the underside of the trailer frame. Always ensure you’ve correctly determined the spring axles suited for your trailer and load.

If you would like to know more about how you can measure a properly sized trailer axle, read our helpful article here.

 

Is there a particular amount of bend that is standard? 

There is no standard camber to a spring or torsion axle. However, your axle’s curve must make sense for the likely load carried, a predetermined specification of the trailer size you own. Contact, online our knowledgeable staff or call (519) 451 1116 if you need help with any aspect of your trailer’s spring axles or torsion axles.

 

Where can I get custom-made axle assemblies?

Standard Axle in London, Ontario, provides: 

  • Complete spring axle assemblies made to your trailer and load specifications in-house in a short period of time for your convenience. 
  • Complete torsion axle assemblies made to your trailer and load specifications through our off-site assembler.

 

Are there other reasons for inconsistent tire wear?

Here’s an interesting fact; tires do not wear evenly on any vehicle. A trailer with four tires going around a tight curve will experience more wear on the inside tires because their travel distance is less, and bits of tread is scuffed off. 

However, you should note and ask about any uneven, significant tire wear.

  • The load is too heavy: The inside shoulder of all of the tires wear due to the downward bow of the axle (read above)
  • The axle has been flipped: The camber of the axle points down instead of properly up and prematurely wears the inside shoulders of the tires. 
  • A consistently underloaded trailer: If the trailer weight is too light, it can’t straighten the axle and outer tread wear results.
  • An unmoved trailer: When you leave a trailer sitting in one spot for a long time, it can cause tires to develop stress lines around the flattened resting areas of the tires. Simply move your trailer occasionally.
  • A worn suspension part: If one tire is wearing on the outer tread faster than the others, it may be due to a worn suspension component.  
  • A bent suspension part: If one tire is wearing on the inside tread faster than the others, it may be due to a bent suspension component.  
  • Improperly balanced tires wheel bearing concerns, alignment issues, excessive speed, or worn suspension assembly: You might notice a bulge on a part of the tire because the metal and nylon cords of the tires are failing.
  • Uneven load distribution: This will strain one set of axles more, causing those tires to wear more. It is also difficult to control or handle a trailer with uneven weight distribution.

Standard Axle is here to assist you with most of your trailer accessory needs. Drop in and see us at our new location at 336 Sovereign Road in London, Ontario.

 

 

Can I Mix LED Lights With Regular Lights on a Trailer? 

 

It’s trailer season! Many of us have a tough-as-nails, reliable older trailer that we have fondly kept up with new parts,  including lights, when needed. But it’s getting harder to find the old incandescent bulbs, so can you mix LEDs with standard lights? We have the correct answer for you.

 

“Please check your trailer cables, wires, turn indicators, and lights to ensure they are hooked up properly; it can mean the difference between safety on a roadway or accidents and injuries.” 

 

 

Do you remember years ago when you switched all your incandescents in your home to LEDs?

And do you recall the first winter when you couldn’t figure out why you had to turn up the heat because suddenly the room was colder? 

Incandescent bulbs draw so much amperage that they throw out their own heat; up to 90% of their energy is emitted as heat. Baby’s incubators and animal pens use bulbs for these reasons. 

A 100-watt bulb’s filament reaches temperatures of 4600℉ that can heat the glass body of the bulb to 150 – 250℉. Incandescent bulbs heat up a room, in fact, a 40-watt bulb will heat a room by one degree every hour

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) will not make a room even remotely warm, but conversely, using LED bulbs saves cooling/air conditioning costs during the summer.

 

LEDs have other benefits, especially for your trailer.  

 

  • A light emitting diode is the “size of a fleck of pepper” and emits light in many colours. A trailer light assembly may have multiple diodes, which can be a lifesaver if one of the diodes fails.
  • LEDs send light in a specific direction that can benefit certain applications inside and outside your trailer.
  • LEDs do last longer; three to five years should be expected. Plus, because your trailer may be used sporadically, that number could translate to a decade or more.
  • As previously mentioned, LEDs throw off no heat and may be safer, reducing the possibility of combustion and burnt fingers if you need to change a light immediately.
  • Regular bulbs lose their intensity before burning out. If consistent lighting matters to you, LEDs have the benefit of having the same intensity throughout their life.

 

Please see the Canadian Government page for more details concerning highway requirements for trailer lighting, reflectors, turn signals, and side markers legally required on all trailers.

 

Positioning of required trailer lights1        Positioning of required trailer lights1

 

 

You can have a mix of regular and LED lights on your trailer without having any concerns whatsoever.

 

Your older trailer is wired for the high amperage draw of incandescent lights. An LED bulb uses those same wires; it simply uses less amperage because it is a more efficiently developed bulb, so there is zero concern for your trailer wiring to power two types of lights.. 

 

Switching to LEDs is good news if you want to add more lights to your older trailer. Is it time for new wiring or wiring accessories?

 

LED bulbs are less resistive / more efficient, meaning they use less amperage. You have more amperage energy if you want to add more or different lights.

Read more in our article, How to Measure The Proper Size Trailer Axle to Buy.

Check your fuse panel for the maximum amperage capacity and keep track of the number of amps of each LED bulb so you don’t exceed its capacity. (Checking your fuse to see if it requires replacement if your trailer lights go out is a great first step to determining why they may not be working.)

 

Need lights, reflectors, or new wiring? Visit our lighting page, or call us at (519) 451 1116; our friendly and knowledgeable staff are happy to help you.

How To Measure The Proper Size Trailer Axle to Buy 

Do you need a trailer axle replacement or an axle upgrade? Several measurements necessary to determine your current axle size are indicated in the diagrams below. For an axle upgrade, you’ll need essential capacity rate numbers. Keep reading or visit a trailer axle store in London, ON, for help.

 

A new set of replacement axles are perfect if you continue towing the same weight.

If you’re hoping to tow more weight and upgrade a trailer axle(s), you must consider many other aspects of the trailer including crucial capacity weight numbers. You’ll also need to beware of tire clearance, tire width, hub face distance, spring centres and overhang, ground clearance, and the towing capacity of your vehicle.

In the London, Ontario area, call or contact Standard Axle, your helpful axle and trailer parts supplier since 1991.

 

How to determine a spring axle replacement size: 

 

  • The diameter of your existing axle tube: Look to see if there is an axle tube measurement (for example, 1.75”, 2.17”, etc.) on the axle itself.
  • The hub face measurement: See our diagram below. (The wheel sits against the face of the hub assembly to which the bolts attach.)
  • The bolt pattern on the hubs: Take a photo of the configuration of the bolts.
  • The spring centre measurement: See our diagram below.
  • The axle’s weight capacity: The axle tube’s diameter will align with a respective weight capacity. See our Axle Capacity Diagram below.

Spring Axle Measuring Guide - StandardAxleSpring Drop-Axle Measurement Guide StandardAxle

Spring Axle Weight Capacity Numbers - StandardAxle

 

How to determine torsion axle replacement size:

 

  • The diameter of your existing axle tube: Look to see if there is an axle tube measurement (for example, 1.75”, 2.17”, 3.5”, etc.) on the axle itself.
  • The hub face measurement: See our diagram below. (The wheel sits against the face of the hub assembly to which the bolts attach.)
  • The bolt pattern on the hubs: Take a photo of the configuration of the bolts.
  • The outside of main rails measurement: See our diagram below.
  • The axle’s weight capacity: The axle tube’s diameter will align with a respective weight capacity. See our Axle Capacity Diagram below.

Torsion Axle Measurement Guide - StandardAxle

Torsion Axle Weight Capacity number Guide - Standard Axle

 

If you cannot find the weight capacity of your axle by these means, measure the bolt pattern on the hub, and know the size of the brakes and the bearing part numbers. Call us first for tips on measuring bolt patterns (519) 451 1116.

With this information, Standard Axle can determine the axle size of your existing trailer. See our happy customer reviews.

 

 

Is it hard to replace my trailer lights with LEDs?

It’s definitely time. Replacing your old high-amperage-drawing lights isn’t hard. And LEDs come with so many benefits that outweigh a slightly higher cost. Simply purchase a kit or individual LEDs that hopefully match the mounting style of your existing lights, and don’t worry if your preferred new LEDs require a couple of newly drilled holes.

 

How does an axle’s load capacity work with the type of axle?

Different types of axles, the number of axles on a trailer, and upgraded tires determine how your load will ride on gravel roads versus highways. Every axle has a load capacity, the amount of weight it can support. A trailer can only carry the smallest capacity-rate-number of its varied components: tires, axle, or tow vehicle (the transmission of your vehicle is the determining factor of the latter).

 

Should a trailer axle have a bend to it?

The short answer is yes; an axle must have an upward bend in the middle or on one side to deflect the weight of the load. Without the camber (bend) the axle would sag with weight putting increased wear on the inner tread of the tires. When a trailer is loaded, the weight pushes the axle straighter and makes the tires sit flat, keeping tire wear consistent across their width.

 

What trailer brakes are best?

Trailer brakes are necessary when the weight pushing your vehicle while towing downhill puts excessive pressure on your vehicle’s brakes. Electric trailer brakes are controlled by your vehicle’s brake pedal pressure, have excellent stopping power, are easy to install, and are long-lasting and relatively cost-effective. Hydraulic surge brakes are engaged by pressure at the front of the trailer tongue and therefore have a little lag time, are relatively easy to install, are long-lasting and handle water well. 

 

Are torsion axles better than spring axles?

Why is the decision between torsion and spring axles a layered one? Because each axle solves different needs, torsion axles provide a smoother ride thanks to a rubberized suspension system and how they mount to the frame, but parts cannot be repaired or replaced and over time rubber will decay. Spring axles are wholly affordable, support is spread more evenly, and parts are replaceable and fixable, but the ride is less smooth. Fill out our Axle Order Form or give us a call.

 

Replacing double trailer axles – can I change just one?

To equal the load wear, you should always replace spring axles’ leaf springs in pairs. Similarly, if you’re changing the entire axles or upgrading to higher-weight capacity, both should be replaced simultaneously. A trailer with two axles is called a tandem, dual, or double axle trailer and two torsion axles are always called twin axles.

 

How to prevent trailer bounce:

Trailer bounce can be caused by many things: stiff suspension, over-inflated tires, an improperly balanced load, tongue length and axle position, an empty trailer, or towing a load over the axle’s weight capacity. It can be prevented by: redistributing the load (60% goes toward the front), ensuring the tongue weight is less than 15% of the trailer weight, reducing tire pressure, checking suspension rating, or upgrading the axle. Always make sure the correct trailer tire is being used.

 

When is a trailer breakaway system needed?

According to the Provincial and Territorial Brake Regulations, “any Ontario trailer having a gross weight of 1,360 kilograms (3,000 lbs) needs to be equipped with brakes that are adequate to stop and hold the vehicle.” A breakaway system ensures that if a trailer detaches from the towing vehicle, a pin pulls out of the system, and the battery applies the electric brakes on the trailer, making it stop.

 

Are all trailer jacks the same size?

A trailer jack, also known as a hitch jack or tongue jack, has just one purpose; lifting and lowering a heavy trailer so its tongue’s coupler is at the correct height for your vehicle’s hitch. Trailer jacks are not all the same size, and choosing the right size trailer jack is crucial. The weight of the load you’ll typically tow must match the weight capacity of your axles; this number you’ll use to ensure your jack is the correct one for your trailer.

 

Why is my boat trailer bouncing?

Boat trailers usually have solid axles with leaf springs designed to provide the absorption of a boat’s awkward distribution of weight. When your trailer is empty, the springs jump a lot, making your trailer bounce. Your goal with a loaded trailer is to have minimal bounce for the safety of every vehicle on the road with you— improper tire balance or travelling faster than recommended trailer tire speed may create bounce on a weighted trailer. Tongue weight, meaning you may have too much or too little weight forward of the axle, may be caused by the boat’s motor being closer to the centre of the boat instead of at the back. Try moving gear etc., to balance the load. 

A winch strap from the bow to the winch stand or trailer frame can also help with trailer bounce. Standard Axle is happy to help you troubleshoot your weight/balance concerns. 

 

Can you upgrade axles on trailers?

Upgraded axles are a large part of Standard Axle’s business. Upgrades are beneficial and can provide a new life to an older trailer. Remember that the weight capacity of your trailer is dictated by the smallest capacity rate-number of three components: the tires, axle, or vehicle. Therefore you may need to increase the size and weight capacity of your trailer’s tires and get a more substantial tow vehicle if you decide to upgrade the axle(s). 

 

 

Standard Axle has been helping our enthusiastic community of trailer owners with repair parts and trailer accessories since 1991. 

 

Today, Wayne and his knowledgeable staff ship to you across Canada and the US. Give us a call with any questions you may have.