Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and author of the “RV Handbook” as well as the Managing Editor of the RV Repair Club. Today he discusses supplemental brakes.
I have been advised that I do not need a supplemental braking system when towing my toad. What are your thoughts, please? —John
This is one of those questions that has many different answers and not all of them are right or wrong! First, to properly answer your question we need to know the make, model, year, and GVWR/GCWR of your vehicle as well as the weight of what you want to tow behind your RV. Then we need to know the state or states you plan to travel in, as each state has different road use laws, and one of the laws regards supplemental brake requirements.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I spent a great deal of time helping the RV Safety and Education Foundation develop a comprehensive safety program, which included a section on towing a unit behind a motorhome. We researched thoroughly and worked with RVIA, NHTSA, the American Driving Safety Council, Department of Transportation, as well as most chassis manufacturers to determine what is recommended for various aspects of towing a vehicle.
There were two things that stood out in the research. First, there is a big difference between towing legally and towing safely. The second is, road use laws are subject to the interpretation of the officer that has pulled you over!
For starters, your chassis manufacturer has a recommendation for a supplemental braking system at a certain towed weight. This is not a legal issue, rather, a recommendation that allows them to void the warranty for various premature chassis-related failures. So you should check with your chassis owner’s manual or dealer.
Next, we just had a post on a Blue Ox tow bar failure of the hitch shaft. My Blue Ox tech contact indicated it could have been due to excess force placed on the bar due to the lack of a supplemental braking system in the towed vehicle. This creates excess force and extreme “shock” to the hitch shaft in the receiver. Again, not a legal issue but something to consider.
Now, for the legal debate
Every state has what are called “Road Use Laws” that cover items such as how many units can be towed behind a tow vehicle, whether safety chains are required, speed limits for vehicles being towed that may differ from posted limits, lengths, and whether supplemental brake systems are required on a towed vehicle. For years, Blue Ox and Roadmaster published current Road Use laws on their website but have discontinued due to the ever-changing regulations and what has become the issue of representation by officers.
Before we get into that, we need to understand the Road Use laws of each state. For example, Iowa does not require supplemental brakes for anything under 3,000 lbs., but some of the Eastern states require supplemental brakes over 1,000 lbs., and some do not require any. So, what happens if you register in Iowa, that does not require it so you are legal without, but you travel through Ohio or into New Jersey, that require anything over 1000 lbs. to have it? Supposedly there is a reciprocating law that states what is legal in your state is legal in the states you drive into other than speed limit.
Good luck with that! From what I have experienced and heard from our members, RVers are a good source of income for road use laws as we don’t have proper documentation for the license we need, the weights we are carrying, and the need for supplemental braking. This is where the interpretation part comes in. I have run a side company for the past 10 years that has three trucks with trailers running over 100,000 mile each year. They all have to drive through weigh stations and record e-logs. It’s amazing how many times one of the drivers gets pulled off and ticketed for a violation that is not legal, but we have to file a review. Most don’t contest it – so it’s a good source of income!
So. the short answer to your question. I believe a supplemental braking system is a good idea. It might not be legally required in the states you are driving. But, again, legal and safe are sometimes far apart.
I am sure there are numerous (like thousands) of RVers that have put billions of miles on their RVs without them. But you have to decide if you want to take the chance.
Looking forward to our readers’ stories, the type of braking system, Roadmaster or Blue Ox, and how many miles you put on without one?
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