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Ask Dave: Do I need supplemental brakes for my toad?

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.

Dear Dave,
I have been advised that I do not need a supplemental braking system when towing my toad. What are your thoughts, please? —John

Dear 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?

Read more from Dave here

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Bob P
1 month ago

You missed a very important bit of info, what is the motorhome rated for? The motorhome GCWR is all the brakes are rated for, even then the braking distance is drastically reduced with a auxiliary braking system in the toad.

Retired Firefighter Tom
1 month ago

Bought a used pop-up in fall 1981. Tag shows weight at 1,800 pounds. Wisconsin says no license needed if under 3,500 pounds. Went to Florida in March 1982 and a local township cop pulled me over for “no tag” on the trailer. Said it was required in Florida and issued me a ticket. If I wanted to fight it I had to appear in person in three weeks. *I’m back in Wisconsin by that time.) Stopped at a State Patrol office and explained my problem They checked their “AAA Reciprocity Laws” book and photocopied the page that said Florida and Wisconsin will honor each other’s laws. My ticket should not have been issued. They sent me to a nearby certified weight scale after calling them. Had my trailer weighed – no charge! I then wrote out a letter and enclosed the Reciprocity paperwork and the certified scale weight. It requested of the judge that my ticket be voided as I did NOT require license plates based on Wisconsin laws. Six weeks after the court date I received a notification from the court. The citation had been dismissed. No apology. No ‘sorry for the inconvenience while on vacation.’ Needless to say I have avoided Bunnell, Florida. I had stopped for groceries in the town. Never again. Sorry, Bunnell.

Alex
1 month ago

We towed an 1800 lb Smart Car with our 13,000 lb Class C without auxiliary brakes on the car. Braking didn’t seem affected, but, some anxiety was involved. Later, we moved up to a 2,800 Chevy tracker to tow wheels down. I’m not cheap, but frugal by necessity. The best option was the RviBrake which operates similarly to a trailer brake controller. No pricey special equipment or proprietary connection to either the RV or tow car required. The unit has an on board accelerometer that senses deceleration by the tow vehicle and applies proportionate braking force to the toad’s brake pedal. You do need to plug the unit into a live 12 volt socket on the car. After that, the “box” talks to you with it’s digital voice coaching you through the set up process. The frugal part is the cost and the company offers (at least it used to) a small military veteran discount. It’s not permanently installed and so you can move it to another vehicle if you want or recover your investment on Craigslist.

Ron Lane
1 month ago

I believe Dave’s article missed the most important part….and that is stopping distance with or without your toad having supplemental braking system. Most weight ratios between the motorhome and toad is like 10:1 and under normal driving conditions, braking from the toad is insignificant at best. However; under an emergency situation where the shortest stopping distance is imperative….. the additional pull from the toad will indeed stop the motorhome/toad combination faster and in a shorter distance than if no toad braking existed. That one instance, in itself, can justify the cost of the braking system…..not to mention the possibility of personal injury or even, heaven forbid, death.

Crowman
1 month ago

That Blue Ox failure was the result of someone that’s too cheap or lack knowledge in equipment. That shaft that failed should have been solid and not just square tubing.

Bob
1 month ago

Only needed it twice in 400,000 miles but it worked. Once on a 7% downhill grade when a car abruptly stopped in front of me and once in Los Angeles when a beat up BMW pulled in front and slammed on their brakes trying to cause an accident. Things in the cabinets get rearranged but RV stopped in time.

robert
1 month ago

At present we tow a Smart car without extra braking as it weighs less than 2000 lbs. But if we decide to go any larger we most surely will

Kenneth Fuller
1 month ago

I personally wouldn’t tow without supplemental braking. It’s like having an extra anchor aboard. Most of my stopping doesn’t even engage the supplemental brake because I have it adjusted to “least sensitive” for stopping. However, when I have engaged in harder braking I definately feel the brake “kick in” feeling like another anchor has been thrown. What a nice feeling! Again, towing legally or towing safely? I’ll go with safely.

Don
1 month ago

Excellent summary! I pulled a 2300 lb Fiat 500 behind my 47,000 lb motorhome (legally) without toad brakes and didn’t worry about it. When the Co-Pilot insisted we up our game to tow a 5,000 lb Grand Cherokee, I gave in and installed the Air Force 1 system. I was/am happy with both decisions…