What are the best caravan brakes? This is a hot subject among the Caravan World team at the moment, having just come back from our annual Best Aussie Vans judging on the beautiful south-west coast of Victoria, where we had a few large vans with a variety of braking systems to look at.
Here. we outline the various braking options available to caravanners.
CABLE TO DRUM
The most basic caravan braking system is the override (or overrun) cable-to-drum brakes, which are not very common anymore on new caravans, except some European vans.
This is a very good set-and-forget system because you don’t need anything in the tow vehicle to operate the brakes, just a towbar rated to tow the weight of the van. Of course, the weight range for this braking system is limited to 2000kg because, beyond that, legally you need caravan brakes that can be operated independently in the cabin by the driver.
The downside to these brakes is that if you do get trailer sway and want to activate the brakes independently, you can’t. You also cannot fit a load-leveling hitch.
This system died out for caravans in the late 1970s, and the most popular here in Australia was the system manufactured by PBR.
The vacuum system required a complex hydraulic and vacuum system to be tapped into the towing vehicle and a vacuum booster to be fitted to the drawbar of the caravan.
This system was complicated and prone to failure when the rubber components perished. While the engine bay of the average 1970s tow vehicle was relatively simple to add these components to, it would be a lot harder, if not impossible, to do now.
ELECTRIC OVER DRUM
This design uses a magnet within the drum that, once energised, pushes out the brake shoes onto the drum. The brakes are activated by current sent through the trailer plug from the tow vehicle, activated and apportioned by the electric brake controller.
This system can work very well, but it needs all the components to be in prime condition and properly adjusted.
ELECTRIC OVER HYDRAULIC
The best of the lot is electric over hydraulic brake system. It is the most powerful, effective and smooth setup you can buy and comes into its own with heavy caravans. There are a few different versions of this system, such as the American-made Hydrastar HBA series, the Titan Brakerite and the Al-Ko iQ7.
The systems employ different methods of activating the brakes or adjusting braking force but are the same in principle. The main unit, mounted on the A-frame, has a 12V air compressor that pumps air into a holding chamber. This stored compressed air, when activated electrically, works on a shaft that pushes fluid in a brake master cylinder, similar to when you activate the brakes on your car with your foot. At one end – the vehicle – the electro-mechanical system needs an electric brake controller to activate the brakes and, on the caravan end, it needs a hydraulic brake setup.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #532, December 2014. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!