When a sudden gust of wind caught our travel trailer and started to push it from side to side, my wife let out an involuntary gasp. Having our truck wagged by its tail was unsettling, but, with a deft slide of a lever on the black box neatly hidden under the dash, the sway disappeared as quickly as it had started. That's the beauty of having an electronic brake controller when towing.
For maximum safety and control, the truck must be able to communicate with the trailer, and electronic brake controllers have been around for ages--so has their basic operating technology. When your foot hits the brake pedal, either the motion of the tow vehicle slowing or the energizing of the brakelights activates the brake control, which sends an electrical current to the trailer's electric brakes. They, in turn, engage, according to how fast and how much juice they're provided by the controller.
Over the years, the function and ease of use of controllers has improved and become more sophisticated. The options have as well--there are dozens of controllers and brands on the market.
Choosing a new brake controller for our trailer-toting F-250 was no easy task. We road-tested five models that were activated by the deceleration of the tow vehicle.
Surprisingly, after testing these units on a traditional travel trailer and a toy hauler, we discovered they all provided solid trailer-braking performance, with some slight differences. They were simple to mount and wire, ramped up the trailer's brakes smoothly, and provided controlled stopping power. However, there were significant differences in the types of controls they offered, displays, and adjustments. Several wouldn't be easy for a first-timer to set up. Some displays were nonexistent or were too difficult to see from the driver's seat. And only two made it easy for the driver to adjust the controller to fit the trailer and trailering conditions while on the move.
Our choice was between Valley Industries' new Odyssey and the Tekonsha Prodigy, the latter typically referred to as the benchmark of today's high-end electronic brake controllers.
The comparison chart shows that both units matched each other nearly feature for feature, but in the end it came down to how they functioned in the cab. We chose the Prodigy for its superior manual override control and mounting position flexibility.
Hayes Lemmerz Endeavor, Click Here for Spec Chart
Hayes Lemmerz Energize III, Click Here for Spec Chart
Tekonsha Prodigy, Click Here for Spec Chart
Valley Industries Odyssey, Click Here for Spec Chart
Teckonsha Voyager, Click Here for Spec Chart
Ford Paves the Way
Don't want a brake controller cluttering up the dash of your brand-new F-Series pickup? No need to fret--Ford offers a state-of-the-art electronic brake controller as a built-in option for 2005 F-250/350s equipped with the Power Stroke engine and automatic transmission.
Ford's Trailer Brake Controller, part of the TowCommand package ($425), looks great in the dash, but its integration goes well beyond cosmetics.
According to Hal Felch, the F-Series braking supervisor, the TBC is integrated into the braking master cylinder so it applies trailer brake voltage in proportion to the pressure put on the brake pedal.
The TBC also monitors the speedometer to adjust trailer-brake voltage according to the speed at which the vehicles are traveling. In addition, Ford designed a system that detects an ABS event and changes trailer-brake voltage to match the tow vehicle.
As an added safety feature, Ford engineers included an audible and visual indicator to warn drivers if the electrical connection between the tow vehicle and the trailer becomes disconnected.
The beauty of the integrated system is that it provides maximum trailer-braking control without needing to set it up or having to worry about the look of the finished installation. It doesn't get any easier than that.
| ||Hayes Lemmerz Endeavor||Hayes Lemmerz Energize III||Tekonsha Prodigy||Valley Industries Odyssey||Tekonsha Voyager|
|Sensor type||Pendulum magnet||Inertia activated||Inertia activated||Acceler-|
|Number of axles||1 to 4||1 to 2||1 to 4||1 to 4||1 to 4|
|On/off indicator type||Digital||LED Light||Digital||Digital||LED Light|
|Trailer connection indicator||No||Yes/LED||Yes/display ||Yes/display ||Yes / LED|
|Power conservation mode||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Reverse-polarity protected ||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Vertical mounting angle range, deg||90 to -35||90 to -35||0 to 70||90 to -90||70 to - 20|
|Horizontal mounting angle, deg||Must be parallel||Must be parallel||Must be parallel||20 to -20||Must be parallel|
|Braking voltage indicator||Digital display||LED brightness||Digital display||Digital display||LED brightness|
|Manual override control type||Spring slider||Spring slider||Spring lever||Spring slider||Spring slider|
|Manual override location||Top front||Top front||Bottom front||Front||Front|
|Load range settings||No||No||Yes; 4 levels||Yes; 4 levels||No|
|Power output range||10 to 100%||Infinite||0 to 9.9||0.1 to 9.9 ||Infinite|
|Power setting control||Push|
| Lever||Rotating knob||Rotating knob||Rotating knob|
|Red. brake power while stopped||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Reverse braking||Yes||Yes||Yes; proportional||Yes; proportional||Yes|
|Internal fuse||No*||No*||No*||No* ||No*|
|Size, LxWxD, in||5x|
|Wiring harness length, in||10||8||36||22||7|
|Warranty||Limited lifetime||Five-year limited||Limited lifetime||Limited lifetime||Five-year limited|
|Comments||Good braking response. User-|
friendly settings and display.
|Smooth operation. No display. ||Smooth. Settings easy to adjust. Display gives plenty of infor-|
onsive, even in reverse. Wide range of mounting angles, advanced features.
onsive. Settings, adjust-
ments indicated by one light. No digital readout. Limited mounting angle. Keep manual on hand to adjust.
|*Requires 20- or 30-amp automatic-reset circuit breaker--not supplied|