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.

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 EndeavorHayes Lemmerz Energize IIITekonsha ProdigyValley Industries OdysseyTekonsha Voyager
Sensor typePendulum magnetInertia activatedInertia activatedAcceler-
ometer
Inertia activated
Number of axles1 to 41 to 21 to 41 to 41 to 4
On/off indicator typeDigitalLED LightDigitalDigitalLED Light
DisplayYesNoYesYesNo
Trailer connection indicatorNoYes/LEDYes/display Yes/display Yes / LED
Self-diagnosticYesNoYesYesNo
Power conservation modeNoNoYesYesNo
Reverse-polarity protected NoYesNoYesNo
Automatic levelingNoNoYesYesNo
Vertical mounting angle range, deg90 to -3590 to -350 to 7090 to -9070 to - 20
Level indicatorDigitalNoYes/LEDNoYes/light
Horizontal mounting angle, degMust be parallelMust be parallelMust be parallel20 to -20Must be parallel
Braking voltage indicatorDigital displayLED brightnessDigital displayDigital displayLED brightness
Manual overrideYesYesYesYesYes
Manual override control typeSpring sliderSpring sliderSpring leverSpring sliderSpring slider
Manual override locationTop frontTop frontBottom frontFrontFront
Load range settingsNoNoYes; 4 levelsYes; 4 levelsNo
Power output range10 to 100%Infinite0 to 9.90.1 to 9.9 Infinite
Power setting controlPush
button
Rotating knobPush
button
Push
button
Rotating knob
Ramp-up controlPush
button,
10-25%
LeverRotating knobRotating knobRotating knob
Red. brake power while stoppedNoNoYesYesNo
Reverse brakingYesYesYes; proportionalYes; proportionalYes
Internal fuseNo*No*No*No* No*
Size, LxWxD, in5x
3x
11/4
51/4x
3x
11/4
51/4x
31/4x
11/4
53/8x
31/4x
11/4
5x
3x
11/2
Wiring harness length, in10836227
WarrantyLimited lifetimeFive-year limitedLimited lifetimeLimited lifetimeFive-year limited
Price$120.00$99.00$258.90$129.95$131.20
CommentsGood braking response. User-
friendly settings and display.
Smooth operation. No display. Smooth. Settings easy to adjust. Display gives plenty of infor-
mation.
Smooth, resp-
onsive, even in reverse. Wide range of mounting angles, advanced features.
Resp-
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
  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
  • |
  • View Full Article