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What is a break controller?


wjpatter
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I’m preparing my vehicle to pick up my Oliver in October. I have some questions about the tow package that I need. Beyond boats and u-haul, my experience level with towing is low. I have not pulled anything with electric brakes so I may be asking really dumb questions. What is a break controller and when do you need one?

 

Before we get into what a controller is and whether I need one, how does the trailer brake system work? From what I can get from Google, controller seems to come in 3 types, proportional, inertial, and timed. The names are pretty descriptive and I assume that performance and setup will varies with each. My problem is that I won’t have the slightest idea of how the Oliver system works. What keeps the trailer from laying down a long black rubber strip each time I touch the breaks?

 

How does the trailer system interaction with the tow vehicle abs? Who makes the brake system on the Oliver? Will the brake system on the Oliver work without one?

 

Thanks

Bill Patterson

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The brake controller that we use is a Tekonsha Prodigy. It is activated by a wire that becomes hot when the brake is stepped on. You can adjust the timing and intensity of the controler, from the drivers seat. The Oliver has electric solenoids that apply pressure to the brake drums. The controller's "electronic brain" applies voltage/current to those solenoids. The first setting is pretty simple. You can apply the brake manualy while in the pickup bay at the factory. Those guys at Oliver are really good to help with this in the way of advice. From a slow roll apply the brake manualy so the brake's don't lock up, but apply firmly, stopping the tow vehicle and trailer without hitting the foot brake in the tow vehicle.

Most of the brake controler manufacturers have complete instructions for their preferred initial settings on their web sites.

The prodigy has a electronic readout to assist in the settings and does a systems check upon start up and will advise of simple failures such as a shorted brake solenoid, ect..

I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth 08' Oliver Legacy Elite HULL NUMBER 0003(sold)

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Bill,

The electric (or electronic) brake controller is a device that is connected to the tow vehicle's electrical system and that sends a signal to the trailer through the seven-pin wiring harness to activate the trailer's brakes in conjunction with the braking action of the tow vehicle. As Mountainborn has explained, the amount of braking action can be adjusted by settings on the controller, to avoid laying down that long black rubber strip when you apply the brakes.

 

You will need to install a brake controller in order to operate the Oliver's brakes. It is a relatively small device that is installed within reach and view of the driver, usually under the dash. I purchased a Tokonsha Prodigy controller and installed it myself. This was pretty easy using the wiring harness pigtail that came with my tow vehicle for this purpose, matched up with the pigtail that came with the controller.

 

The driver may also manually apply the trailer's brakes using the controller (on our brake controller, this is done with a lever), even if the tow vehicle's brakes are not applied, or to add to the braking action already called for by the controller. This allows the driver to fine-tune the braking action, if needed.

 

Hope this helps,

Steve

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Bill,

The brake controller is essential, and you will be glad you have it. The Oliver's brakes cannot be operated without the controller. There is no option. While the Oliver is not a heavy trailer, it is heavy enough that brakes are really needed to safely tow it. In many states, if not most or all, brakes are required on trailers that weigh much less than the Oliver.

 

Steve

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Thanks Steve.

 

I have a class III hitch on my Volvo for my bicycle rack but never had the wiring installed. I might think about installing it my self if I were home in Florida where I have a garage and tools. I’m on an assignment in Los Angeles and will be picking up my Oliver on my drive home. I have seen some blogs about pulling a trailer without brake but for short hauls but the trip to Florida is over 800 miles and I don’t think I want to chance it. I’ll be in Fayetteville Arkansas for a couple of week before pickup. I’m sure I can find someone to install when I get there. Installation will take what? Maybe ½ day?

 

Bill Patterson

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The time it will take to do the install will depend upon how tow ready your vehicle is. For instance, our Jeep Liberty had some of the wiring already done, so it was a quicker install (only about an hour). But if wires need to be run, it could be longer.

 

Any mechanic should be able to do it - however those specializing in towing (such as RV shops) will be better targeted with doing it.

 

As a side note, we also opted to install ours so that the passenger could easily reach as well in case of emergency. After having been through a spin out with our Tab on the interstate (a 360+ at 65 mph.. wheee!), we realized how important this could be if the driver is otherwise incapacitated or distracted.

 

Best wishes!

- Cherie

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Bill,

 

You may also want to consider making a visit to a Volvo dealer, and at least find out what the factory solution is. I generally prefer a factory installation (if available) vs. some sort of after-market installation. It's likely to be your most expensive option, but depending on how invasive the work is, it might be worth it. Perhaps Seadawg can offer some suggestions too, as I believe they have also towed their Oliver with an XC90 (I'm assuming that's the tow vehicle you're considering, as I know of no other class III capable Volvo).

 

Herm

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Bill,

Let me clarify regarding my installing the brake controller: My tow vehicle is a 2002 Suburban, and we purchased it with the tow package, which included the seven-pin wiring plug at the hitch and a separate plug and pigtail to hook up a brake controller. All that was involved was connecting the wires from the brake controller's pigtail (supplied with the brake controller) to the wires of the pigtail for the tow vehicle, plugging the tow vehicle pigtail into the circuit box under the dash, and installing the controller under the dashboard using a bracket that came with the controller. I drilled two holes to do this. The whole process took me about an hour to do, but I spent about eight hours researching and learning about it ahead of time, in order to do it correctly. It was this easy because the tow vehicle was ready for the installation.

 

From what you say, it sounds like you do not have the wiring run and the seven-pin plug for a trailer to plug into. This is the wiring that not only will engage the brakes, but will operate the Oliver's turn signals, brake lights, etc. If that is the case, then I would recommend getting this done by a professional. I agree with Herm that it makes sense to check with a Volvo dealer to make sure that you have all of the requisite wiring and plug available at the hitch, if it is not already there. If I misunderstood your response and you do have the seven-pin plug but don't know where to tie in the controller, as Cherie suggests, a good mechanic familiar with wiring for towing should be able to install the controller for you. Or, of course, the Volvo dealer could do it.

 

I also agree with Cherie's suggestion that you install the controller within reach of the front seat passenger, as well as the driver. I installed ours that way for just the sort of reason that she mentions.

 

Hope this helps,

Steve

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Our local U-haul dealer installed our Tekonsha Prodigy brake controller and harness in our Volvo XC90. Some Uhaul dealers will do this, others won't. Your Volvo dealer will also be able to install the harness and controller. We also highly recommend the Tekonsha Prodigy controller.

 

Happy camping!

Sherry

2008 Ram 1500 4 × 4

2008 Oliver Elite, Hull #12
 

 

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Folks,

 

Thanks for your response. The discussion has helped me a lot. Like I said, I have no experience towing anything with a brake and was naive in thinking I show up and drive out. I did a bit of research a couple of years ago when I had the hitch put on. The auto dealer and RV dealer when they spoke to me were speaking in tongues. It didn’t register and I couldn’t connect the dots. The wiring was secondary because I really need the hitch for my bike rack. I did see enough postings to know the XC-90 harness installation wasn’t straight forward and had planned to have the dealer do the work. What isn’t clear is whether the dealer installation included the break controller. It is a conversation that I have to have. I’m in Los Angeles now and probably won’t have the work done here. These people are very proud of their work and have a 20 – 30% cost premium for everything they do. I’ll be in Dallas for a couple of days and in Fayetteville, AR, for a week plus before to picking up the Oliver in Tennessee. I trust people in that part of the country to do the work. They do enough of it. I will have to sort out where to put the control head on the dash. There isn’t much room for add-ons. Cherie’s comment about access from the passenger’s side is very appropriate. I have questions about anti-sway equipment but think I’ll start another thread.

 

Bill

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