Brake Controllers: Can They Ever Go Bad?

Brake controllers can go bad and need replacement over time, affecting their efficiency and performance. Brake controllers are an essential part of any towing setup, as they help drivers control their trailers’ braking system.

However, like any other electronic component, these controllers can malfunction over time and require replacement. Brake controllers going bad can compromise their ability to communicate with the trailer’s brakes, resulting in poor braking, which can be dangerous on the road.

Signs that a brake controller has gone bad include brake pedal pulsations, trailer brakes locking up, or the trailer brakes not working at all. It is important to get brake controllers maintained regularly to ensure they work correctly and avoid any road hazards. In this article, we explore how to tell if brake controllers are malfunctioning and ways to fix them.

Brake Controllers: Can They Ever Go Bad?


Common Symptoms Of Malfunctioning Brake Controllers

Do brake controllers go bad: common symptoms of malfunctioning brake controllers

Brake controllers are a crucial component of any towing system. They allow the trailer to be synchronized with the vehicle’s braking system. A functional brake controller distributes the necessary braking force evenly to both the vehicle and the trailer. However, like any mechanism, brake controllers can malfunction.

Here are the common symptoms of a malfunctioning brake controller:

Unresponsive Brakes

If your braking system is unresponsive, it might be a result of a malfunctioning brake controller. Some of the key symptoms of unresponsive brakes may include:

  • You notice that the brakes are not reacting in a consistent way
  • There is a delay in the trailer’s braking response
  • There is no change in the trailer’s braking after pressing the brake pedal
  • The trailer’s brakes do not engage at all

Delayed Braking

When there is a delay in the trailer’s braking response, it can cause a dangerous situation. The delay can occur for several reasons, including a malfunctioning brake controller. Here are some of the signs that your brake controller is the cause of the problem:

  • The trailer does not begin to brake until seconds after the vehicle’s brakes are applied
  • The braking response is not consistent
  • The trailer slides or sways from side to side when braking

Uneven Braking

Uneven braking is a more common symptom than you might think, but one that should not be ignored. When a brake controller is not working correctly, it can cause unequal braking between the trailer and the towing vehicle. Some of the key signs of uneven braking might include:

  • The trailer skids or fishtails when coming to a stop
  • The braking pressure applied to the trailer is weaker or stronger than the vehicle’s brakes
  • The brakes lock up too easily

No Trailer Braking

If the trailer’s brakes do not engage at all, this is a clear indication of a malfunctioning brake controller. This situation can be hazardous and should be addressed immediately. Some of the warning signs of no trailer braking may include:

  • The tow vehicle brakes are the only brakes being applied
  • The trailer is pushing into the tow vehicle after the brake pedal is applied
  • An audible warning signal is heard from the brake controller

Brake controllers are an integral part of towing safety. It is crucial to pay attention to any warning signs indicating brake controller malfunction and address the issue promptly. With maintenance and repair, brake controllers can last a long time.

Brake Controller Failure And Its Causes

Do brake controllers go bad? Brake controller failure and its causes

Brake controllers are essential components of towing systems. They ensure that the trailer’s brakes activate at the same time as the tow vehicle’s brakes, providing a safe and comfortable towing experience. However, like any other electrical component, brake controllers can develop faults that reduce their functionality or worse, fail altogether.

In this post, we will discuss some of the most common causes of brake controller failure.

Electrical Failure

Electrical failure is a frequent cause of brake controller malfunction. Here are some of the key points to consider:

  • Loose or damaged wiring connections can cause the controller to fail.
  • Short circuits in the power supply or the brake signal wires can cause the brake controller to stop working.
  • Overloading the circuit can cause a failure in the brake controller.


Brake controllers are susceptible to corrosion, especially when they are exposed to moisture. Here are some of the key points when it comes to corrosion:

  • Corroded wiring connections can reduce or prevent signals from reaching the brake controller, causing it to fail.
  • Corrosion on the brake controller’s internal components can interfere with their functionality, leading to failure.


Overheating can also cause a brake controller to fail. Here are some of the key points:

  • Overloading the trailer or towing in hot weather can cause the brake controller to overheat and fail.
  • The brake controller must be installed in a well-ventilated area to prevent overheating.
  • Poor installation that affects air circulation can also cause the brake controller to overheat and fail.

User Error

User error is also a common reason why brake controllers fail. Here are some of the key points:

  • Failure to follow the brake controller’s installation and operation instructions can cause it to fail.
  • Adjusting the brake controller incorrectly can cause it to activate the trailer’s brakes too much or too little.
  • Improper maintenance, such as failing to clean the brake controller’s contacts, can lead to failure.

Brake controllers are essential components of a towing system, and it’s vital to keep them functioning correctly. By understanding the common causes of failure, you can take preventive measures to ensure that your brake controller is always in top shape.

Testing A Brake Controller Without A Trailer

Do brake controllers go bad: testing a brake controller without a trailer

Brake controllers are essential for towing safety, and it is important to check if they are in good working condition before hitting the road. Failing brake controllers can cause accidents and safety hazards, so it is best to identify any issues before your trip.

Even without a trailer attached, you can still test your brake controller for any potential problems. Here’s how:

Using A Multimeter

A multimeter is a device used to measure electrical currents, voltage, and resistance. It’s an excellent tool for testing brake controllers without a trailer.

Here’s how to use a multimeter to test your brake controller:

  • Turn on your vehicle’s ignition and connect the meter’s red lead to the positive battery terminal and the black lead to the negative battery terminal.
  • Use the multimeter to test the voltage at the brake controller’s power supply terminal. It should read between 10 and 16 volts.
  • While depressing the brake pedal, take another reading at the brake controller’s output terminals. It should read around 12 volts. If there’s no output, the controller may be faulty.

Using A Voltmeter

A voltmeter is another device that can help test your brake controller. A voltmeter measures the voltage between two points in a circuit.

Here’s how to use a voltmeter to test your brake controller:

  • Attach the meter’s positive lead to the brake controller’s power supply terminal and the negative lead to a ground wire or the negative battery terminal.
  • With the brake pedal depressed, take a reading at the brake controller’s output terminals. The voltage should read around 12 volts. If there’s no output, the brake controller may be defective.

Conducting A Visual Inspection

You can also conduct a visual inspection to check for any obvious damages or wear and tear. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Check if the brake controller’s display light turns on when plugged into the power source.
  • Inspect the wires and connections for any corrosion, rust, or damage.
  • Look for any frayed or broken wires, and ensure that all wires are securely connected.
  • Check if the brake controller’s display settings are correct and responsive.

Regular testing and maintenance of brake controllers are crucial for safe towing. If you notice any issues during testing, it’s best to repair or replace the brake controller to ensure safe towing on your next trip.

Testing A Brake Controller With A Trailer

Do brake controllers go bad? Testing a brake controller with a trailer

Brake controllers are integral to the safety of a towing vehicle. They help to synchronize the stopping power between the truck and the trailer, reducing the risk of accidents. However, you might be wondering, do brake controllers go bad? In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes.

But how do you know when to replace it? Here are a few things you need to know:

Adjusting The Gain

Before you start testing your brake controller, make sure to adjust the gain properly. The gain determines the amount of power that is sent to the trailer’s brakes. If you set it too high, you might experience brake lock-up. Conversely, if it’s too low, the trailer might not stop in time.

The gain setting should be adjusted according to the weight of the trailer and the road conditions. Here’s how:

  • Start with a low gain setting and drive the truck and trailer on a deserted road.
  • Apply the brakes gradually and note how the trailer responds.
  • Adjust the gain gradually until you reach a setting that allows the trailer to stop evenly with the truck.
  • Repeat the process for different road conditions until you get it right.

Conducting A Road Test

Testing your brake controller with a trailer is easy. All you need is a safe place to drive and an empty trailer. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Engage the manual brake control feature on the brake controller. This should activate the trailer brakes without applying the truck’s brakes.
  • Drive slowly and apply the truck brakes gently. Note how the trailer responds. It should slow down evenly with the truck.
  • Increase the speed and repeat the process, making sure that the trailer brakes engage smoothly.
  • If the trailer brakes lock up or fail to engage, it may be time to replace the brake controller.

Remember to adjust the gain for different driving conditions to ensure optimal performance.

Brake controllers can go bad, and it’s essential to test them regularly to prevent accidents. By following the steps outlined above, you can ensure that your brakes are in good shape and ready for the road.

Inspecting And Cleaning Brake Controllers

Do Brake Controllers Go Bad: Inspecting And Cleaning Brake Controllers

As a responsible vehicle owner, it’s important to ensure that your brake system functions properly. It’s essential to keep the brake controller in good working order to make sure that your vehicle can stop whenever and wherever you want it to.

But sometimes, as with any mechanical or electronic component, brake controllers can go wrong. In this section, we’ll discuss how to inspect and clean your brake controller to ensure it is working correctly.

Cleaning The Connections

Electronic components in your brake controller may need cleaning over time. Dirt, grime, and corrosion can accumulate on the connector pins of the controller, causing performance issues. Cleaning the connections should be your first step to keep the controller in proper working order.

Here’s how:

  • Disconnect the brake controller from the vehicle’s harness.
  • Inspect the connector pins for dirt, grime, or corrosion.
  • Use a contact cleaner to clean the connector pins.
  • Dry the connector pins using a soft cloth.

Adjusting The Controller Settings

Adjusting the brake controller settings is another crucial part of maintaining its functionality. The settings can be adjusted to meet your towing needs. Follow these steps to ensure that your brake controller works correctly:

  • Identify the kind of braking system your vehicle has, electronic or hydraulic.
  • Read the manual of your brake controller to understand its settings.
  • Determine the gross weight of your vehicle and the weight of the trailer you’re towing.
  • Adjust the brake controller settings to match the combined weight of your towing vehicle and the trailer.
  • Test the braking system on flat and high terrain to ensure it operates correctly.

The proper functioning of the brake controller is essential to keeping your vehicle safe. Make sure to inspect and clean your connections and adjust the settings to ensure the controller works correctly. A well-maintained brake controller guarantees safe towing of your vehicle and cargo.

Replacing A Bad Brake Controller

Do Brake Controllers Go Bad

Brake controllers are an essential part of any vehicle’s trailer towing system. They help control the brakes on a trailer while driving, ensuring the safety of everyone on the road. However, like any other component in a vehicle, brake controllers can go bad and need replacing.

Choosing The Right Brake Controller

Before replacing a brake controller, it’s essential to select the correct one for your trailer. Here are a few key points to consider when choosing the right brake controller:

  • Type: There are two types of brake controllers available – time-delayed and proportional. Time-delayed brake controllers apply brakes at a set rate, whereas proportional brake controllers apply varying amounts of brake pressure depending on how hard the tow vehicle’s brakes are applied.
  • Wiring: Make sure the brake controller matches the number of axles on your trailer and has the correct wiring harness for your vehicle.
  • Compatibility: Check compatibility with your trailer’s braking system. Some brake controllers may not be compatible with certain brake types, such as electric over hydraulic brakes.

Steps To Replace A Brake Controller

Replacing a bad brake controller is a simple process that can be done in a few easy steps. Here’s how:

  • Turn off the power to the old brake controller.
  • Remove the mounting screws holding the controller in place.
  • Disconnect the wiring harness from the controller.
  • Mount the new brake controller in the same location as the old one.
  • Connect the wiring harness to the new brake controller.
  • Turn the power back on and test the brakes on the trailer.

Replacing a brake controller is a simple and straightforward process. By choosing the right one and following the correct steps, you can ensure your trailer’s brakes always function safely and effectively while on the road.

Frequently Asked Questions On Do Brake Controllers Go Bad

Do Brake Controllers Go Bad Over Time?

Yes, brake controllers can go bad over time due to wear and tear, voltage spikes, or water damage. It is important to regularly inspect and maintain your brake controller to prevent failure while driving.

How Often Should I Replace My Brake Controller?

It is recommended to replace your brake controller every 3-5 years, or if you notice any signs of wear, damage, or malfunction. Regular maintenance and inspection can prolong the lifespan of your brake controller.

What Are The Signs Of A Bad Brake Controller?

Some signs of a bad brake controller include: loss of braking power, difficulty stopping, intermittent braking, flashing warning signals, or complete failure. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to have your brake controller inspected and replaced if necessary.

Can I Test My Brake Controller At Home?

Yes, you can perform a simple brake controller test at home using a voltmeter and a test light. However, it is recommended to have your brake controller professionally tested and calibrated for accurate readings and optimal performance.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Brake Controller?

The cost to replace a brake controller can vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle, as well as the type of brake controller needed. On average, you can expect to pay between $100-$300 for a new brake controller installation.


After examining all the factors, it is clear that yes, brake controllers can go bad over time. However, regular maintenance and inspection can help prolong their lifespan and ensure they are functioning properly. When purchasing a new brake controller, it is important to choose a reputable brand and have it professionally installed.

Remember to also regularly check for any signs of malfunction, such as a flashing error code or delayed braking response. By taking these steps, you can avoid any potential safety hazards and ensure a smooth and efficient towing experience. So, keep these tips in mind and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you suspect a problem with your brake controller.

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