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Comparing Electric Trailer Brakes to Hydraulic Trailer Brakes

Question:

Why would you want to convert hydraulic brakes to electric brakes? What is the advantage to electric brakes? They fade as magnets heat up, they squeal. I thought hydraulic brakes are superior, I was actually considering changing my travel trailer from electric to hydraulic.

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Expert Reply:

There are advantages to both electric and hydraulic trailer brakes. Hydraulic trailer brakes will typically have better stopping power than electric brakes, but that does not mean electric trailer brakes have poor stopping power.

Reasons why someone may want to switch from hydraulic brakes to electric brakes are typically related to the cost of replacement parts, yearly maintenance and ease of installation.

Hydraulic brakes are an excellent option for all trailers, especially marine trailers because they do not use electricity and heavy-duty trailers because of their superior braking power. However, the cost of replacement parts can be more than some people want to deal with. For example, a replacement surge brake actuator could cost over one hundred dollars or more and buying individual replacements parts could put you in the same boat. A replacement electric-over-hydraulic actuator could cost several hundred dollars as well.

It would cost less to run new wires for electric brakes than it would be to run new steel brake lines. Also, brake pads are not going to wear any more or any less on electric brakes or hydraulic brakes when they are adjusted properly. In general, hydraulic brake systems have more parts than electric brake systems which means there are more things that could go wrong.

Maintenance is another reason why people want to make the switch. In addition to checking the brake assemblies and hubs, it is recommended to bleed the brake lines at least once a year or more if you use the trailer frequently. This is a step that people do not have to waste time with if they use electric brakes.

In my opinion, tracking down a short or ground issue can be much more frustrating than bleeding trailer brakes, but in many cases it is much easier to run new wires to fix a problem than it is to find and clear or replace a clogged brake line. Replacing or installing electric brake components such as wires, brake controller or trailer connector can be much easier than hydraulic brake components like an actuator, actuator part or the brake lines.

We have trailers with electric brakes and hydraulic brakes. Both systems do a great job and I typically spend less time on maintenance and troubleshooting with the electric brakes. If you do not mind spending time properly maintaining the trailer, then replacement parts and future maintenance and cost will not be as much of an issue.

expert reply by:
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John H

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