A motorhome is a virtual sea of technology. From the exhaust system to the drivetrain to the engine cooling — not to mention the appliances, audiovisual components and heating/cooling units inside — much of the motorhome’s performance we take for granted falls under the responsibility of high-tech gadgetry and cutting-edge ideas.
The braking system in your motorhome, however, has seen few changes over the years, essentially falling under one of the disc/drum/air categories. While these brakes are more than capable of stopping several tons of motorhome within a reasonable distance from high speeds, once you add a dinghy vehicle to the mix, the stakes change considerably. So it makes sense to supplement the coach’s stopping power once you add a few thousand pounds to the hitch receiver.
Adding a supplemental braking system to your motorhome/dinghy combination will not only improve the stopping performance, it will also ease the stress on the braking components, tires, transmissions, etc., of the motorhome and the dinghy. Oh, and it’s required by law in nearly every state.
A quick look at your home state’s towing laws (or the 2012 Trailer Life Directory’s “Towing Laws” section) will show that state requirements for “trailer” weights (in our case, the weight of the dinghy vehicle) requiring operable braking systems vary from 1,500 to 5,000 pounds. But keep in mind those values change the very second you cross over a state line. Essentially, the legal limit in one state may decrease by nearly 4,000 pounds in another, meaning the supplemental braking system is a must-have to stay on the road.
All dinghy-braking systems perform the same function. Be it via an air-driven cylinder and/or compressor mounted in the dinghy vehicle, an electric motor coupled to a screw jack or even a hitch-receiver mounted master cylinder that activates when the dinghy vehicle pushes against it, dinghy braking systems are designed to work in tandem with the existing brakes whenever the coach brakes are activated.
The type of system (direct or proportional) and its mounting options (permanent or temporary) you select will vary based on your needs. Permanent-mounted systems require little adjustment once properly set up, but do require that you make body and/or cab modifications to the dinghy vehicle. Temporary-mount systems are generally easy to install and are lightweight for optimum portability, but require setup each time you want to hit the road. Keep in mind that both mounting options usually require a control unit to be mounted in the cab of the motorhome. Some systems also have a control panel in the cab of the motorhome that allows you to manually turn off the system, which is especially helpful in the event of a blowout on the dinghy vehicle or for short back-up emergency situations.
Included in the slideshow below are several models, which should help get you on the right track. Remember that when deciding to tow a dinghy vehicle, never exceed the motorhome’s gross combination weight rating (gcwr) — the maximum permissible weight of a fully loaded motorhome and fully loaded dinghy vehicle — regardless of the presence of an auxiliary braking system.