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.
VIP Enterprises — VIP-Tow Brake
The VIP-Tow Brake features a DC-powered screw-drive that depresses the dinghy vehicle’s brake pedal, either automatically or manually from the cab of the coach. The VIP plugs into the dinghy vehicle’s power supply and will charge the battery while in operation. The wired monitor in the motorhome cab features an easy-to-read red light/green light status update, and will also alert users should the dinghy’s brakes become too hot. The company claims the VIP is easy to install and remove, and can be used with more than one setup of motorhome/dinghy vehicle combo. MSRP: $888.
VIP Enterprises: 734-516-2056, www.viprv.com
Hopkins — BrakeBuddy
The BrakeBuddy is a self-contained inertia-activated system that uses an air cylinder to depress the dinghy brake pedal. A built-in 12-volt DC compressor supplies the air. A wireless controller allows users in the cab to keep an eye on operations. BrakeBuddy also features a breakaway system that is designed to bring the dinghy to a complete stop in the event it detaches from the motorhome. BrakeBuddy’s new Vantage Select option allows users to choose between full or proportional braking while on the road, as well as fully automatic one-touch startup. MSRP: $1,499.
Hopkins Manufacturing: 800-470-2287, www.brakebuddy.com
Safe-Tech — ToadStop Qi
The ToadStop Qi features a receiver-mounted switch that activates when the motorhome slows down and the dinghy moves (pushes) forward. Brake actuation is performed using a vacuum-powered motor that depresses the dinghy brake pedal. The ToadStop’s ProPort Control allows dinghy vehicle brake action only when there is push from the dinghy vehicle on the motorhome. This helps prevent over braking on the dinghy — commonly referred to as the tail wagging the dog — that can cause excessive brake use on the dinghy vehicle. The major components of the ToadStop — the actuator, reservoir and vacuum motor — are mounted in the engine compartment, while only the Toad Test Trigger is placed in the driver area, freeing the space from clutter. MSRP: $899.99.
Safe-Tech Solutions: 800-478-7883, www.safe-techsolutions.com
Danko Manufacturing — Rvibrake
Danko’s Rvibrake is a fully proportional portable braking system that weighs only 8 pounds, requires no installation and can be transferred from vehicle to vehicle in minutes, according to the company. The Rvibrake features One-Touch Auto Positioning technology that automatically positions the housing on the floor of the dinghy vehicle. The Rvibrake also comes with a wireless monitor that plugs into the motorhome’s 12-volt DC receptacle. MSRP: $1,250.
Rvibrake: 800-815-2159, www.rvibrake.com
NSA RV Products — ReadyBrute Elite Tow Bar
The ReadyBrute Elite is an 8,000-pound rated all-aluminum tow bar with integrated ReadyBrake braking system. ReadyBrake uses the weight of the towed vehicle to stop the vehicle. When you activate the motorhome brakes, the force of the dinghy vehicle pushes the tow bar forward into the ReadyBrake. This force is then transferred into the lever on top, which activates the dinghy brakes via an aircraft cable. MSRP: $984.
NSA RV Products Inc.: 800-933-3372, www.readybrake.com
Blue Ox - Patriot
The Patriot is an all-electric self-powered proportional unit that contains its own battery. The Patriot utilizes a DC motor to depress the dinghy’s brake pedal, meaning there are no pumps, storage tanks or hoses. From the cab of the motorhome, users can monitor all brake functions or manually apply the brakes using the wireless remote control that continuously communicates with the braking system. The Patriot weighs 15 pounds and features a convenient carrying handle, designed to make it easy to use in different vehicles. MSRP: $1,595.
Blue Ox: 800-228-9289, www.blueox.com
The InvisiBrake by Roadmaster is a progressive braking system that utilizes the dinghy’s electrical harness to command it to brake when you hit the coach brakes. The unit does this by tapping into the same electrical signal that activates the dinghy’s brakelights. The unit can be mounted under the driver’s seat and includes an LED monitor for a visual reference of braking activity from the cab of the motorhome. After the initial three- to-five-hour installation, there is no prep work required to use the InvisiBrake. Plus, it charges the dinghy battery while on the road, meaning it will never run down the dinghy battery, according to the company. MSRP: $999.99.
Roadmaster Inc.: 800-669-9690, www.roadmasterinc.com
US Gear — Unified Tow Brake
The Unified Tow Brake employs the dinghy vehicle’s power brakes to stop in tandem with the motorhome’s brakes. A solenoid mounted beneath the driver’s seat actuates the dinghy vehicle’s brake pedal via a small cable that is hidden underneath the carpet. Vacuum is supplied by the unit’s 12-volt DC pump, which is mounted inside the dinghy vehicle’s engine compartment. By modulating the current of the solenoid, the Unified Tow Brake can regulate the amount of stopping power to the dinghy vehicle on a stop-by-stop basis. MSRP starts at $836.85 and varies based on the type of brakes the dinghy has and your particular towing setup.
US Gear: 800-417-2477, www.usgear.cc
Roadmaster’s Even Brake is a direct-proportional portable system featuring an air cylinder and a built-in 12-volt DC compressor that plugs in to the dinghy’s battery. A wireless display monitor in the motorhome notifies users of a litany of diagnostic alerts (including a low dinghy vehicle battery), and the results of these diagnostics are immediately available on the in-cab monitor. Even Brake is also designed to adjust itself to varying terrains. MSRP: $1,555.60.
Roadmaster — BrakeMaster
The BrakeMaster is a direct proportional braking system that connects to the motorhome’s air or hydraulic braking system. Once the initial install is completed, it connects and disconnects from the dinghy vehicle in less than a minute, without any tools; simply attach the brake pedal clamp, secure the unit to the floor or the seat adapter, quick-connect the air hose and you’re on your way. There are three types of BrakeMaster units: The 9100 (for motorhomes with air or air over hydraulic brakes), MSRP: $619.52; the 9160 (with breakaway system, for motorhomes with air or air over hydraulic brakes), MSRP: $883.85; and the 9060 (with breakaway system, for motorhomes with hydraulic brakes), MSRP: $1,304.68.
SMI — Air Force One
Designed primarily for diesel-powered motorhomes, Air Force One uses a small amount of air from your motorhome’s brakes to create a vacuum that activates the dinghy vehicle’s powered brakes. A signal from the dinghy’s brakelight switch is used to alert owners in the motorhome that the towed vehicle’s brakes are being applied. The unit mounts under the hood of the dinghy (permanent installation) and the brake actuator mounts on the dinghy’s brake arm. Once installed, the company says the system requires absolutely no setup or teardown. MSRP: $1,199.95.
SMI’s Stay-IN-Play Duo is a similarly featured braking unit designed primarily for gas-powered motorhomes. MSRP: $1,099.95.
SMI Manufacturing: 800-893-3763, www.smibrake.com