You can’t tow a Dinghy safely if you can’t stop it safely. Here’s the systems that can help you halt your motorhome and what’s behind it
The ability to flat-tow a vehicle behind a motorhome is a great convenience. Most owners select a dinghy vehicle that is lightweight, but even the lightest of vehicles can reduce the braking capability of a motorhome when towing, especially during emergency stops. To compensate for the extra weight, an auxiliary braking system on any dinghy setup is essential; understanding how a braking system works will make it easier to select the right system for your needs.
The Physics of Dinghy Towing
Towing a dinghy is a lot like towing a heavy trailer, with some notable exceptions. First, it is connected to the motorhome via an articulating armature instead of a fixed frame connection. Also, it is being towed with all four wheels on the ground, which means the front wheels must be able to “steer” as it is being towed. Unless there is a method for activating the dinghy’s brakes during a stop, the motorhome has to provide the stopping power for not only its own mass, but for the mass of the dinghy as well. Additionally, in the event of a hitch or tow bar failure, and the car breaking away, provisions within the braking device will help bring the dinghy to a stop.
The Laws of Towing
In most states, anything towed behind another motor vehicle must have brakes. Some states have varying weight restrictions which dictate that vehicles and trailers over a certain weight must have brakes, or the combination must stop within a specified distance. Considering that RVers travel often from state to state, it basically becomes a legal requirement to have dinghy brakes.
Dinghy Braking Systems
There are many braking systems on the market, and choosing which one is best for you will take some research. Dinghy braking systems fall into two main categories: built-in and portable. Built-in systems generally consist of hidden components. They connect to the motorhome’s brake system, either through a direct tap into the air brakes or via a compressor module on a gas motorhome. Portable units are installed on the driver’s seat floor and clamp to the dinghy vehicle’s brake pedal. The ability to move the hardware easily to another dinghy vehicle makes this type of system very popular. Most dinghy brake systems have a breakaway switch and cable. Installation varies on the system, and the hidden or direct systems are typically the most complicated to install. Following are some of the top auxiliary braking units on the market.
Blue Ox’s all-electric Patriot II is a portable, self-calibrating unit that installs on the driver’s seat floor and attaches to the brake pedal. Once the wiring is installed, simply position the Patriot II, plug it in, attach the pedal clamp and turn it on. The 15-pound, self-contained unit provides inertia-based braking when the motorhome’s brakes are applied. The unit comes with a two-way RF in-cab controller with extended range and a breakaway switch. As an option, a seat stiffener is available, giving the system a firmer surface to push against for more positive braking. The Patriot II is compatible with hybrid or other vehicles with continuous power-assist brakes. Control and adjustment of the system — along with error codes should there be a problem with the system — can all be accessed via the RF controller. MSRP: $1,495.
Blue Ox | 800-228-9289 | www.blueox.com
Hopkins Manufacturing Corp.
Brake Buddy Classic II
The all-new beige Brake Buddy Classic II is a compact, fully self-contained system. Other than the breakaway and alert system, there is no other permanent installation required. Initial installation takes 15-30 minutes, and set-up time runs 3-5 minutes, according to the company. The 11-pound Classic II is a fully automatic system that performs self-testing and adjustment at the push of a button. Installation is pretty basic with the Classic II. Once the breakaway is installed, the unit’s seat bracket is unfolded and placed on the driver’s side floor up against the seat, and the Quick-Connect clevis is attached to the brake pedal. The unit is connected to power using a Quick-Connect Easy Pull connector and the auto-start button is pressed, beginning the self-test sequence and relieving the vacuum from the towed vehicle’s brake booster. The Classic II works on all vehicles, including hybrids, according to the company, and includes a dinghy battery charger. An included alert system gives the motorhome driver instant notification of a braking event and an audible warning of a dinghy vehicle breakaway.
Although not available as of press time, the Brake Buddy Classic II should be available by the time you read this. MSRP: $1,149.
Brake Buddy Select II
The all-new red Brake Buddy Select II functions much like the Classic II with a couple of technological additions. First, it features a dual-braking mode (either proportional or full braking). Second, an interactive wireless remote allows on-the-fly control of the Select II and selection of the braking level from inside the motorhome. When the Select II is in full braking mode, it provides full stopping power at the dinghy, and when it’s in proportional mode, it mimics the braking rate of the motorhome. This allows the driver to select the optimal braking level for the driving conditions. Installation of the Select II is basically the same as the Classic II, and the unit works on all vehicles, including hybrids, according to the company — and includes a dinghy battery charger. Although not available as of press time, the Brake Buddy Select II should be available by the time you read this. MSRP: $1,499.
Brake Buddy Stealth
The Brake Buddy Stealth is a permanently installed system that offers additional features for those who also tow a trailer or are looking for as simple a dinghy vehicle hookup as possible.
Consisting of a main control box (the size of a large loaf of bread), the unit can be installed anywhere in the cargo area or trunk, with a cable and wiring that runs up to the front of the dinghy vehicle. A pulley is installed on the firewall, which routes a cable to a bracket attached to the brake pedal. A breakaway switch and a low-profile connector is mounted on the front of the dinghy. In the motorhome, a brake control is mounted under the driver’s side of the dashboard. The Stealth controller will allow sensitivity adjustments as well as manual activation of the dinghy brake system. Additionally, with the push of a button, the remote functions as a trailer-brake control, allowing a trailer with electric brakes to be towed by the motorhome without installing an additional control. Installation of the Stealth takes 3-4 hours depending on the vehicle, according to the company. Once the installation is done, connecting the dinghy to the motorhome is as easy as connecting the tow bar, the breakaway cable and the electrical cable. MSRP: $1,099.
Brake Buddy, Hopkins
Manufacturing Corp. | 800-470-2287 | www.brakebuddy.com
The BrakeMaster is a proportional system that connects directly to the motorhome’s air or hydraulic braking system, mimicking the brake force applied by the motorhome. In a motorhome with air brakes, the system uses a valve installed into the brake system to divert air back to the towed car. An air hose is connected between the motorhome and dinghy. The hose runs through a small air reservoir installed under the hood, then runs to a brake actuator unit installed on the driver’s seat floor, which then clamps to the brake pedal. The removable actuator has a quick-disconnect air line. A breakaway system is included.
The BrakeMaster can also be installed in motorhomes with hydraulic brakes, but the system is more expensive and requires additional hardware. A proportioning valve is installed in the motorhome’s hydraulic brake system, and an air compressor and air tank are installed in a basement compartment. The hydraulic pressure in the proportioning valve opens the air valve, providing air to the dinghy brakes in correlation to the amount of pressure on the motorhome’s service brakes. The dinghy side of the system follows the procedures for the air-brake-powered BrakeMaster. Installation of the system can be pretty complex, especially the hydraulic brake version, so plan on at least 4-6 hours. Connecting the dinghy to the motorhome once the system is installed is fairly straightforward. An air line (included) is attached to the air port on the motorhome and the front of the car. The actuator is then installed in the car once the brake vacuum has been bled off by depressing the brake pedal a few times. An LED wired to the brakelight or brake switch of the towed car illuminates on the dash of the motorhome when the brakes in the dinghy are applied. MSRP for motorhomes with air or air-over-hydraulic brakes (BrakeMaster 9160): $800; MSRP for hydraulic brakes (BrakeMaster 9060): $1,235.
Even Brake 9400
For those who prefer a portable system, Roadmaster’s Even Brake 9400 provides proportional braking, matching the braking force of the motorhome. The unit features terrain-sensing logic that detects grades and rough terrain, and adjusts dinghy braking accordingly. The Even Brake is powered by an internal air compressor, using the air reserve to activate the brake actuator.
The initial installation is simple, taking less than an hour, and set up of the unit for towing takes just a couple of minutes. The system includes a wireless system monitor with LCD screen that provides continuous braking information. It also has a power-save function, which will report on a low battery condition in the dinghy vehicle. If the dinghy car’s battery drops too low, the system will go into sleep mode, reserving enough power for emergency braking. MSRP: $1,535.
The 9700 is an affordable dinghy brake alternative that applies preset-pressure braking to the dinghy when the motorhome’s brakes are applied, or can be set to activate only in the event of a breakaway. The system works with most vehicles with power brakes, and has three braking pressure presets, activating when the coach’s brakelights are activated. Initial installation takes less than an hour, and set up for driving takes a couple of minutes. It automatically protects the towed vehicle’s brakes by releasing brake pressure after an extended period of braking, reactivating the next time the motorhome’s brakes are applied. MSRP: $1,200.
The InvisiBrake is a fully automatic, permanently installed product that provides progressive braking when the brakelights in the towed vehicle are activated. The main unit is quite small, and can usually be installed under the driver’s seat. Unlike most other systems that work on a dead brake pedal, InvisiBrake powers the dinghy vehicle’s braking system, allowing for the full braking capabilities. Dead batteries are also not an issue with this system, as it will trickle-charge the battery while towing. And, according to Roadmaster, the system is compatible with any vehicle with vacuum-powered brakes, hybrids and vehicles with full-time power braking systems. The InvisiBrake also includes a two-stage motorhome monitor, which gives a visual and audible alarm in the event of a breakaway, and a visual reference of braking activity in the dinghy. The installation of the system is somewhat complex, given its hidden and hands-free nature. The main unit installs under the seat, and an air cylinder — which is about the size of a large cigar — is mounted nearby with a cable that runs under the carpet, through a pulley and to a bracket on the brake pedal. There are two wiring harnesses to install, as well as a vacuum line (for vehicles with vacuum-power-assisted brakes), which is routed under the hood and spliced into the power booster’s vacuum line. Expect 5-6 hours for installation for this system, depending on the vehicle. MSRP: $1,100.
Roadmaster Inc. | 800-669-9690 | www.roadmasterinc.com
The small footprint of the new high-tech, 10-pound, RVibrake3 allows easy transport and storage when not in use. The proportional RVibrake3 is the first to use audible voice prompts to guide the user in the proper set up and to verify that the set up, which takes 30 seconds, is correct. In addition to the voice prompts, the system comes with RVi’s Command Center Tablet and hub. A 7-inch-screen tablet that’s mounted in the motorhome cockpit communicates with the brake via Wi-Fi through an included hub, which also provides information for leveling the coach. The tablet communicates in real time, indicating when the unit is braking, that the set up is correct and if the breakaway switch is activated. All the parameters are accessible through the tablet, as are system support and RV checklist apps.
The RVibrake3 comes with everything needed to get going. Some vehicles may require additional hardware (included at no additional cost) for installation. Other accessories, like 12-volt DC extension cords, battery disconnects and a case, are available. MSRP: $1,195.
RVi Brake | 800-965-8527 | www.rvibrake.com
Air Force One
A permanently installed supplemental braking system needs to protect the air supply of the towing vehicle, according to SMI. The Air Force One system accomplishes this using a series of check valves and a small air tank mounted under the coach. The dinghy side of the system consists of a control unit that is mounted under the hood, an air actuator that attaches to the brake pedal arm and a cable that is anchored to the firewall. Initial set up includes installing the actuator with anchor, the main unit housing the vacuum pump and reserve air tank for the breakaway system, an LED brake activation light and the coach connection on the front grille. The cable and wire are routed through the firewall to the main unit and to the battery. The LED brake activation light is mounted anywhere it can be seen from the motorhome’s backup camera, usually on the rearview mirror of the dinghy. Alternatively, the company offers a 900 MHz wireless monitor (MSRP $249.95), which can be installed in place of the LED; a transmitter and the wireless receiver mounts on the motorhome’s dash and plugs into a 12-volt DC receptacle. On the motorhome side of the system, air valves are spliced into the brake system’s air lines, the motorhome air assembly unit with air tank installed underneath the rig and an air line goes to the rear bumper area of the coach and is attached to an air fitting that will supply the dinghy. Expect installation time from 5-8 hours depending on the vehicle. The Air Force One requires no set up for towing, aside from connecting the air line when hooking up the dinghy to the motorhome. MSRP: $1,249.95.
Similar to the Air Force One, the Stay-In-Play Duo uses a small actuator attached to the brake pedal arm, and a main unit mounted under the hood. The system provides inertia-based dinghy braking, activated by both the inertia of the vehicle and the brakelight signal from the motorhome. The main unit creates air pressure for braking, as well as vacuum to power the dinghy brakes. The kit comes with everything needed to install the system. Installation includes the main unit that is mounted under the hood, a control unit for mounting under the dash (where it can be reached for adjustment and for powering-on the system), the brake pedal actuator and the LED brake activation indicator light, which is mounted in view of the motorhome’s backup camera. Alternately, the LED can be replaced by the optional wireless remote (MSRP $249.95). Overall installation should take around 4 hours, depending on the vehicle. MSRP: $1,099.95.
The Delta Force is the first and only dual-signal portable braking system on the market, according to SMI. Dual-signal capability requires two inputs for activation; braking proportion is provided by an inertia switch and the brakelight signal from the motorhome. This is said to substantially reduce the number of false brake activations. The Delta Force is a compact unit, with an intuitive control panel on the top with five vehicle profile selections. A boost button will increase the selected profile by 15 percent should the user need extra braking. The actuator is attached to the main unit with a ball and socket, allowing it to be folded against the unit for storage. Most portable units press against the driver’s seat, which can cause inconsistent braking, according to SMI. The Delta Force is attached to the firewall via a tether and clip. When not in use, the tether tucks under a floor mat.
Installation of the system requires tapping into the brakelight harness from the motorhome connection, installing a breakaway switch and the tether and mount under the dashboard. The system comes with a wireless CoachLink unit, which monitors brake activity and has visual and audible alarms in the event of a malfunction or breakaway. The Delta Force and the CoachLink units get their power from a 12-volt DC receptacle. MSRP: $1,195.
SMI | 800-893-3763 | www.smibrake.com