Few of us who tow dinghy vehicles would complain that we have too much braking capability in view of the fact that the combined weight of our motorhomes and dinghy vehicles may range from 10 to 20 tons.
Consideration of our personal safety, chassis manufacturer requirements, state/provincial towing laws and personal liability have combined to bring supplemental braking for our dinghy vehicles into increasingly sharp focus.
Chassis manufacturers and motorhome builders address the issue in various ways, so it’s necessary for motorhome owners to check their owner’s manuals for specifics.
For example, Ford’s service brakes are rated for operation up to the chassis gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) and requires auxiliary braking for a vehicle or trailer weighing more than 1,500 pounds. Freightliner Custom Chassis states that auxiliary braking systems are a must for dinghy vehicles or trailers weighing more than 1,500 pounds.
Roadmaster, a veteran in the towing equipment business, is at the forefront of the issue with products such as Even Brake, a portable unit suitable for a wide variety of flat-towed dinghy vehicles. The product is designed to sense changes in the inertia of the motorhome and activate dinghy brakes at varying levels proportionally.
Even Brake is popular with motorhomers who may change dinghy vehicles on a relatively frequent basis. The unit requires no equipment in the motorhome other than a wireless monitor that communicates functional status and braking activity of the Even Brake.
An alternative for motorhome owners who don’t change vehicles as often is Roadmaster’s BrakeMaster, which requires installation of equipment in the motorhome but utilizes a more compact brake pedal actuator in the dinghy vehicle.
Even Brake is the simplest to install, including an air compressor, brake-pedal actuator, inertia sensor and controls in a single unit. But it requires placing and removing the unit on the floor of the dinghy before and after each towing session. Both units utilize a breakaway switch that actuates if the dinghy vehicle was to separate from the motorhome during towing.
We arranged for a road test of the Even Brake in a 2011 Honda CR-V towed by a Ford-based 35-foot Itasca motorhome, with the installation performed at Camping World in Henderson, Nev.
Although the Even Brake unit is portable, two compact ancillary components are permanently installed in the dinghy: the ICX transmitter, attached to the cowl below the steering column, and a breakaway switch. Even Brake is plugged into the transmitter in preparation for towing and it sends data to a wireless monitor attached to the motorhome dash. The transmitter also is connected via a cable to a breakaway switch, which is attached to the lower front fascia on the Honda and would activate the brake unit if the car were to become detached from the motorhome during towing.
The Even Brake unit is powered via a cigarette lighter receptacle (12-volt DC). Addition of a cigarette lighter receptacle was necessary in the CR-V because the two standard receptacles were deactivated by removal of a fuse from the Honda fuse block (see accompanying story). With the installation complete, we were ready to tow.
The routine is to complete all pre-tow procedures before positioning the Even Brake on the floor in front of the driver’s seat. A steel shaft with a clamp protrudes from the Even Brake, and the clamp must be affixed to the brake pedal. Instructions are specific on how the Even Brake should be positioned between the seat and the brake pedal so the unit is braced for action. Attaching the clamp to the brake pedal was a bit difficult in the Honda because the seat cannot be moved back as far as is the case in larger vehicles, but the procedure was easier after a few run-throughs.
Two Even Brake cords were connected, one to the ICX transmitter and the other to power, causing an internal air compressor in the brake unit to build pressure to an automatic shutoff point. This was reflected in a ready to test message on the monitor. Then we set the braking sensitivity and force (pedal pressure) to medium levels.
Pressing a test button caused the Even Brake to pump the Honda brake pedal three times, which bled vacuum from the power brake unit. Everything was correct, and the unit gave us a green light; the motorhome monitor flashed the words test is good, system ready. We were ready for the road.
While driving, we used medium pedal pressure in the motorhome for our first brake actuation, and the inertia-sensing Even Brake took a fraction of a second to actuate. A red light was illuminated on the left corner of the monitor and the word braking flashed on the screen. We could feel the braking of the CR-V – a gentle tug and a continued feeling of drag, which is what we had expected from a 3,600-pound car behind a 22,000-pound motorhome. We braked repeatedly, varying the amount of pressure on the brake pedal, and the Even Brake responded consistently.
Then we increased the force setting to maximum and could feel a modest increase in braking force, again not expecting dramatic braking difference due to the motorhome/car weight difference. Later we rode in the car’s passenger seat while it was being towed (on a controlled course – do not attempt on a public road), and could see and feel the Even Brake actuating in response to each motorhome brake action – other than gentle pressure on the pedal, which did not actuate the unit.
Even Brake did not actuate on steep downhill grades when we downshifted to lower gears to restrain speed, which prevents continuous dinghy braking and the chance of brake overheating.
The monitor will signal if improper positioning or adjustment of the Even Brake causes it to press the dinghy brake pedal when it shouldn’t, and the system includes a number of other diagnostic functions.
The Even Brake system performed consistently well and gave us more of a feeling of security any time we encountered the need for aggressive braking.
Camping World lists the Even Brake at $1,300 and the BrakeMaster ranges between $922 and $1,389, depending on motorhome application. Cost of the Honda installation was $279, including $237 for labor plus the cost of a brakelight switch and cigarette lighter receptacle.