These units provide an easy way to reduce stopping distance for safer travels when dinghy towing
To tow a dinghy vehicle or a trailer?
That is the question that faces many RVers as they grapple with just one of the many choices the RV lifestyle has to offer. But if a motorhome is your rig of choice, and you want to take a car with you, at some point you’re going to have to go shopping for a dinghy-braking system.
Make a list and
check it twice
There’s a lot to remember when connecting a dinghy vehicle: the tow bar, auxiliary braking system, 6-7-way connector, breakaway cable, tethers, pins and brackets, ignition switch, battery disconnect, etc. Make yourself a checklist for connecting the vehicle, and go through it twice (without distractions) to make sure you’re truly ready to hit the road.
Unlike a trailer, which is designed to be towed and is equipped with a wiring harness for connecting a controller that activates the brakes in concert with the tow vehicle, a car pulled behind a motorhome wasn’t, and isn’t. That means you’ll need a method by which to slow the towed vehicle as the motorhome’s brakes are applied in order to keep stopping distance to a minimum. Depending on the size of the motorhome and dinghy vehicle you own, you may think it unnecessary to use a supplemental brake system. After all, what difference is an itty-bitty Chevy Spark going to make behind your diesel pusher? The difference between a safe stop and an accident, that’s what. The inertia generated by even the lightest car at highway speeds will increase stopping distances significantly — and when you come over a rise at 65 mph and find the traffic stopped dead in front of you, you’ll be thankful for every inch of available braking power. Besides that, auxiliary braking systems are now required in 49 of these United States and in all Canadian provinces, so towing without a dinghy braking system isn’t even an option anymore.
Obviously, you can’t have someone riding in your towed vehicle to apply the brakes whenever you do (well, you could … but beside the fact that it’s unsafe, the highway patrol would frown on that) so that’s what a dinghy brake system does. As you apply the brakes in the motorhome, it presses down on the towed vehicle’s brake pedal, then releases when brake pressure is no longer needed.
There are two basic types of dinghy braking systems: those that are permanent (the system is permanently installed in the towed vehicle) and those that are portable. Permanent systems are generally more expensive and are more labor-intensive to install, but are a good solution if you tow frequently and will only be towing that one vehicle. For the purpose of this guide, however, we’re going to focus on portable systems. Portable systems are often preferable for those who only tow a car occasionally, and/or those who may like to take different vehicles along for the ride (for example, a Jeep for off-roady journeys, or a sedan for family visits). We’ll cover each in alphabetical order, along with features, benefits and MSRP. Happy stopping!
The all-electric Patriot II from Blue Ox operates via a super capacity lifetime battery, and works on all vehicles, including hybrids (those that are flat-towable, of course). It’s lightweight and easy to handle, and installation is a breeze as well. Simply place it on the floor, attach the claw to the brake pedal, then slide the seat forward until it makes contact with the push pads on the housing. Then, plug it in to a constant 12-volt DC outlet; green lights on the cord will glow to verify that you’ve got juice. Press the power button, then “set-up” and you’re good to go. An in-cab controller with extended RV range allows adjustability from the cockpit if necessary, and a breakaway cable is included. MSRP: $1,540.
Blue Ox |800-228-9289
One of the most recognizable names in dinghy braking systems, Brake Buddy recently released two new portable systems: the Classic 3 and the Select 3. Because the floorboards in many of today’s vehicles may have unique curvatures and uneven surfaces, these new systems come with what the company calls TruFit riser technology — independently adjustable legs that allow the units to be correctly positioned on any floorboard. A new universal Quick-Lock clevis, meanwhile, is designed to fit brake pedals of all sizes and shapes, and an AutoStart feature automatically performs a diagnostic system check and cycles the brake pedal. Both systems offer proportional braking; a towed vehicle battery charger; an Easy-Pull cord for power/breakaway; and a compact, low-profile design with carrying handle. The chief difference between the two is that the Select 3 features an interactive remote that allows the user to adjust settings from the cab of the motorhome, and also provides alerts if anything goes wrong. MSRP: Classic 3, $1,149; Select 3, $1,499.
Brake Buddy, Hopkins Manufacturing Corp. | 800-470-2287
Roadmaster’s Even Brake system provides full-time proportional braking in the dinghy vehicle and features constant self-diagnostic testing, with system status transmitted to an easy-to-read monitor located in the motorhome cockpit. Power Save low-battery protection has LED and LCD alerts, and a “sleep mode” preserves battery power while maintaining emergency braking if battery juice gets too low. Automatic brake protection warns the driver of dragging brakes, then will release brake pressure to avoid excessive wear. Easily installed and lightweight, Even Brake is also equipped with on-board memory that “remembers” adjustment settings. For more basic needs, Roadmaster also offers its 9700 portable braking system, which is similar in design to the Even Brake and has some of the same features. The main difference is that, instead of proportional braking, the 9700 incorporates user-selectable levels of light, medium or heavy braking when the motorhome’s brakelights are activated. Both systems include emergency breakaway. MSRP: Even Brake, $1,575; 9700, $1,250.
Roadmaster Inc. | 800-669-9690
Introduced in 1999, the Delta Force system’s claim to fame is its dual-signal technology, which uses the brakelight signal and inertia to trigger proportionate braking in the towed vehicle. It also allows the user to choose between inertia-only or dual-signal activation. Designed for fast but secure mounting, the Delta Force features a ball-and-socket actuator, which makes it easy to work with irregular floorboards and offset transmission tunnels when mounting to the brake pedal. And, instead of wedging against the driver’s seat, Delta Force uses a cable tether that attaches to the floorboard with just one self-drilling screw. There’s no need to fuss with the brake pedal clamp either, because the Set-It-Once design requires only that you adjust the clamp during the initial installation. The wireless CoachLink system monitors connectivity to the towed vehicle, displays braking effort, and offers visual/audible alerts for fault codes and the breakaway circuit. The Intuitive User Interface, meanwhile, checks the unit’s functionality when the “initialize” button is pressed and offers different user profiles. A “boost” button adds 15% more braking power when desired, according to the manufacturer. MSRP: $1,329.
Demco Manufacturing Co. | 800-543-3626
The RVibrake3 is designed to make flat-towing simpler with an Audio Assistant that requires only a 30-second setup with the push of just one button. Small and lightweight, the RVibrake3 incorporates inertia-based proportional braking and brake lock detection that prevents damage to the dinghy vehicle’s brake system. The RVibrake3 includes the company’s Command Center tablet and hub, which walks the user through the correct settings, monitors proportional braking in real time and alerts the driver of the breakaway connection using a proprietary Wi-Fi connection. Optional sensors can be added to the system to monitor tire air pressure. MSRP: $1,225.
RVi | 800-815-2159