This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
by Jason Epperson
When it comes to towing heavy trailers, safety should always be a top priority. One essential component is a trailer brake controller. These devices are crucial for telling the brakes on a trailer to activate when you press the brake pedal in the tow vehicle, providing for safe stops. And trailer brakes are legally required when the trailer exceeds a certain weight.
But many tow vehicles don’t come with brake controllers. They can be installed aftermarket, but you might consider that a hassle.
In recent years, there has been an emergence of Bluetooth-enabled trailer brake controllers promising convenience and ease of use. In this article, we will delve into the topic of Bluetooth trailer brake controllers, focusing on their reliability, functionality, and their significance in towing safety.
Understanding Trailer Brake Controllers
Before we delve into the realm of Bluetooth trailer brake controllers, it’s essential to understand what a trailer brake controller is and why it is necessary for towing heavy loads.
A trailer brake controller is a device that allows the driver to control the electric or hydraulic brakes on a trailer from within the towing vehicle. It ensures that the trailer brakes are synchronized with the vehicle’s brakes, providing safer and smoother stops.
It has a “gain” adjustment that allows you to set the amount of braking applied so that you get the maximum braking power without locking the wheels up. It also has a lever that allows you to test the trailer brakes and to apply them without applying the truck brakes. This can be an important way to stop trailer sway before it gets out of control.
Legality and Weight Requirements
Trailer brake controllers are not just a luxury; they are a legal requirement in many jurisdictions. The specific weight threshold that triggers the necessity of a trailer brake controller varies from place to place.
Five states (CA, ID, NV, NH, and OR) require trailer brakes for trailers over 1500 lbs, while most states (36) set the requirement at 3000 lbs. If you plan to travel across the country, you’re going to want to have operational trailer brakes for all but the smallest teardrop trailers.
Wireless Brake Control (Bluetooth)
If you don’t tow often, or you don’t want to have a brake controller installed, there are “wireless” options out there that can be used.
The Curt Echo is a notable example. It sounds ridiculous to even consider Bluetooth trailer brake control as an option. However, it is important to clarify that despite the Bluetooth functionality, the braking mechanism itself does not rely on a Bluetooth connection. Instead, the Curt Echo utilizes built-in accelerometers to detect when the towing vehicle is decelerating.
Bluetooth trailer brake controllers, such as the Curt Echo, offer several advantages in terms of convenience and flexibility. They can be used with most vehicle-trailer combinations and provide for easy installation with simple setup requirements.
Still, you have to make adjustments through a dedicated smartphone app. This allows users to fine-tune brake sensitivity, gain diagnostic insights, and receive real-time information on brake performance.
Bluetooth technology relies on wireless communication between the brake controller and the driver’s smartphone. While Bluetooth connections are generally reliable in everyday settings, the towing environment presents unique challenges that can potentially disrupt the connection.
Factors such as distance, obstructions, and interference from other electronic devices may impact the reliability of the Bluetooth link. Thankfully, the connection is primarily used for adjusting settings, and if the Bluetooth connection is lost, the brakes will still function normally.
Curt Echo: A Portable and Smartphone-Ready Brake Controller
The Curt Echo trailer brake controller stands out as a portable and smartphone-ready option that offers convenience and flexibility in towing operations. Let’s explore some of its key features and address common questions regarding its installation and compatibility.
Three Models — Which Bluetooth Trailer Brake Is Best?
The Echo brake controller comes in three Bluetooth versions: the Curt Echo Mobile, the Curt Echo In-Line, and the Curt Echo Under Dash. They all do essentially the same thing, requiring you to use the same custom-designed app to operate them. The difference is the ease of installation and where they are located.
The “under dash” model connects to a built-in tow package’s wiring harness in the cab of your vehicle. If your vehicle is already equipped with a wiring harness that can accept a trailer brake controller, we think it’s best to just get a manually operated one.
The “in-line” model gets mounted behind your 7-way connector on the underside of the vehicle. Again, it works if your vehicle has the right connectors.
The “mobile” version is the model that most people might be considering because it boasts a non-invasive plug-and-play installation process. It conveniently plugs into any 7-way connector, eliminating the need for additional wiring or hardware. This portability allows users to use the Echo brake controller across multiple towing vehicles without the hassle of complicated installations. The only major downfall is that the “mobile” version can only be used with trailers that have up to 2 axles (4 brakes), while the wired versions can handle up to 4 axles. In real-world use, trailer loads requiring 3-4 axles need to be towed with a heavy-duty truck that will certainly already have a built-in brake controller.
Smartphone Integration for Enhanced Control
One of the standout features of the Curt Echo is its ability to wirelessly sync with your Apple or Android phones. By downloading the Smart Control app, your smartphone becomes the interface for controlling the brake settings.
However, it is crucial to prioritize safety and avoid distracted driving. Adjustments should only be made when the vehicle is stationary. You’ll probably want to mount your phone to the dash. The app needs to be open and running while you are driving.
Responsive Braking with Triple-Axis Accelerometer
The Echo brake controller utilizes a triple-axis motion-sensing accelerometer, ensuring highly responsive and smooth braking. Even if your phone screen is locked, receives incoming calls, or experiences a temporary Bluetooth disconnection, the Echo maintains precise brake control utilizing the most recently programmed settings.
Versatility and Compatibility
The Curt Echo Mobile seamlessly transfers between vehicles and trailers. It is compatible with cruise control, anti-lock brakes, and low-voltage systems, ensuring seamless integration with various towing setups.
The Echo regulates trailer brake activity based on vehicle deceleration, and small speed changes or releasing the gas pedal may not activate the trailer brakes. This ensures that the Echo does not interfere with adaptive cruise control systems.
Installation Orientation and Other Considerations
One common question regarding the Curt Echo Mobile is whether the unit requires a specific orientation for the accelerometer to function properly. Fortunately, the Echo’s automatic calibration process allows it to adapt to the current orientation it sits in, ensuring accurate braking performance regardless of the connector’s rotation.
Additionally, the Curt Echo can be used in rental environments where multiple users download the app and utilize the receiver. It offers the flexibility to save up to six different trailers in the customizable app, allowing for easy switching between vehicles and trailers.
The Curt Echo system is not compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but it also won’t interfere with their functions. It works with ABS brakes and PWM wiring systems. It features weather-resistant construction, has built-in reverse-polarity and short-circuit protection, and a limited lifetime warranty.
Limitations and considerations of Bluetooth brake controllers
The notable limitation of Bluetooth brake controllers, including the Curt Echo, is their reliance on a smartphone application for manual braking.
In situations where trailer sway occurs, applying the trailer brakes without letting off the accelerator can stop the trailer from wagging. This is a split-second decision and needs to happen immediately, or it will be too late. Using a button on an app may introduce an element of danger.
This can be particularly concerning when towing with smaller vehicles. Unfortunately, most vehicles without trailer brake controllers are small.
However, Curt has addressed this concern by offering an optional Bluetooth button that allows manual braking without relying on a smartphone screen. I, frankly, think it should be mandatory. It does, however, still require that you have the app running on your phone, and it’s pricey, at over $50.
Bluetooth Trailer Brakes Conclusion
Bluetooth trailer brake controllers, such as the Curt Echo, introduce a new level of convenience and flexibility in towing operations. While they offer benefits like wireless connectivity, app-based adjustments, and real-time information on brake performance, it is important to carefully evaluate their reliability in real-world towing scenarios.
It is also important to consider the specific requirements of your towing setup. While Bluetooth brake controllers offer convenience, it is essential to ensure that they meet your specific needs.
Getting a hard-wired brake controller installed is going to cost you between $300 and $600 while getting the Curt Echo plus the Bluetooth button is going to land in the same range. The cash savings might not be worth it in the end. But Bluetooth controllers do offer a strong connection and the easiest installations you could possibly get if you have a special need for a mobile brake controller.
For more RV ownership articles click here.