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A significant aspect of purchasing and driving a towable RV is having a good understanding of all aspects of towing a trailer.  You must know about the tow rating of the vehicle you intend to use and if you need to have trailer brakes. 

My first travel trailer was a vintage 20-foot trailer without trailer breaks.  The next RV was a 35-foot bunkhouse travel trailer with trailer brakes that we had to upgrade our tow vehicle for.  From understanding towing capacity to whether you need trailer brakes, I’ll cover it all here. 

Let’s get this issue out right away. Can you tow without trailer brakes? Well, states and municipalities have laws that mandate how much weight and size of the trailer you can tow.

So, is it legal to tow an RV without trailer brakes?  Do I need trailer brakes?

In general, small trailers can be towed do not need trailer brakes. The requirement for trailer brakes on a trailer is based on state law and varies from 1,500 pounds to 5,000 pounds and 30 feet up to 60 feet long.  In almost every state, trailers over 8 feet wide need a separate braking system. 

Although some states allow trailers up to 5,000 pounds, experts recommend having trailer brakes on any trailer over 4,000 pounds.

The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is a substantial number that will tell you how much weight your vehicle can tow safely. 

The last thing you want is to buy an RV only to find that you’d be breaking state law if you attempted to pull it with an undersized vehicle.

Local laws mandate how much weight and size of the trailer you can tow. There is great emphasis on following these rules when towing trailers that measure over 8 feet in width, and, in some states, you will be required to have a trailer with brakes.       

If you’re towing a trailer through state lines, check local laws regarding towing limits and what requirements you may be forced to follow. You may find, for example, that things like weight, height, width, and surge breaks are mentioned required, and these rules may serve to protect motorists using tunnels, bridges, and certain roads.

Failing to adhere to these laws could ruin your trip when local authorities catch up with you or if you have an accident. 

For other towing resources, check these out:

Do I need trailer brakes? 

An suv pulling a caravan trailer
romanbabakin via

Lighter trailers don’t require brakes, so you can tow a light small trailer withour brakes. The weight limit for which trailers brake are required begins at 1,500 lbs in most states. Trailers weighing over 3,000lbs are required to have brakes on all wheel axles. For your own safety, you need to have trailer brakes over 4,500 pounds.

We must keep in mind that towing a trailer with no brakes does present some risks on the road, which is why state authorities place a limit on which type of trailer you can use without breaks.

Driving 4,500lbs trailers with no brakes is just reckless and could lead to severe damage or injury.

Laws are very different when it comes to trailer brakes: For instance, in North Carolina,  the limit weight for towing trailers with no brakes is 4,000lbs. You will find states that require a trailer brake starting at 4,500lbs and others as little as 1,500lbs.

That is why it’s so important to know the laws regarding towing before you travel out of state. Brakes have to be inspected regularly for both the towing vehicle and trailer to make sure that any adjustments required for safety are completed as quickly as possible before setting off on a long journey.

Trailer Brake Requirements by State in the US

The following is a table of all the trailer brake requirements by state. Each US state differes slightly on how much weight can you pull without trailer brakes.

State Max Towing SpeedMax Trailer Length Max Trailer Width Max Trailer Height Max Overall Length Max Weight Requiring Trailer Brakes
Alabama 70mph40’8’13 ½’ 57’3000lbs
Alaska 55mph40’8 ½’ 14’ 75’5000lbs
Arizona 55mph 40’ 8’13 ½ ‘65’3000lbs
Arkansas 65mph N/A8 ½’ 13 ½  ‘N/A3000lbs
California 55mph 40’ 8 ½’ 14’ 65’1500lbs
Colorado 65mph45’8 ½ ‘13’ 70;4000lbs
Connecticut 65mph 45’8 ½ ‘13’70’3000lbs
Delaware 55mph 40’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘70’4000lbs
Florida 65mph48’8 ½ ‘13 ½’ 65’3000lbs
Georgia 55mph N/A8’13 ½ ‘55’3000lbs
Hawaii 55mph40’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘65’3000lbs
Idaho65mph45’8 ½ ‘14’ 75’1500lbs
Illinois 55mph 60’8’13 ½ ‘60’ 3000lbs
Indiana 55mph 40’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘60’ 3000lbs
Iowa65MPH 48’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘65’3000LBS
Kansas  55mph 45’8 ½ ‘14’ N/AN/A
Kentucky 65mphN/A8’13 ½ ‘65’N/A
Louisiana 70mph30’8’13 ½ ‘70’3000lbs
Maine 55mph 45’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘65’ 3000lbs
Maryland 65mph N/A8’13 ½‘55’3000lbs
Massachusetts 65mph33’8 ½ ‘13 ½’ 75’N/A
Michigan 55mph53’8’13 ½ ‘65’3000lbs
Minnesota 70mph48’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘60’3000lbs 
Mississippi 55mph50’ 8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘75’2000lbs
Missouri 70mphN/A8 ½ ‘13 ½’60’N/A
Montana 65mph N/A8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘65’ 3000lbs
Nebraska 65mph 40’8 ½ ‘14 ½ ‘65’ 3000lbs
Nevada 65mph N/A8 ½ ‘14’70’ 3000lbs
New Hampshire 55mphN/A8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘48’N/A
New Jersey 65mph 40’8 ½ ‘13 ½’62’N/A
New Mexico 75mph40’8 ½ ‘14’ 65’ 3000lbs
New York 65mph 45’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘60’3000lbs
N. Carolina55mph48’8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘60’4000lbs
N. Dakota 70mph 60’8 ½ ‘14’75’N/A
Ohio55mph40’8 ½ ‘13 ½’ 65’2000lbs
Oklahoma 65mphN/A8 ½ ‘13 ½‘65’3000lbs
Oregon 55mph 40’8 ½’14’50’N/A
Pennsylvania 55mph 53’8 ½ ‘ 13 ½’ 60’3000lbs
Rhode island 65mph 48 ½ 8 ½ ‘13 ½ ‘60’4000lbs
S. Carolina 55mph53’8 ½ ‘13 ½  N/A3000lbs
S. Dakota 65mph53’8 ½ ‘14’80’3000lbs
Tennessee 70mph48’8’13 ½’ 65 3000lbs
Texas 70mph N/A8 ½ ‘14’65’4000lbs
Utah 65mph 48’8 ½’14’65’N/A
Vermont 65mph48’8 ½ ‘ 13 ½’ 72’3000lbs
Virginia 55mphN/A8 ½ ‘13 ½’ 72’3000lbs
Washington 60mph 48’8 ½ ‘14’75’3000lbs
West Virginia 65mph48’8’13 ½’ 55’3000lbs
Wisconsin 65mph 48’8 ½ ‘13 ½’ 65’3000lbs
Wyoming 65mph60’8 ½ ‘14’ 85’N/A
Table comparing the size and weight of trailer that is required to have trailer brakes in each state in the US.

What Size Trailer Must Have Trailer Brakes?

A silver SUV and coordinating tow trailer in a generic autumn scene.
duckycards via

When does a trailer need brakes?

Trailers measuring 8 feet or more in width are required to have brakes. The length and weight requirements vary by state and range from 45 feet to 75 feet long and 1,500 to 5,000 pounds

States and municipalities decide the legal limit for towing a trailer without brakes. The weight of the trailer is what determines if it can be towed safely without brakes; but if it’s over 8 feet wide, chances are the state law will require it to have brakes. 

When traveling to new municipalities, check on the state websites to determine the legal requirements for towing because they vary widely. There may also be limits on transporting things like propane gas or other volatile gases in tunnels, so you might also want to check what your insurance company policies cover if you’re going to be moving potentially dangerous gases.

Tips for Towing a Camper without a Brake Controller

Compact Car with Travel Trailer on the Highway
welcomia via

As a general rule, it is not safe to tow a trailer without trailer brakes that is over 25 feet and 4,000. Whether you can pull a trailer safely without trailer brakes will depend on the size and weight of the trailer and the size of the tow vehicle.

Campers can be pulled without breaks if they don’t exceed specific recommendations. You should always use the recommended driving gear that the manufacturer recommends for towing.

When towing, always use low or moderate speed to avoid putting a strain on the tow vehicle and trailer. The faster you move, the more likely the trailer will start swaying side to side, therefore increasing the likelihood of damage and potential injury to yourself and other motorists on the road.

Here are some tips for towing without brakes:

  • Always allow more distance for stopping because you are depending on your vehicles braking system.
  • Make wide turns and corners and curves. 
  • Avoid sudden stops and anticipate the need to slow down
  • Signal well in advance before overtaking a slower vehicle
  • Try downshifting to improve acceleration and balance 
  • Avoid parking on grades – have someone outside assist you instead
  • Place blocks at the trailer tires when unhooking from the tow vehicle 
  • Have the brakes on your tow vehicle inspected regularly  
  • Overtake only on flat terrain where you can see clearly and have plenty of clearance
  • When overtaking on narrow roads, avoid going to a soft shoulder, as that can cause the trailer to lose control
  • When taking long downgrades, only apply brakes at intervals to keep the trailer and don’t apply breaks for long to keep from overheating
  • Your tow vehicle may come equipped with a specially designed transmission tow mode, in which case you should switch to that mode when towing your trailer for optimum transmission   
  • Only make slight movements on the steering wheel to adjust for direction, rather than attempting to make an exaggerated movement to turn 
  • Always keep the load in the trailer balanced, especially if it doesn’t have brakes, as this will affect the tongue and cause it to jack upward. 

Tow Vehicle Maintenance Tips 

Towing vehicles require maintenance frequently and more so if you spend a lot of time on the road pulling your trailer.

Always check for oil changes, transmission, oil filter, lubrication, cooling system, and other elements that may require regular maintenance.

Trailer tires also require periodic maintenance to keep them towing safely, and it’s recommended that you carry a spare tire.

Tire pressure will determine whether towing takes a toll on your tow vehicle and whether the ride is smooth or clumsy and slow. Underinflated tires will also reduce the carrying capacity of your trailer, while over-inflation. On the other hand, damages the tires prematurely. Ensure that the connector plug prongs are hooked the right way and that light bulb sockets, receptacles, and ground connections are in check before riding off.

To make it easy on yourself, follow the recommended maintenance schedule on your user manual.

A collage of two suv pulling a camper, caravan trailer

Final Thoughts on RV Towing

Traveling in the US can be very confusing if don’t take time to learn what you have to. There are rules in different states that are allowed in another. Make it a habit to read the rules for the state that you are visiting before you embark on your journey.

In case you are renting an RV, it is not mandatory to know all your maintenance stuff, but it would help to know at least the basics. If you are planning on renting your RV, I can recommend Outdoorsy, RVezy, and RVshare that will give you a chance to talk to the owner who can give you more tips on maintenance.

To read more about our towing series, start here:

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    Shauna Kocman founder Family Travel Fever
    Shauna Kocman founder of Family Travel Fever

    Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever.  We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug!  I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.

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