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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 the tow rating of your intended tow vehicle and if you need to have camper trailer brakes.
My first travel trailer was a vintage 20-foot trailer without trailer brakes. The next RV was a 35-foot bunkhouse travel trailer with trailer brakes – this required us to upgrade our tow vehicle. From understanding towing capacity to whether you need trailer brakes, I’ll cover it all here.
You may have decided to read this blog solely to answer the question: Do I need RV trailer brakes on my rig? Let’s answer this first.
Can you tow a travel trailer without trailer brakes?
You can tow some small trailers without trailer brakes. Each state has different laws that mandate what size and weight of a trailer you can tow without brakes. However, experts recommend having trailer brakes for any trailer over 4,000 pounds.
How Much Weight Can You Pull Without Trailer Brakes?
The requirement for trailer brakes is based on state law which varies from trailers weighing 1,500 pounds to 5,000 pounds, as well as those from 30 feet up to 60 feet long.
While some states allow trailers up to 5,000 pounds, experts recommend having trailer brakes on any trailer over 4,000 pounds.
Your tow vehicle’s “Gross Vehicle Weight Rating” is an important 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 by pulling it with an undersized vehicle. And worse… it’s downright dangerous to tow without brakes!
Local laws mandate the weight and size of the trailer that you can tow. Knowing the local tow law is especially important when towing campers or travel trailers cross-country, or those that measure over 8 feet in width. In many states you will be required to equip your camper with trailer brakes.
Towing an RV Across State Lines
Every state will have its own laws regarding towing travel trailers. If you’re towing an RV across state lines, check the towing limits and what requirements you may be required to follow.
There may be restrictions on trailer weight, height, width, and surge breaks. These rules often serve to protect motorists using tunnels, bridges, and certain roads.
Failing to adhere to these laws could quickly ruin your trip when local authorities catch up with you or if you have an accident.
Pro tip: Also check if you have requirements from your insurance company for towing a travel trailer. Many standard companies have exclusions for aspects of campers. Roamly is RV insurance by RVers and covers many things you don’t think about. Plus… you can save money… Get a free quote by Roamly.
For other towing resources, check these out:
- Does Towing a Car Behind an RV Put Miles on It?
- Everything You Need to Know About Towing a Pop-up Camper
- Must Have Supplies for your New Camper and Towing Vehicle That You May Have Never Thought Of
Do I Need Travel Trailer Brakes?
Lighter trailers don’t require brakes, so you can tow a light, small trailer without brakes. However, most states require brake systems for trailers beginning at 1,500 pounds. Trailers weighing over 3,000 lbs are required to have brakes on all wheel axles. For your own safety, you should have trailer brakes when towing over 4,000 pounds.
Keep in mind that towing a travel trailer with no brakes does present some risks on the road. Driving a 4,500lb camper with no brakes – regardless of the law – is reckless and could lead to severe damage or injury.
State authorities limit which types of trailer you can use without brakes for your safety as well as those around you.
Laws vary when it comes to trailer brakes. For instance, in North Carolina, trailers weighing up to 4,000 lbs are not required to have brakes. Other states require a trailer brake starting at only 1,500lbs.
That is why it’s so important to know the laws regarding towing campers before you travel out of state. Inspect both the towing vehicle and trailer brakes regularly. Make sure that any adjustments required for safety are completed as quickly as possible before setting off on a long journey.
Where to Get Trailer Brakes Installed
If you’re good with your hands – and know how to watch a YouTube video or two – you can buy your own trailer brakes and brake kits online and install them yourself. There are many options on Amazon, such as this brake assembly and this electronic brake controller.
However, you can also find many local automotive repair shops nearby that should be able to help you out. This might cost a bit more, but you know that it was properly installed by professionals.
Camper Trailer Brake Requirements by State in the US
See below for a table of all the trailer brake requirements for each state. Each US state differs slightly on how much weight can you pull without trailer brakes.
Note: This table was most recently updated in February 2023 with towing laws and statistics from Brake Buddy and Outdoorsy.
|State||Max Towing Speed (mph)||Max Trailer Length||Max Trailer Width||Max Trailer Height||Max Overall Length||Max Weight Requiring Trailer Brakes (lbs)|
|Arizona||75||40’||8 – 8.5′||13.5‘||65’||3000|
|Hawaii||60||45’||89 ‘||14 ‘||65’||3000|
*See below for special requirements for each state denoted by asterisks:
- In Kansas, any vehicle combination must be able to stop within 40 ft when traveling at 20mph.
- Kentucky law does not require brakes on any trailers, regardless of weight. But the vehicle must be able to stop within the distance specified by state statute.
- Massachusetts requires any trailer with an unloaded weight of over 10,000 pounds to have air or electric brakes.
- Michigan requires an independent braking system when gross weight exceeds 15,000lbs
- Missouri only requires independent braking systems on trailers coupled by a 5th wheel and kingpin
- Nebraska requires recreational trailers with a gross loaded weight of 3,000 – 6,500lbs to be equipped with brakes on at least 2 wheels; those over 6,500lbs should have brakes on each wheel
- New Hampshire requires any vehicle combination to be able to stop within 30ft when traveling at 20mph
- New Jersey requires every trailer to have automatic break-away brakes
- North Dakota requires any trailer operated at speeds over 25mph to have safety chains or brakes that will control, stop and hold the vehicle; brakes must be breakaway
- Oregon vehicle combinations must be able to stop within legal limits
- Utah requires vehicle combinations to be able to stop in 40ft at 20mph
- Wyoming requires vehicle combinations to be able to stop in 40ft at 20mph
What Size Trailer Needs Trailer Brakes?
When does a camper trailer need brakes?
In general, 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 camper without trailer 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 the local or state website to determine the legal requirements for towing RVs and trailers as they vary widely. There may also be limits on transporting things like propane gas or other volatile gases in tunnels, so check what your insurance company policies cover if you’re going to be transporting propane or other gases in your trailer.
Tips for Towing a Camper Without a Brake Controller
As a general rule, it is not safe to tow a trailer that is over 25 feet long and 4,000 lbs without trailer brakes. Whether you can pull a camper safely without trailer brakes will depend on the size and weight of the trailer and the size of your tow vehicle.
Campers can be pulled without brakes if they don’t exceed specific recommendations (see table above). You should always use the correct driving gear that the manufacturer recommends for towing.
When towing, drive at low or moderate speeds to avoid straining the tow vehicle and trailer. The faster you move, the more likely the trailer will start swaying side to side, increasing the likelihood of damage and potential injury to yourself and others on the road.
Here are some additional tips for towing an RV or travel trailer without brakes:
- Always allow more distance for stopping as you are depending on your vehicle’s braking system.
- Make wide turns, corners and curves.
- Avoid sudden stops and anticipate the need to slow down.
- Signal well in advance before passing a slower vehicle.
- Try downshifting to improve acceleration and balance.
- Avoid parking on grades.
- Place blocks both in front of and behind trailer tires when unhooking from the tow vehicle.
- Have the brakes on your tow vehicle inspected regularly.
- Pass only on flat ground where you can see clearly and have plenty of clearance.
- When passing 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 steady; don’t apply brakes for long periods to avoid overheating.
- Your tow vehicle may come equipped with a specially designed transmission tow mode; if so, you should switch to that mode when towing your trailer for optimum transmission efficiency.
- 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.
Trailer Tow Vehicle Maintenance Tips
Towing vehicles require frequent maintenance, and even more so if you spend a lot of time pulling trailers on the road.
How do I properly maintain my tow vehicle?
Perform regular maintenance for oil changes, transmission, oil filter, lubrication, cooling system, and other elements that may get overworked.
Trailer tires also require periodic maintenance to keep them towing safely, and it’s always recommended to carry a spare tire.
Tire pressure will determine whether how towing affects your tow vehicle as well as the comfort of your ride. Underinflated tires will reduce the carrying capacity of your trailer. On the other hand, over-inflation damages the tires prematurely.
It can be easy to keep track of your RV’s tire pressure with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System like this one from Amazon. However, you should also remember to always keep a regular tire pressure gauge handy as well. I really like this digital one to help avoid any confusion.
For trailer electric maintenance, 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. It never hurts to have extra trailer wiring kits in case your wires get damaged, as well as a simple toolbox for any repairs you may have to make.
Finally, to make it easy on yourself, be sure to follow the recommended maintenance schedule on your user manual.
Final Thoughts on RV Towing
Traveling in the US – especially over different state lines – can be very confusing if you learn important rules and guidelines beforehand. Make it a habit to check the rules for the state that you are visiting before you embark on your journey, even if you’ve been there before as they may change.
If you’re towing a rental trailer, it is not necessarily mandatory to know proper maintenance routines. However, it helps to at least know the basics.
If you are planning on renting an RV, I would recommend going through a peer-to-peer platform like Outdoorsy, RVezy, or RVshare. These services let you talk to the camper’s owner who will give you more tips on maintenance.
Or, to read more articles in our towing series, start here:
Before you head off into the sunset, safely pulling your RV, check out my Etsy Store. I have all sorts of printable planners and journals that will help you plan your trip – and enjoy all the time you saved in the process.
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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