Trailer Life

Leaving The Homeland – Tales Of A Worthless Brake Controller

I left the Lena KOA Holiday on October 31 (when the campground closed for the season).

With a 3 hour drive ahead of me, the plan was to get everything packed up, hitched up and be on the road by 9:30 – 10:00.

Wouldn’t you know it… I slept until 8am!

After a quick cup of coffee, I got my handy dandy, self-created, Breaking Camp checklist out and began getting things done.

Draining The Water Heater…

When full-timing, it’s recommended to drain the water heater every 3 months. I don’t know if this is truly necessary but, for now, I’m doing what’s recommended… and the time had come to drain the water heater.

I opened the outside access panel to the water heater and pulled the valve to release the pressure. Once the pressure was released, I opened the drain.

While the water drained on to the cold ground… I finished the other items on my checklist.

Completing The Checklist…

The last item on my checklist was to do a walk around to make sure everything was closed up, rolled up, turned off, put away and ready to roll.

It had been 2 months since I last towed the trailer and I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything. So, I walked around a second time looking up, down and all-around.

Stopping At The Office…

At 10:45am, I pulled out of my campsite.

I stopped at the campground office to pay the electric bill and for propane I’d gotten the day before. After saying my “good byes” to what feels like part of the family… I left the office and headed to the van.

I gazed back at the KOA and snapped a quick picture (shown at the top of this post) before heading down the road.

Half An Hour Later…

I was heading east on the 4 lane stretch of highway 20 (two lanes each direction).

Suddenly, I hear a friendly honk honk from a semi driver who was passing on my left.

The semi driver was saying something and motioned for me to pull over. I have severe hearing loss (right ear) and I’m pretty good at reading lips… but reading lips isn’t easy when driving 65mph down the Interstate next to a gazillion ton truck.

Giving him a nod, I put my blinker on to pull off the road.

The semi driver kept driving but I figured there was something I needed to check.

As soon as I stepped out of the van I saw it.

The darn water heater door was open! I’d forgotten to shut it AND I missed it BOTH times I did my final walk-around.

After closing and latching the water heater door, I did another complete walk-around before continuing down the road.

One Hour Later…

It was time to find a gas station. The last road sign said there was a Road Ranger at the next exit.

Everything went smoothly at Road Ranger. I’m pretty comfortable getting gas while towing the trailer but there are gas stations I won’t even attempt because there’s not room to maneuver.

With a full tank of gas, I was ready to get back on the road.

Attack Of The Asian Beetles…

As I pulled out of the gas station, I felt the warmth if the sun beaming through the windshield. The morning was cold and frosty but it warmed up nicely.

Now that it warmed up, all the Asian Beetles that flew in the van yesterday suddenly thawed out and began flying around.

Yesterday… when I opened the door to the van, Asian beetles were thickly layered in the door crevices. I have never seen them so thick. They flew everywhere – including inside the van.

I didn’t want beetles flying in my face while driving so I pulled in to a parking lot, put on my Beetle Patrol badge and got busy thinning the herd.

Asian Beetles STINK when aggravated or squished. Most flew outside when prompted by a fly swatter but the few who refused to willingly exit the van had to be dealt with harshly – which caused a big stink!

Coming Unplugged (Literally and Figuratively)…

After Beetle Patrol was finished… I headed to the Interstate.

I no sooner merged on to the Interstate when the trailer backup camera turned off.

The trailer running lights also went off.

Glancing at the wireless brake controller app (on my phone), it said “DANGER the controller is not attached.”

This meant there was no power or braking power running to the trailer.

Oh for Pete’s sake!!!

If you’re wondering what a brake controller does or how my wireless controller works…

When being towed, the trailer is plugged in to a port on the back of the van (or tow vehicle). This gives the trailer electricity for the running lights, brake lights, back up camera, blinkers, etc. It also keeps the fridge running while towing.

A brake controller is what makes the trailer brakes work. The brake controller works through the brakes on the van. When I brake the van… it activates the trailer brakes.

Without a brake controller, the van takes the entire brunt of stopping itself AND the trailer. Depending on speed and other factors, without trailer brakes, the tow vehicle may or may not be able to properly stop.

Most brake controllers are permanently mounted inside the van (somewhere within reach while driving).

My brake controller is wireless. It’s attached outside the van. Instead of plugging the trailer directly in to the van, the trailer plugs in to the wireless brake controller. Then, the wireless brake controller plugs in to the van.

Since the controller connects between the trailer and the van, if the wireless controller comes unplugged, it also means the trailer is unplugged.

Here’s more info and pictures of the wireless brake controller (on Amazon).

Now back to my story…


Finding A Place To Pull Over…

I was on a busy stretch of the Interstate and didn’t want to pull over – especially since the trailer brake lights, blinkers, brakes, etc were no longer working.

There was an exit up ahead so I stayed calm and continued moving forward.

Thankfully, this wasn’t a busy exit. The exit went to another road. There was no town, no gas stations, no restaurants and little, if any, traffic.

The exit was sloped upwards and made it easier to stop the trailer with no trailer brakes.

Putting My Inspector Gadget Hat On…

After a quick inspection, I found the wireless brake controller had come out just a tad.

The controller was securely attached when I left the campground and I always check that lights and stuff are working. But, it wiggled its way out enough to lose connection.

I reconnected it, added a hefty dose of electric tape to help secure it and got back on the Interstate.

Reaching My October 31 Destination…

I reached my destination 4 stress-filled hours after leaving the Lena KOA Holiday. 

My destination was D and W Lake RV Park in Champaign, IL. It was just an overnight stop on my way to warmer weather.

I didn’t get a chance to walk around the campground much. It was cold, I was tired and I was hungry.

Other than the coffee I had for breakfast, I hadn’t eaten yet.

D and W Lake RV Park, Champaign, IL. Picture of lake across from campsite. Autumn 2021.
An evening picture of the lake at D and W Lake RV Park campground in Champaign IL

Brake Controller Gone Wild…

The next few days of towing the trailer proved to be extremely stressful.

But it had nothing to do with the trailer and everything to do with the wireless brake controller.

How I ended up with a wireless brake controller…

Back in June 2021, I had a hitch and brake controller added to the van. They were supposed to mount a permanent controller inside the van… but the Service Person gave me a wireless brake controller instead of a permanent one.

Their reason for not putting a permanent brake controller in was… I would have to move everything out of the van so they could run a wire though the van.

I probably wouldn’t have known the difference but they never offered me an option. They just gave me the wireless controller – without asking.

I may not know much about brake controllers but I have a built in Bull $h!t Detector and my detector was giving me an alert. Unfortunately, at that time, there wasn’t much I could do about it.

In the short time I’ve had the wireless brake controller I don’t think it ever worked correctly. I’ve never felt good about it but I don’t know what normal feels like so I have no way of knowing.

Every time I contacted the Service Person with the newest problem… they weren’t able to offer much help. I felt like I was getting the run-around.

In the few times I’ve towed the trailer…

I’ve had a lot of issues including:

  • The controller would lose connection with my phone while driving
  • The controller would come unplugged from the van while driving
  • The brake controller would activate the trailer brakes WHILE I was driving
  • The controller would NOT activate the trailer brakes when I was stopping
  • The phone app wouldn’t load so I could turn the controller on
  • The app shut itself off while driving (its supposed to continue working when it does this but it didn’t work right when it was on so who knows)
  • The app reset itself and I’d have to do the entire setup process again
  • I was never able to adjust the controller so that the trailer braked smoothly

It was very stressful not knowing if or when my trailer brakes were going to activate and whether or not the trailer lights were going to stay on.

I was stressed out, in a funk and had to dig deep to pull myself out.

You are stronger than you think.

Fixing The Problem…

I made it to Clarksville, Tennessee when I decided not to go any further until the issue was resolved.

Fellow Camper’s are a great resource. No one had ever heard of a wireless brake controller and couldn’t offer any help in that arena… but… they offered advice on where I might get a permanent controller installed.

Two days after talking to a local shop… I had a brake controller permanently attached inside the van.

They never had to run anything through the van (other than where the controller mounts under the steering wheel). I never had to move anything out of the van. They did it all in a few hours and all I had to do was sit in the waiting room and play on my iPad.

Towing the trailer with the new controller…

My first tow with the new controller was a 3 hour drive. I was quite nervous starting out.

It didn’t take long to notice a HUGE difference.

The trailer stopped smoothly, there was no drag from the trailer brakes randomly activating while driving down the Interstate, the trailer stayed firmly plugged in to the van and, of course, the trailer lights stayed on.

I barely knew the trailer was back there – even when stopping!

Parting Thoughts…

This mishap adventure put me completely outside of my comfort zone.

The stress wore me out but I came through it wiser and more confident than when I started.

There will be more out of my comfort zone moments but, hopefully, nothing as huge as the one I now have behind me.

The difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.

2 thoughts on “Leaving The Homeland – Tales Of A Worthless Brake Controller

  1. That kind of thing would shake anyone up. Glad you made it safely off the Interstate and through the help of great RV folks had the problem solved. If I ever get lucky enough to get a pull behind again I will make sure to not get a wireless controller. Stay safe and hope you find a nice warm place to stay for the winter.

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