Trailer Surge Brakes Troubleshooting

Trailer Surge Brakes Troubleshooting

When going out in the wilderness for camping, people prefer attaching a camper or trailer with their vehicle to drive a mini home. However, driving with a trailer is no easy task. You’d need to have some expertise in the field and a special license in most countries. 

One of the trickiest things to do while driving with a trailer is pushing a brake. Many people also find it hard to top their vehicle without the trailer collapsing in the truck. If you struggle with these things, it is where the surge brakes come to your rescue. 

These brakes ensure that the trailer you are towing stops at the same speed as the vehicle. Therefore, your brake system needs to be optimal when you hit the road. 

If you don’t know whether your surge brakes are in the ideal condition, this article will discuss a few trailer troubleshooting tips. So let’s get started.  

The Mechanism of Surge Brakes

Surge brakes or overrun brakes are systems attached to small trailers or campers. These brakes are there to reciprocate the speed of the brake on the towing vehicle. 

Earlier, campers and trailers used to have springs to absorb the shock at the brake time, but that system was inefficient and could cause accidents. 

In short, a surge brake is designed to prevent the trailer and vehicle from collapsing with each other when the driver hits the brake. It is a sliding mechanism placed at the trailer’s hitch to absorb any shock slowly when the vehicle stops suddenly. 

Just like the vehicle will stop slowly on the tracks, the rods in the surge brake will move accordingly to stop the trailer in its tracks without a collision. Most surge brakes have a hydraulic system that slows down the movement and prevents collision. 

Some brakes also have a switch that locks automatically while you reverse your vehicle and the trailer and will only work when you hit a break. 

The Mechanism of Hydraulic Brakes

Hydraulic brakes have a water cavity in the middle, which makes the movement of the brake smooth and shock-free. If you know the mechanism of a hydraulic brake, you will understand the working of your trailer’s brake. 

The sliding rod in the hydraulic brake is called the brake actuator, which collaborates with your vehicle’s brake. The master cylinder in the brake stops the vehicle on tracks without the push of your foot. Instead, it uses the trailer’s momentum to pump it forward and cause a brake. 

The liquid in the brake is known as the brake fluid, which needs to be checked before every trip. It is important to check if your brakes are properly lubricated to stop smoothly. Most vehicles have hydraulic brakes, making them easier to understand and inspect. 

Emergency Brake System 

Going with a big trailer is not an easy job. It requires expertise and emergency brake systems to prevent collisions. In addition, maintaining the momentum of two vehicles combined can be challenging if you are a novice driver. 

An emergency brake system will help your tailor and truck stop safely in urgent situations. Most countries require you to have an emergency breakaway system in your trailer. The Federal government regulates these guidelines to ensure optimal safety on the road. 

Especially with such bulky trailers and campers, it is important to have your emergency brake in check. 

The breakaway system is important when your vehicle and trailer move and the trailers get loose midway. The emergency brake will get activated in such a situation and slow your trailer and tow truck down to safety. 

This emergency brake system is usually based on a chain or cable attached to the tow vehicle from one end, while the other is attached to the trailer’s surge actuator. As soon as the trailer’s grip gets loose, the chain gets pulled, activating the emergency brake in the trailer. 

The lever facilitating the chain keeps the trailer in a grip even if the chain or cable gets broken during the process. It can only disengage when a person manually takes it off to allow the trailer to detach. 

Typical Surge Brake Problems

While inspecting the surge brakes, there are a few common problems that you need to look out for. Here are the typical surge brake problems that you can face: 

  1. The master cylinder in your hydraulic brake might lack brake fluid. You can get the cylinder refilled professionally or do it yourself if you have the right tools and expertise. 
  2. The brakes might stop working on some wheels but work on the other. Mostly, the brakes stop working either on the front pair of wheels or the back pair but not on alternate wheels. 
  3. Brakes not releasing on time is also a common problem many drivers face. A seized brake pad or clipper causes it. It is common in old trailers or sitting idle for a long time. 
  4. Sometimes the brakes also start operating in reverse even when you don’t want them to. It is the result of a faulty brake transmission mechanism. 
  5. A frozen piston is also a common problem in surge brakes. If you have tried everything and the brakes still don’t work, you might be dealing with a frozen piston. 

How To Inspect the Surge Brakes? 

Inspecting surge brakes can be easy for people with expertise. However, if you are not well-equipped with the right knowledge and tools used to inspect a heavy-duty vehicle, you can follow these simple tips: 

  1. Inspect the master cylinder thoroughly. Check if the cylinder has brake fluids and moves back and forth without a problem. There could also be an air bubble in the master cylinder which can adversely affect the performance of your brake. 
  2. Check the piston for smooth movability. The frozen piston will affect the working of brakes on some wheels. Furthermore, you need to check the wheel cylinders for any leakage and drips. 
  3. Check if the reverse brake is working on its own. It can happen when the trailer moves upwards on a hill, and the truck is towing it to its maximum capacity. The stronger the truck will pull, the stronger the brakes will apply. You can use a free backing brake assembly on the axle that allows the brakes to separate when moving in reverse. 
  4. Lastly, check the brakes’ connection, wiring, and oiling to make sure they are not dry or disconnected from the trailer. Check for any rust formation or cracks to get them fixed before starting your journey. 

By now, you may have troubleshot your trailer surge brakes. If the problem persists, you can get them checked from a professional.


Having a perfect and well-inspected brake system is important when leaving the house for a trip. Proper inspection of the surge brakes of your trailer can prevent major accidents on the road. Not only that, but it will also prevent your trailer and car from bumping into each other. 

If you are not equipped with the right tools and knowledge for inspecting your brakes, make sure to hire a professional. Or if you have the required tools, follow this simple troubleshooting manual to inspect your trailers before moving out. 

The troubleshooting steps we discussed above are especially important if your trailer has been sitting idle for a long time. 

Warwick Braith

Warwick Braith is a thrill seeker at heart. He loves getting outdoors and testing his limits in the wild. As a blogger for YapQ, Warwick provides readers with insights and tips on how to get the most out of their outdoor experiences. Whether it's hiking, camping, or simply exploring nature, Warwick knows how to make the most of it.

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