by Jim Kerr

Hooking up to a trailer for the first time can be intimidating. Even the smallest trailer can alter the handling characteristics of your vehicle and heavier trailers can move you around significantly. Usually everything is fine as you pull away. The difficulties arise when you try to slow down, need to make an evasive manoeuvre or experience some sway from the trailer. That’s when you need a properly equipped tow vehicle.

Trucks dominate as tow vehicles for good reason. They are large, powerful and have strong frames to connect trailers to. Many cars are capable of towing light utility trailers but most passenger cars have a maximum towing capacity of only 1000 lbs. Larger trailers and even many boats exceed this capacity.

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SuperDuty trailer brake controller. Click image to enlarge

Pickup trucks can haul much more weight but if you haul heavy or large trailers, you are better off towing with one of the Heavy Duty trucks on the market.

Say “Heavy Duty” and you may think rough, tough work trucks. True, Heavy Duty trucks are capable of the rough tough duty required of a work truck but take a look at the current lime up of heavy duty trucks and you will find many of them equipped with features similar to luxury cars. Until now, you still had to add an aftermarket accessory to your vehicle to tow a larger trailer – a trailer brake controller. Ford has changed that.

When Ford’s 2005 SuperDuty trucks go on sale later this summer, you can order their towing package – the TowCommand System- and it comes equipped with a factory-installed trailer brake controller. Ford researchers have found that 80% of SuperDuty truck owners pull trailers and that most of these will install a trailer brake controller. There are several advantages for drivers with Ford’s factory designed and installed controller.

I noticed the first advantage of the SuperDuty brake controller as soon as I stepped into the truck. The controller sits up high and is easily accessible. The dash panels on most vehicles are made of plastic and it can sometimes be difficult to find a solid mounting location for an aftermarket controller. Often, the controller is mounted lower than desirable. The last thing you want to be doing is reaching down for the manual brake control lever when a trailer is swaying back and forth. The Ford controller is as easy to reach as the radio controls.

The second advantage of the Ford controller became apparent at my first slow speed stop with a trailer, typical of what you might experience in stop and go traffic. The Ford electronic controller is integrated into the truck’s brake system and uses software programming to operate the trailer brakes at the same time the truck’s brakes are applied. The result is a smooth intuitive braking feel without that common back and forth trailer lurch as the vehicle comes to a stop. In fact, it almost feels like the trailer isn’t back there!

Aftermarket trailer brake controllers may use electronics to apply the trailer brakes too but the brake input might be an internal pendulum or inertia sensor. The trailer brake application is slightly delayed because the controller has to sense the tow vehicle slowing first. Some controllers are not very sophisticated and work like a light switch – the brakes are either on or off. It doesn’t make for very smooth driving.

During high speed stops, the Ford brake controller was as smooth as it was at low speed. Two buttons, plus and minus on the controller allow the driver to adjust the “gain” so that the amount of braking requested can be adjusted to the weight of the trailer. A digital display shows the driver the gain setting and a bar graph below the gain display indicates the amount of braking currently being applied.

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The 2005 Ford Super Duty demonstrates its towing ability with Ford’s “Big Foot” and a 41-foot “Baja” speed boat. Click image to enlarge

A red “trailer” symbol lights up if the trailer brake wiring becomes disconnected or there is a problem with the brake control system. This warning is also displayed in the optional Driver’s Information Centre along with audible warning chimes.

Finally, because the Ford SuperDuty brake controller is integrated into the truck, it can draw information from the vehicle’s Antilock Brake System. The trailer brake controller will use a different braking strategy during ABS stops for improved control. No aftermarket controller has this feature!

The SuperDuty TowCommand System is much more than just the integrated brake controller. The complete truck is designed for towing capability, from springs and sway bars right up to the slide in/slide out towing mirrors. However, the integrated factory brake controller is an industry first and it is one that will be welcome by anyone who tows.

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