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Old 01-17-2022, 07:13 PM   #1
AKC
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Trailer brake gain (OR: I almost killed a man yesterday)

After reading through responses to one of my posts, and reading through some other posts, I realized that my trailer gain was set way too high. It was set at 9.5 when I got it, and while I had read some tests to do to know if that was correct, they all seemed to involve a level of "feel" that I don't possess. So I reset it to 6.5 as a seemingly more appropriate number. Braking is not as crisp as it was, but overall seems fine.

Quick facts: 2017 F-250, gas, towing package. Trailer is a double-axle BP style and at the time of the incident I'm about to describe probably weighed about 4500 pounds (it was not quite empty).

I don't like driving in the dark, but I had no choice yesterday. It was completely dark. I was on the highway feeder road going 40 mph. And this person just about walked right out in front of me. He walked out into, and the started to walk out of (toward me) my lane, and the apparently saw me (how could he not see me? you can't miss my rig) and stopped. He had dark skin and was wearing dark clothes, and I didn't see him until it was almost too late. I SLAMMED on the brakes. I stopped within maybe 4-5 feet of him. I don't think I had that long to stop, so the rig seemed to come to a stop pretty quickly. No locking tires, no squealing brakes, no bad smell. So this suggests that the gain is OK, doesn't it?

Also I went down the very big steep hill again today, the one where when I've gone down it in the past the trailer brakes have smelled when I got to the bottom. This time I was using t/h mode and had the gain to 6.5 I wasn't entirely overjoyed with the way t/h performed, but I definitely was braking less, and the tires didn't smell at the end of it.

Like I said, it seems to me from reading descriptions of how to know if your trailer gain is correct, they require some level of feel that I don't posses. I will be honest: I am a woman, my daily driver is a Civic, and I'm not really into cars (although I have grown to REALLY like my truck, 15 mpg or not); and people's descriptions of how things should feel if it's correct go over my head.

So the point of all of this is to ask -- does it sound like my trailer brake gain is now set at a reasonable place?
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Old 01-17-2022, 07:22 PM   #2
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I understand the 'feel' argument, but you can't measure 'feel'.
From 9.5 to 6.5 is a big decrease.... perhaps too much if your braking is not 'as crisp as it was'. Perhaps you could set it a bit higher til you get the 'crisp' back.
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Old 01-17-2022, 07:32 PM   #3
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Yikes, that's a pants filler! And wow, gain of 9.5. I think my similar rig is 4.0.
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Old 01-17-2022, 07:38 PM   #4
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I have a Ford F150 and I run the gain between 8-10 depending on the road. 10 dry 8 wet.

Best way to describe that "feeling" drive just the tow vehicle paying attention to how hard you're pushing the brake pedal when stopping.

Now with the trailer hooked up brake pedal pressure should feel the same if the trailer is doing its share of the work. If you need more pedal pressure add some gain if you feel the trailer tugs at you less gain.

Hope this helps
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Old 01-17-2022, 07:38 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NJKris View Post
Yikes, that's a pants filler! And wow, gain of 9.5. I think my similar rig is 4.0.
Yeah, I am wondering now if the previous was towing crazy loads, or if he just had no clue.
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Old 01-17-2022, 08:04 PM   #6
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Now I'm thinking my gain is too low reading Mike's post. I've never had to brake too hard yet, I leave a good following distance and nobody has tried to commit suicide like your walker did! And the tow mode downshifts on hills, so I don't use brakes too much.
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Old 01-17-2022, 08:48 PM   #7
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OP- Does your controller a percentage setting in conjunction with gain? If so, what's your percentage set at?
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Old 01-17-2022, 09:05 PM   #8
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If you have the factory controller, I'm pretty sure it has three levels of adjustable gain. (brake effort)

I mentioned this in your other thread.
9.5 gain may not be enough if you are on the lowest effort/gain setting and could be way too much on the high effort setting.

Have you read your manual about brake effort/gain settings?
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Old 01-17-2022, 09:18 PM   #9
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Zero to 10 in 0.5 increments for the factory controller I installed on the F150.
https://youtu.be/xcRGIiRIN3g
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Old 01-17-2022, 10:02 PM   #10
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This is how i set my GAIN.....

The GAIN setting is used to set the TBC for the specific towing condition
and should be changed as towing conditions change. Changes to towing
conditions include trailer load, vehicle load, road conditions and weather.

The GAIN should be set to provide the maximum trailer braking
assistance while ensuring the trailer wheels do not lock when braking;
locked trailer wheels may lead to trailer instability.
Note: This should only be performed in a traffic-free environment at
speeds of approximately 20–25 mph (30–40 km/h).
1. Make sure the trailer brakes are in good working condition,
functioning normally and properly adjusted. See your trailer dealer if
necessary.

2. Hook up the trailer and make the electrical connections according to
the trailer manufacturer’s instructions.

3. When a trailer with electric brakes is plugged in, the TRAILER
CONNECTED message displays in the instrument cluster message
center.

4. Use the GAIN adjustment (+/-) buttons to increase or decrease the
GAIN setting to the desired starting point. A GAIN setting of 6.0 is a
good starting point for heavier loads.

5. In a traffic-free environment, tow the trailer on a dry, level surface at
a speed of 20–25 mph (30–40 km/h) and squeeze the manual control
lever completely.......don't apply the towing vehicle brakes....only squeeze the manual control.

6. If the trailer wheels lock up (indicated by squealing tires), reduce the
GAIN setting; if the trailer wheels turn freely, increase the GAIN setting.
Repeat Steps 5 and 6 until the GAIN setting is at a point just below
trailer wheel lock-up. If towing a heavier trailer, trailer wheel lock-up
may not be attainable even with the maximum GAIN setting of 10.
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Old 01-17-2022, 10:23 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NJKris View Post
Zero to 10 in 0.5 increments for the factory controller I installed on the F150.
https://youtu.be/xcRGIiRIN3g
There is also a low/medium/high setting available through the dash menu. If you're turning it up that high, you should go to the next highest setting there.
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Old 01-17-2022, 10:39 PM   #12
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5. In a traffic-free environment, tow the trailer on a dry, level surface at
a speed of 20–25 mph (30–40 km/h) and squeeze the manual control
lever completely.......don't apply the towing vehicle brakes....only squeeze the manual control.

6. If the trailer wheels lock up (indicated by squealing tires), reduce the
GAIN setting; if the trailer wheels turn freely, increase the GAIN setting.
Repeat Steps 5 and 6 until the GAIN setting is at a point just below
trailer wheel lock-up. If towing a heavier trailer, trailer wheel lock-up
may not be attainable even with the maximum GAIN setting of 10.

2X that is what I do also.
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Old 01-18-2022, 06:52 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 5picker View Post
If you have the factory controller, I'm pretty sure it has three levels of adjustable gain. (brake effort)

I mentioned this in your other thread.
9.5 gain may not be enough if you are on the lowest effort/gain setting and could be way too much on the high effort setting.

Have you read your manual about brake effort/gain settings?
OK, yes, it does have the three levels. I only saw them the other day. Anyone want to explain to me what those levels do and how they could work with / against gain changes?

When I saw the three levels, I was like "Are you KIDDING me??? I just figured out what trailer gain was and how I need to adjust it, and now THIS?

But yes I would love to know what those settings are supposed to do.


(ETA: I came back to say that while I'm griping about more stuff to learn, I really do appreciate that this truck is designed to let someone like me tow in safety. It has so many great towing features. I guess I'm still at the beginning of the learning curve with it)
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Old 01-18-2022, 06:55 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtownstumpjumper View Post

6. If the trailer wheels lock up (indicated by squealing tires), reduce the
GAIN setting; if the trailer wheels turn freely, increase the GAIN setting.
Repeat Steps 5 and 6 until the GAIN setting is at a point just below
trailer wheel lock-up. If towing a heavier trailer, trailer wheel lock-up
may not be attainable even with the maximum GAIN setting of 10.
How do I feel if the trailer tires are turning freely (this is one of those "feel" things I have problems with)? And if I came to a dead stop from 40 mph the other night in a very short distance, with no problems, can I just assume that I'm good?
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:23 AM   #15
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Ford trucks 2016 and newer with factory controller come with not only a gain setting but also an Effort setting, low, med, high. You should consult the manual to adjust the effort before turning the gain to max. I have a 2018 ford and have pulled my Cardinal 20,000 miles and have never reset the gain.
From Ford:

Trailer Brake Effort Setting
The trailer brake controller allows the user to customize how aggressively the trailer brakes engage. The default value is the low setting and is the recommended setting for most trailers. If your trailer's brakes require more initial voltage, or if you prefer more aggressive trailer braking, then select either the medium or the high setting.
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:46 AM   #16
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Trailer Brake Effort Setting
The trailer brake controller allows the user to customize how aggressively the trailer brakes engage. The default value is the low setting and is the recommended setting for most trailers. If your trailer's brakes require more initial voltage, or if you prefer more aggressive trailer braking, then select either the medium or the high setting.
I read that but I still don't understand the interplay between gain and low-med-high. For instance, if I have brake gain at 2 and effort on high, how is that different from having brake gain at 8 and effort on low? What exactly are each of those things doing?
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Old 01-18-2022, 09:54 AM   #17
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See Post #12.

Brake gain should be set to just before brake lockup on dry pavement at ~25mph. The trailer should not be braking the truck, just the trailer. Too much gain locking the trailer wheels is as bad as too little. Takes 2 minutes.

-- Chuck
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Old 01-18-2022, 10:26 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AKC View Post
I read that but I still don't understand the interplay between gain and low-med-high. For instance, if I have brake gain at 2 and effort on high, how is that different from having brake gain at 8 and effort on low? What exactly are each of those things doing?
Brake gain is proportional to how hard you are standing on the brake.

In older electronic stand alone brake controllers, they had a weighted pendulum inside that would add gain (as need from the original set point) as the pendulum swung while deaccelerating.

Even older mechanical controllers had no proportional sensing and what you set was what you got!

Today's integrated controllers use electronic algorithms with input from various sensors in and around the vehicle to proportion brake gain.

What does all this mean?... if you have a light weight trailer with let's say single axle electric brakes and don't need a tremendous amount of stopping power from the electric brakes, then you'd set the controller brake effort on low and the gain possibly somewhere around 5 or 6. As you stop, (and possibly need additional gain to do so) the controller adds that based on the input it receives from the sensors or the pendulum in older electronic controllers.

Now... if you go to a heavier trailer with two axles that needs more stopping power, you don't want to simply dial up the gain to 9.5 or 10. Why?... because you will only get 9.5 or 10 of gain even if you need more from the input of the sensors. At this point it is better to go to then next level of brake effort and adjust the gain to 5 or 6 and have the cushion of additional gain when needed.

Heavier trailers and those with electric over hydraulic brakes need even more stopping power. The 3rd brake effort setting is usually for those.

As a side note, some heavier trailers WILL NOT slide the tires on asphalt when doing a brake test no matter the effort/gain settings. Again, it is a feel thing. I try to set my controller so that as I start to push the manual lever, I can feel a slight tug from the trailer brakes and then a more significant drag when approaching full gain at 10-15 MPH. You also cannot set the gain setting on COLD brakes. Drive a mile or so using the brakes before setting the effort/gain. This will burnish the brakes a bit and allow any rust on the drum/magnets to wear off and make proper contact.

If you are having a hard time visualizing the effort the controller is giving, then it might be time to have someone who understands YOUR controller operation and help you get it set.

A properly operating trailer brake system will stop your trailer without using more than about 20% of the tow vehicle brakes to do so.

Also once set, (unless something changes) you do not need to do the gain settings every time you hook-up. It should be good once you've driven a mile or so. But... it is ALWAYS good to do a manual test to be sure the trailer brakes are in fact, working.
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Old 01-18-2022, 10:37 AM   #19
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Setting Boost

AKC, I'm glad you survived the near miss

LOW/MED/HIGH I don't own a Ford. My previous set-up was a Nissan Frontier with a after Market P3 Tekonsah Brake Controller. Said Controller had a Boost Setting, B1,B2,B3. B1 Trailer weights LESS than Vehicle. B2 Trailer weights APPROXIMATELT SAME as Vehicle. B3 Trailer weights UP TO 40% MORE than Vehicle.

Currently I have a 2019 RAM which has a integrated brake controller and also has a similar setting for LIGHT/HEAVY similar description as above. In addition to GAIN Settings.

In simple terms as Chuck Mentioned “Brake gain should be set to just before brake lockup on dry pavement at ~25mph. The trailer should not be braking the truck, just the trailer. Too much gain locking the trailer wheels is as bad as too little. Takes 2 minutes. “ And someone else mentioned Trailer and Truck Braking should be very similar without a trailer. Test on a Parking Lot to see if you feel if the Trailer is Pushing your Truck while trying to stop or if the Trailer is Stopping/Pulling back on the truck.

I would not be overly concern if you can't get your brakes to lock-up as described in set-up mentioned above. Hopefully you can back of 3 from 6.5 and add 3 to your 6.5 Gain Setting to see how it feels on a test drive in a safe place/parking lot/business park etc. Then you can set your GAIN depending on your Trailer Weight based off my response above from two different brake controllers.

Hope this helps and stay safe.

Mike
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Old 01-18-2022, 10:44 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jtownstumpjumper View Post
This is how i set my GAIN.....

The GAIN setting is used to set the TBC for the specific towing condition
and should be changed as towing conditions change. Changes to towing
conditions include trailer load, vehicle load, road conditions and weather.

The GAIN should be set to provide the maximum trailer braking
assistance while ensuring the trailer wheels do not lock when braking;
locked trailer wheels may lead to trailer instability.
Note: This should only be performed in a traffic-free environment at
speeds of approximately 20–25 mph (30–40 km/h).
1. Make sure the trailer brakes are in good working condition,
functioning normally and properly adjusted. See your trailer dealer if
necessary.

2. Hook up the trailer and make the electrical connections according to
the trailer manufacturer’s instructions.

3. When a trailer with electric brakes is plugged in, the TRAILER
CONNECTED message displays in the instrument cluster message
center.

4. Use the GAIN adjustment (+/-) buttons to increase or decrease the
GAIN setting to the desired starting point. A GAIN setting of 6.0 is a
good starting point for heavier loads.

5. In a traffic-free environment, tow the trailer on a dry, level surface at
a speed of 20–25 mph (30–40 km/h) and squeeze the manual control
lever completely.......don't apply the towing vehicle brakes....only squeeze the manual control.

6. If the trailer wheels lock up (indicated by squealing tires), reduce the
GAIN setting; if the trailer wheels turn freely, increase the GAIN setting.
Repeat Steps 5 and 6 until the GAIN setting is at a point just below
trailer wheel lock-up. If towing a heavier trailer, trailer wheel lock-up
may not be attainable even with the maximum GAIN setting of 10.
X2
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