Light Electric vs Heavy Electric Brakes : Choosing the Best for Your Vehicle

Today, I am up to discuss a topic that can make or break your driving experience – brakes! Specifically, I will illustrate the light electric vs. heavy electric brakes, which will be interesting.

Then, what sets light and heavy electric brakes apart?

According to findings from, light electric brakes are commonly used on smaller trailers or boats. Similarly, heavy electric brakes are used on larger trailers or RVs. You can also determine the required electric brake system type depending on the weight and size of the vehicle that will tow.

As a vehicle enthusiast, I understand the importance of having the right brake system. Read this comprehensive blog to learn what differs between light and heavy electric brakes.

Understanding Electric Brakes

Having reliable electric brakes, especially in towing a trailer, boat, or RV is very important. In these vehicles, an electric current power the electric brakes. When you hit the brakes, the brake controller sends an electrical signal to the brakes. It initiates a set of brake pads to slow down the vehicle.

Mostly, electric brakes are available in trailers’ braking systems for safe towing. They provide superior control and braking power than traditional trailer brakes.

Thus, two known types or categories of electric brakes are:

  • Light electric brakes
  • Heavy electric brakes

Comparison Overview: Light Electric vs. Heavy Electric Brakes

Light Electric BrakesHeavy Electric Brakes
Designed for light-duty vehiclesDesigned for heavy-duty vehicles
Suitable for passenger cars, light trailers, small boatsTrucks, buses, heavy trailers, trains
Lower brake forceHigher brake force
Easier to installRequires professional installation
Faster brake response than heavy electric brakesSlower brake response than light electric brakes
Battery-poweredBattery-powered or external power source
Electronic controllerElectronic or pneumatic controller
More affordableSlightly or more expensive
Minimal maintenanceRegular and frequent maintenance
Moderate durabilityHigh durability
Quieter than heavy electric brakesLouder than light electric brakes

Light Electric Brakes

This part includes the definition, features, compatibility, advantages, and disadvantages of light electric brakes.


Light electric brakes are typically used on smaller trailers like boats or utility trailers. They can stop the trailer without applying excessive force to the towing vehicle. Likewise, a flow of electric current is required to supply electrical signals to let the brakes work.

A set of electromagnets are used in these brakes that can apply friction to the brake drums or rotors. Gradually, this process slows down or stops the vehicle.


Light electric brakes are simple and easy to use. They provide reliable braking performance. Also, you can install and maintain them more affordably than heavy electric brakes.

You can control these brakes using various methods. They can be proportional controllers, time-delayed controllers, and inertia-activated brake controllers.


In which vehicles will you use the light electric brakes? These brakes are good for trailers, small boats, camper trailers, caravans, and horse floats. The lighter weight and lower towing capacity of these vehicles are why you can use light electric brakes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Light Electric Brakes

Check out this table to learn the advantages and disadvantages of using light electric brakes:

More affordable than hydraulic brakesNot suitable for heavy-duty towing
Takes less effort to installA slower response time than hydraulic brakes
No need for hydraulic systemsLess effective in emergencies
Least regular maintenance requiredNeeds reliable battery power for proper functioning
Cost saving optionMay require extra equipment or modifications
Smooth and consistent brakingBrake pads may wear down and require replacement
Comparatively less wear and tear on the vehicle’s tiresLess durable against wear and tear of heavy use or rough terrain
Lesser risk of jackknifing
Compact size takes less space
Good for camping or boating

Heavy Electric Brakes

I will discuss the definition, features, types, and compatibility in this part. Besides, you will learn about the advantages and disadvantages of heavy electric brakes.


You may know these brakes as trailer electric brakes. These brakes are ideal for larger trailers, like RVs, horse trailers, and large cargo trailers. Also, they are typically more robust and durable than light electric brakes. They can even handle the weight and demands of larger trailers easily.

Heavy electric brakes operate in much the same way as light electric brakes. For instance, a signal from the towing vehicle’s brake system activates the trailer’s brakes.


These electric brakes have larger brake drums or rotors and stronger brake shoes. Moreover, the more powerful magnets can engage the brakes in a better way than light electric brakes. But they need a more robust brake controller and wiring system than light electric brakes.

Usually, you can find these brakes working by using a hydraulic or electric-over-hydraulic system. This system applies the trailer brakes simultaneously with the tow vehicle brakes. As a result, you have more control and stability during braking.

Like light electric brakes, these items can be controlled with proportional, time-delayed, or inertia-activated brake controllers.


If your trailers, like heavy-duty trucks, buses, and RVs, need greater stopping power, you should choose heavy electric brakes. You may also use them in commercial trailers to carry heavy loads. Likewise, these vehicles require a robust braking system to stop significant weight and provide reliable performance. Especially when the hydraulic braking system becomes less practical, these brakes fit the job better.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Heavy Electric Brakes

Greater stopping powerRequires professional installation
Suitable for larger trailers and heavier loadsMore expensive than light electric brakes
Requires less maintenance than hydraulic brakesNot suitable for smaller trailers and lighter loads
No fluid replacement requiredRequires a higher voltage output from the tow vehicle
Better lifespanNeeds a robust electrical system with a high-amp battery
Suitable for various tow vehicles (also those without hydraulic brake systems)Increased power consumption and battery drain
Consistent braking, regardless of the load, speed, or terrainThe initial cost is higher in high-end models
Const effective option for heavy-duty towingNeeds compatible brake controllers

Types of Light & Heavy Electric Brakes

All these light and heavy electric brakes also have several variations. Here are some of them:

Drum Light Electric Brakes

These brakes are available in both small and heavy-duty trailers. You can operate them by using a magnet to engage the brake shoes against the drum.

First, the brake controller sends a signal to the electric brake assembly. The signal activates an electromagnet to pull the brake shoes against the drum, creating friction. Then, you can slow down or stop the trailer.

Disc Light Electric Brakes

These brakes are less standard in light-duty applications. Disc brakes are more efficient and higher performing than drum brakes. But you may need to spend more money buying and maintaining these brakes.

These brakes use a caliper and rotor system, like the brakes you can find on cars and trucks.

The brake controller sends a signal to the electric brake assembly. Likewise, the signal activates an electric motor to pressure the brake pads to create friction. The trailer stops after this friction.

Integrated Brakes

These brakes are designed to be integrated with the trailer’s hydraulic system. This integration provides improved braking control and performance.

Surge Brakes

These brakes use the trailer’s weight to activate the braking system. They can be beneficial for trailers that you frequently load and unload. Also, they are common in boat trailers.

Electric Over Hydraulic Brakes

These brakes are a combination of electric and hydraulic braking systems. They provide better braking performance for larger trailers. Again, they use an electric actuator to pressurize the hydraulic system and apply the brakes.

Control Methods for Electric Brakes (Light & Heavy)

Control methods refer to how light electric brakes are operated and managed. You should choose a suitable control method to ensure safe and efficient towing.

Some of these control methods are:


 As the name suggests, this type of controller applies the brakes after a predetermined delay or is just engaged. In this control method, the brake is activated when the driver applies the brakes. Then, it remains employed for a predetermined period.

The driver can adjust the delay to suit the towing vehicle and trailer combination. But it can make braking less responsive and potentially less safe.


This method uses sensors to measure the required braking force based on the trailer weight. It applies the brakes in proportion to the force applied by the towing vehicle’s brake pedal. Consequently, it makes the braking more effective, smoother, and safer than time-based control.

Inertia Activated

It uses a sensor to detect the deceleration of the towing vehicle. Then, it applies the trailer brakes accordingly. As a result, the driver gets more precise braking and better performance while towing on uneven terrain or in slippery conditions. But often, it needs some adjustments to set the right sensitivity for the sensor.

Hydraulic Over Electric

This method uses a hydraulic system to apply the trailer brakes. But it is controlled by an electric signal from the tow vehicle’s brake controller. Often, you can find this type of controller on larger trailers with hydraulic brakes.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Light and Heavy Electric Brakes

If you want to install electric brakes, consider a few factors. They are:

Towing Capacity

Heavy electric brakes are typically needed for larger vehicles. These vehicles require more braking power. Likewise, this power is less for smaller vehicles where you install light electric brakes.

The Type of Towable Vehicle

You should consider this factor too. For example, a boat trailer may require a different type of brake system than an RV.

Weight of the Trailer

The weight of the trailer should be considered. Heavier trailers may need heavy electric brakes for proper braking.

Frequency of Use and Conditions of Driving and Terrain

Do you frequently tow your vehicle through steep hills or rough terrain? Then, you will need heavy electric brakes for safe towing. Otherwise, you may use light electric brakes.

Maintenance and Cost

Heavy electric brakes may require more maintenance. Also, they can be more expensive to install and maintain than light electric brakes. Sometimes you may need to call for professional assistance for heavy electric brakes.

Installation of Light and Heavy Electric Brakes

Now, you will learn how to install light and heavy electric brakes in your vehicle:

Light Electric Brakes Installation

  • Select the appropriate size and type of light electric brakes for your trailer. You may refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and specifications.
  • Next, install the brake mounting plate on the trailer axle using the appropriate bolts and nuts.
  • Then, attach the brake assembly to the brake mounting plate using bolts and nuts.
  • After that, connect the brake wires to the trailer’s electrical system. Ensure that the polarity is correct.
  • Later, adjust the brake shoes by turning the adjuster wheel until there is slight resistance when rotating the brake drum.

Now, you can test the brakes by applying the brake controller in the tow vehicle. It will help to understand if the brakes engage correctly.

Heavy Electric Brakes Installation

  • Select the right heavy electric brake system for your vehicle and trailer.
  • Now, install the brake control unit in the vehicle.
  • Then, install the brake assemblies on the trailer axles.
  • Next, wire the brake assemblies and control unit accordingly.

Test the brake system thoroughly by applying the brake controller before using it on the road.

Maintenance of Light and Heavy Electric Brakes

You can follow these instructions to keep the electric brakes functional and fully responsive:

  • Regularly inspect the brake components for wear, damage, or corrosion.
  • Check the brake pads regularly to ensure they are in good condition.
  • Adjust the brake shoes periodically to ensure proper braking performance.
  • Check the brake wires for any damage or wear and replace them as necessary.
  • Lubricate the brake components after checking the fluid level properly.
  • Examine the brake wiring and connections for any damage or loose connections.
  • Clean the brake components with a wire brush or sandpaper to remove rust or debris.

Troubleshooting Issues with Light and Heavy Electric Brakes

You can get several issues using these electric brakes. So, try these ways to solve if your braking system gets any of these issues:

Light Electric Brakes

  • Brake pulls: Unevenly adjusted brake shoes or a misaligned brake assembly may cause this problem. So, change the brake shoes and realign the brake assembly as necessary.
  • Brake drags: An over-adjusted brake shoe or a seized brake component may cause this problem. So, adjust the brake shoes or replace the affected part as necessary.
  • Weak braking: Worn brake shoes, low brake fluid, or a faulty brake controller are usual reasons for weak braking. You may need to replace the brake shoes, check the brake fluid level, and test the brake controller for proper function.

Heavy Electric Brakes

  • Brakes not working: Check the wiring and connections to ensure they are appropriately connected. Ensure that they are not damaged. Then, check the brake pads for wear.
  • Brakes locking up: Like light electric brakes, locking up happens due to an over-adjusted brake controller or incorrect installation of the brake assemblies.
  • Uneven braking: Irregular adjustment of the brake assemblies or tire pressure causes trouble in getting smooth braking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question-1: What is the lifespan of electric brakes?

Answer: It depends on usage frequency, driving conditions, and maintenance. Electric brakes typically last up to 50,000 miles or more with proper care and maintenance.

Question-1: Can I use heavy electric brakes on a lightweight trailer?

Answer: You can, but it is not recommended. For example, heavy electric brakes are solely designed for larger, heavier vehicles and trailers. These vehicles need more braking force. But using them on a lightweight trailer may cause excessive wear and tear on the brakes. Therefore, you will get poor braking performance.

Question-3: How can I maintain electric brakes?

Answer: You can regularly check brake pads, rotors, and calipers. Also, you should figure out and treat the worn wear. You should clean and lubricate the brake assembly if it requires.


So, you have read a lengthy article on light electric vs. heavy electric brakes. I hope you understood all the subtopics I have explained relevant to these electric brakes.

Some factors like budget, driving experience, and terrain for driving are also connected to this selection of brakes.

It is good to use heavy electric brakes for larger trailers. Car and Driver magazine prioritizes heavy electric brakes over light ones for better stopping power and less required maintenance.

You cannot ignore the benefits of light electric brakes. They are more affordable and easier to install. You should pick up light electric brakes if you have a small trailer.

Thanks for reading this blog.

Leave a Comment