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Benefits of Upgrading your Trailer from Hydraulic Surge Brakes to Electric Brakes

If you own a Felling Trailer with Hydraulic Surge Brakes, you may be wondering what the advantage would be to upgrading your brake system to electric brakes, and if it is even possible. There are many advantages to installing an electric brake system on your trailer, and changing out the system is relatively simple (Read How to Change a Trailer Equipped with Hydraulic Surge brakes to an Electric Brake system).

Hydraulic Surge Brakes vs. Electric Brakes

  • Electric brake systemLower Parts Cost – Parts Replacement of wear parts is lower for electric breaks. For Instance, replacement on an FT-10 I, of a 6K 12″ x2″ Complete Hydraulic Brake Backer is $96.95 vs a 6K 12″ x2″ Electric Self Adjust Complete Brake Backer is $61.95.
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  • Less Maintenance – Hydraulic Brake trailer owners must maintain brake lines from corrosion, maintain hydraulic actuator, and brake assemblies.
  • Easy Installation – Most trucks, vans, SUVs and RVs made since the mid-1990s are set up to use an electronic trailer brake controller. These vehicles include a factory-installed “quick plug” under the dash that connects with a standard brake controller. Many pickup trucks made in the last 5 years even include a brake controller built into the dashboard, and absolutely no installation is required.
  • Need Help with the Job? Schedule Service Appointment

How Electric Brakes Work

Electric Brakes provide additional ease of use and additional braking control. Electric brakes are more simple than surge brakes, but they require a brake controller in the cabin of the tow vehicle. Electric brakes use electromagnets to actuate the drum brakes, and you control the electricity to the brakes with the brake controller and the brake light circuit on your vehicle. Electric brakes work very well when adjusted properly, and you can also reach over with your hand and use the brake controller to apply a small amount of braking force if the trailer begins swaying. That’s handy when descending hills, in high winds, and when you’re being passed by large 18-wheelers.

How Hydraulic Surge Brakes Work

In contrast, Surge Brakes are hydraulic and use the trailer’s natural momentum to actuate the brakes. When you step on the brake in your tow vehicle and slow down, the trailer pushes against the hitch and presses a hydraulic cylinder. The more you slow down the vehicle, the more pressure on the trailer brakes. When they are adjusted properly, surge brakes are smooth and easy to work with. The downside is that you cannot separately actuate the trailer brakes if the trailer is swaying.

How To Convert Hyd. to Electric Brakes

Do you have more questions about Hydraulic Surge Brakes, Electric Brakes, or other Felling Trailers products? Contact us at 1-888-335-5464 or fill out this simple form so we can help.


  1. Vince Burns says

    I think that you need to make sure that the electric brakes work on whatever you are looking for. I am looking for a trailer to buy and I was looking on other websites for the different services that are offered on vehicles and I think it is important to make sure that you get a complete check up of your vehicle or trailer. I really hope that I can figure out where to get these diagnostics done.

    • Felling Trailers says

      Hello Vince, typically for your tow vehicle’s brake system/controller you can have your local car dealership’s service department take a look at it. Another option if you are purchasing a trailer and do not have a brake controller in your vehicle already you can have that installed at the trailer dealership if they offer that type of service.

      Felling Trailers

  2. My dad just bought a boat and is in the process of finding a nice trailer for it. Since we have never owned a boat or a trailer, we aren’t sure what kind to get or what to look for in a good one. After reading this though, it looks like if we want to spend less on parts, not have to do to much to maintain it, and have easy installation, getting a trailer with electric brakes is the way to go. I’ll show this to him and see what he thinks.

  3. I want to make sure that my RV is safe. I didn’t know that it was safer to use electric brakes! It makes sense that it would be much easier to use than hydraulics. I’ll have to see if I can get them installed!

  4. Homer Wilde says

    I bought a 2017 Subaru Outback with a 2700 lbs capacity trailer hitch. However Subaru requires any trailer over 1000 lbs to have brakes. Do you recommend electric brakes on a boat trailer?

    • Felling Parts & Service Department says

      Good day Homer,
      Hydraulic brakes are more common on boat trailers due to the fact that you don’t have to worry as much of wires corroding. Few boat trailers are equipped with electric brakes, but they’re used on many RV & utility trailers. RV-grade systems, with painted automotive grade components, are not intended for submersion, especially in salt water. Submerging a pair of electric magnets and their wiring is generally regarded with suspicion that occurs whenever you mix water with electricity. There are some suppliers out there that do offer a marine grade electric brakes, but the most common for boat trailers is hydraulic.
      To order parts go to or call 1-866-335-5464
      Felling Parts & Service Department

  5. I disagree…if you pull the same trailer with multiple vehicles then having electric brake controllers are a pain, as you need one in every vehicle, and it depends on what you are pulling the trailer with…surge brakes on a car trailer behind a 30000 pound coach is easier to live with as the coach won’t be overwhelmed by the trailer, and wiring a controller on that type of vehicle is difficult. I personally have bad luck with keeping electric brakes working, and have went back to what has always worked for me, hydraulic surge brakes…it seems new wires need to be installed every other year on electric ones…Whereas I have rebuilt the master cylinder once in 20 years. Also I don’t hook up and set the cruise at 80 like most of the “new generation” of towing community does.

    • I agree with you 100%. I have used electric brakes for over 30 years and they are a pain. Last year I bought a tow dolly with disc surge brakes and like ’em much better. I am investigating adding same to my 12′ utility trailer.

    • Matt, there are elec brake controllers made… Where the actuator is mounted on the trailer… The control box is in the car…connected by a radio Bluetooth.
      So the trailer sends the slowing signal to the box in the car..which transmits voltages..surges or manual overrides for sway.
      I’ve seen these primarily used in rentals.. that way the EBC unit doesn’t have to be mounted level straight in the that part is on the trailer.
      You can stash the control memory unit in a cupholder..operational inputs are on the trailer

  6. I am looking to buy a new motorcycle trailer and have decided on a tandem axle trailer which will require either a surge brake or electric brake system. How much more should the surge brake system cost over the electric brake system?

    • Felling Trailers says

      Hello Mike,

      On average when a person chooses to go with hydraulic surge brakes instead of electric brakes you can expect to spend an additional $600-$800.

      Thanks Much
      Felling Trailers

  7. fred loxton says

    I have a trailertent which I want to use on my rewaco 1600 VW trike as towing is light and easy but braking is hard going, so i need a braking system on my trailertent. Which do you think is best, electric or surge and were can i purchase these from?

    • Felling Trailers says

      Surge vs electric brakes is really a personal preference, they each have their place. The first thing I would do is look at whether the trailer is already set up with brakes and if so, are they electric or hydraulic. If it is not set up with brakes you will need to look into whether or not you can convert it over or if you will have to replace the axle completely. If the trailer is not already set up with brakes, one thing to take into consideration is that surge brake axles normally run more money along with the replacement components.

      Being I’m not really familiar with trikes and how they tow, I would recommend talking with your local trike dealer and see what they would recommend or see what most trike users prefer.
      If you would like to order parts feel free to call 1-866-335-5464 or email [email protected]

      Thank you for your inquiry
      Felling Trailers

  8. Joseph Franolich says

    Looking for a trailer for a 29′ Boat, I’m buying Most trailers are surge, unfortunately this precludes installing weight distribution anti-sway hitch. So seeing if I can get electric brakes to allow for weight distribution hitch. My Ram 2500 has a brake controller preinstalled.

  9. Towing boats for 30 years I found hydraulic brakes to be the best because of putting the electric drums in the water all of the time makes them go bad. But now you can put an electric master cylinder in place of the surge. That is the best setup I have found.

  10. Delbert Galloway says

    i have bin towing a heavy three axle trailer for 20 years.It didn’t take long to realize that the factory electric drum brakes were not powerful enough to make me feel comfortable while towing. i installed electric over hydraulic disc brakes on all three axles, what a night and day difference that change made. it made towing so much more confident and enjoyable. it was not a cheep change over but this is what i found works best for a heavy trailer.

  11. So, if my trailer has surge breaks and I am able to back up without the pin in and while being unplugged, does that mean they are not working correctly? I don’t remember last summer if I unloaded my boat with the trailer still plugged in or not. Going out his weekend, so we will find out. I use to always unplug the trailer of my old boat to help with popping tail lights. lol

    • Good morning Case,
      Possibly not working but if it’s a newer trailer, more likely that they are “free backing” brakes that allow you to backup without installing a pin/screwdriver in the actuator.

      Hope this helps,
      Felling Trailers

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