Close this search box.

Are RV Trailer Brakes Self-Adjusting?

What’s more important than getting to your campground in time to enjoy your vacation? Being able to stop!

Some RV trailer brakes are self-adjusting. Most RVs are equipped with one of two brake options: electric brakes or self-adjusting brakes. Self-adjusting brakes are just starting to become an option for trailers.

So let’s get into how to tell if your brakes are self-adjusting and what that means for your ride.

Electric Drum Brakes

Electric drum brakes have been the standard braking system on RV trailers and fifth-wheels for a long time. Why? Because they are reliable and are relatively low in cost.

Electric drum brakes have several important components. The brake shoes and an annatched brake lining create the friction needed to stop. An adjuster joins the two brake shoes.

An actuating arm connects to an electromagnet. This electromagnet is energized by a current that comes from the brake controller in the tow vehicle’s cab.

When energized, the magnet is pulled toward the rotating drum’s surface. This forces the actuating arm to press the brake shoes against the drum. The resulting friction between the brake linings and the drum is what slows down the wheels and makes the RV stop.

Wear And Tear

This almost constant friction on the brake shoes and drums eventually leads to wear.

What happens when a brake system wears down is that an actual gap forms within the brake.

A gap forms between the brake linings and the drums. This lowers overall brake performance. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue you have to worry about constantly.

Electric brakes should be adjusted after the first 200 miles. After that initial adjustment, you have some time to enjoy life out on the road before you have to worry about adjusting your brakes again.

After your initial brake adjustment at the 200 mile mark, you should adjust your brakes routinely after every 3,000 miles.

Fortunately, it isn’t too difficult to adjust your brakes yourself. And even if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, you can always have a professional look at your brakes.

If you plan on maintaining your trailer’s brakes on your own, here’s how to do it.

How To Adjust Your Electric Brakes

Knowing how to adjust your trailer’s brakes and being comfortable with the process can save you quite a bit of money on trailer maintenance.

This is especially true if you get some serious mileage with your trailer since it’s possible to hit that 3,000 mile mark pretty quickly. Even if you don’t get to 3,000 miles quickly, it’s still recommended to check your brakes every 3 months just to be safe.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to adjust your brakes yourself.

  1. Jack up the trailer so that you can access the brakes
  2. Locate the brake cover and remove it
  3. Tighten the drum brake adjustment star wheel
  4. Test out the tire and make sure it spins freely with a slight scraping sound
  5. Replace the brake cover
  6. Torque the tire nuts and you’re done!

It’s a quick process, but you should only work on your trailer brakes yourself if you are confident that you can do the job correctly. The last thing you want is for your trailer brakes to fail! Always turn to a professional if you have a question about brake maintenance.

Self-Adjusting Brakes

If you thought adjusting your brakes every 3 months or 3,000 miles was a hassle, then you’ll love forward self-adjusting brakes.

Self-adjusting brakes automatically adjust the brake shoes during every forward stop. No more messing with the star wheel or removing and replacing brake covers.

How Self-Adjusting Brakes Work

There are still two brake shoes, a front, and a rear brake shoe. A cable on the front brake shoe is wrapped around a pulley on the rear brake shoe.

The other end of the cable is connected to a lever that rotates the adjuster. This prevents an overly large gap from forming due to friction.

Self-adjusting brakes have been around for a while now, but are not the traditional option on RVs. It is still a reliable system, but its use is relatively new to camper vehicles.

Is Changing Over To Self-Adjusting Brakes Worth It?

Most self-adjusting brakes sell for an average of $90 each. 12×2 inch brakes usually sell for around $95, while 10×2.25 inch systems are closer to $85 each.

In terms of vehicle maintenance, that’s not too bad. And it’s a huge upgrade when you think of the massively reduced maintenance cost. Even if you’re adjusting your brakes yourself, self-adjusting brakes will save you the time it takes to do the job.

Additional Questions

Do I Need A Brake Controller?

You probably need a brake controller if your trailer has electric or electric-over-hydraulic brakes. This is especially true if it tips the scales at over 3,000 lbs.

Some states even have specific laws about brake controller requirements. Be sure to check if your state has any legal requirements for your individual trailer.

Is It Necessary To Adjust My Brakes?

It’s not too uncommon for even experienced RVers to skimp on adjusting their brakes. Through some clever maneuvers, you can compensate for brake wear.

Increase the gain on the brake controller to send more voltage to the magnets.

This is an imperfect solution. You will eventually still get reduced brake performance and wear down the magnet and drum surfaces.

Nevertheless, RVers will do this to avoid adjusting their brakes. Overall, it’s not an effective solution and you should always follow manufacturer specifications to be sure your vehicle and its brakes are in tip-top shape.

In Summary

And if you’re towing cross country, you want to be sure your brakes are working as intended.

Not all RV trailer brakes are self-adjusting. In fact, chances are that the brakes on your trailer are electric drum brakes.

Self-adjusting brakes have been around for a while, but they’re just starting to show up on new trailers. If you’re tired of adjusting your brakes every 3 months, 3,000 miles, or worrying about brakes failing, then self-adjusting brakes are definitely something to consider.

Scroll to Top