Knowing how to connect a trailer breakaway cable is one of many important aspects of safe towing. However, there’s a bit of controversy and confusion around this topic, so in today’s post, we’re hoping to sort it all out, with safety as the top priority.
We’ll also explain how to connect a trailer breakaway cable the right way for responsible towing and trailer safety.
- 1) What Is a Trailer Breakaway Cable?
- 2) Important Notes About Trailer Breakaway Cables
- 3) How to Connect a Trailer’s Emergency Breakaway Cable the Right Way
- 4) The Controversy Around Trailer Breakaway Cables
- 5) Free RVing Tips, Tricks, Reviews, Giveaways & More
What Is a Trailer Breakaway Cable?
A trailer breakaway cable is a small safety wire that connects from your towing vehicle to the breakaway switch on your trailer, travel trailer, or 5th wheel. Flat-towing a “toad” car behind a motorhome also requires one of these important safety devices.
The cable is designed to pull out of the breakaway switch if the trailer disconnects from the towing vehicle. This activates the trailer’s brakes, bringing it to a safe stop.
So, the purpose of this safety cable is to ensure that the trailer brakes are appropriately activated if the trailer should become disconnected from the towing vehicle.
There are a few different types of break away cables, both straight and coiled, as well as those with switches that work in conjunction with separate breakaway kits.
- PROVIDES A SAFER AND MORE EFFECTIVE CONNECTION to your trailer, because it doesn’t rust, fray or become damaged while towing which keeps you...
- THE COILED CABLE STAYS SAFELY OFF THE GROUND while you’re towing, preventing wear and tear to the cable and providing years of lasting use
- ✅GOOD PERFORMANCE: Comes with stain steel O ring, easy adapte to your old break away cable pin, heavy duty carabiner makes it easy to clip cable to...
- ✅HIGH QUALITY-- Trailer Emergency Breakaway Cable wrapped with UV-resistant PU material, make high-strength woven steel wire cable durable and...
- RELIABLE SAFETY. This trailer breakaway switch offers safer towing by connecting your vehicle to your trailer's breakaway battery and trailer brakes....
- STRONG CONNECTION. To ensure a dependable electrical connection for the wires, this trailer breakaway switch is equipped with silver contact points
Important Notes About Trailer Breakaway Cables
There are several important things about breakaway cables to keep in mind.
A Breakaway Cable is NOT a Safety Chain.
First, it’s important to note that the breakaway cable is different from the safety chains (or cables) that are designed to hold the trailer to the towing vehicle in the event of a hitch failure. Those are completely different devices designed to keep the trailer from careening down (or off) the highway in the event of a hitch separation.
The Breakaway Cable Shouldn’t Be Attached In the Area Used for the Safety Chain… Or Should It?
Companies who make towing products often suggest that the breakaway cable should be attached to the towing vehicle’s frame — one that isn’t the same spot on the receiver that’s normally used for attaching the safety chains. However, many vehicles don’t have a good spot for doing that, or the cable isn’t long enough.
So, you may be tempted to attach the breakaway cable to the hitch receiver. Don’t. While that may be the component least likely to fail (that would basically require the entire base of the hitch to fall off the tow vehicle), it can happen.
Use a spot on the frame that’s as close to the centerline of the towing vehicle as possible. That makes it less likely that a very sharp left or right turn could accidentally pull the breakaway cable. It also makes it easier to confirm that the cable is the correct length (more on that below).
The Breakaway Cable Should Not Be Routed Through Anything Else
The breakaway cable shouldn’t be routed through, over, or wrapped around anything else that might cause friction or a change in angle. That could prevent the breakaway switch from being pulled when it’s needed.
A Breakaway Cable Needs to Be Long Enough But Not Too Long
The breakaway cable needs to be long enough not to get triggered (pulled out, which activates the breakaway switch) from normal maneuvering, such as tight cornering. However, it also shouldn’t be so long that it doesn’t pull out if a failure results in the trailer dropping back on the safety chains/cables. In other words, it’s a bit of a delicate balance.
A coil cord is a common option to help eliminate the need to route them through other cables, but you need to be sure that when it’s stretched to its full length, it’s not too long to trigger the brakes when needed.
How to Connect a Trailer’s Emergency Breakaway Cable the Right Way
Take the following steps to connect a trailer breakaway cable the right way for safe towing.
- Locate a secure mounting point on both the trailer and the towing vehicle. This must be an area that is capable of handling the force of the breakaway system without causing damage. (By design, the force needed to pull the breakaway switch isn’t excessive.) Many/most trailers come with the breakaway switch already mounted to the frame.
- Locate the breakaway switch on the trailer’s tongue. This switch activates the brakes of the trailer if it should become disconnected. (The switch should be located in a place where it can be easily reached in an emergency.)
- Attach one end of the breakaway cable to the breakaway switch. (This end should have a loop that can be securely connected to the switch.)
- Secure the other end of the breakaway cable to the towing vehicle. If there’s no designated attachment point, such as a metal loop or hook, you may need to install an eye hook or something similar. Either way, be sure to check to make sure the attachment point is properly secured to the towing vehicle.
- Route the breakaway cable in such a way that it won’t come into contact with any sharp edges or moving parts that could compromise its strength and integrity. You don’t want the cable to be damaged in any way in normal towing conditions.
- Leave a bit of slack to prevent unintentional activation of the breakaway cable. It will need enough room to allow for turns without pulling the breakaway switch.
- Test your breakaway cable! Once you’ve properly connected the cable, make sure that the trailer and towing vehicle are properly hitched. Next, yank the cable out of the breakaway switch on the trailer to simulate a detachment. If your system is working properly, you’ll hear the trailer’s brakes engage, and, of course, trying to drive will meet resistance.
- Regularly inspect your breakaway cable for any damage or other signs of weakness, such as kinks or fraying. Replace the cable if you see any damage.
- Speaking of inspections… electric trailer brakes can’t work without electricity. Be sure to periodically inspect and maintain the trailer’s battery pack. Without that, the brakes won’t engage when the breakaway switch is triggered.
- Be sure to consult the manuals for your trailer and tow vehicle for any specific instructions they may have regarding the connection and testing of the breakaway cable. Some systems may have particular requirements.
For those who prefer visual learning, this video should be helpful:
The Controversy Around Trailer Breakaway Cables
While trailer breakaway cables themselves aren’t controversial, where and how to attach them is a matter of debate, as mentioned above.
The controversy really comes from the temptation to do it the wrong way, and the number of people who go that route, sometimes because they don’t know any better.
Following are some important points to consider when deciding how and where to attach your breakaway cable.
While the hitch receiver’s location may make it a convenient spot to attach the breakaway cable, don’t use it. Even though the receiver may be unlikely to fail, it can happen. Connect to the towing vehicle’s frame, even if an extension is needed.
Some people weave the breakaway cable through a safety chain. While this may tidy up the appearance of things and prevent a cable from dragging on the ground, the additional friction caused by weaving the cable through the safety chain could prevent the cable from pulling the pin from the breakaway switch. So don’t weave the breakaway cable through a safety chain!
Speaking of dragging on the ground… if your cable is that long, it’s probably too long. Remember that it needs to trigger the brakes in the event of a breakaway where the trailer falls back on the safety chains/cables (not just a total breakaway).
Try connecting the safety chains and breakaway cable, but not the hitch itself. Then drive slowly forward away from the trailer until the chains pull tight. If the chains are taught, and the breakaway cable doesn’t pull out and activate the trailer brakes, the cable is too long. Shorten it a little and try again. If, at the correct length, the cable hangs on the ground, try a coiled cable instead.
It’s very important to connect a trailer breakaway cable properly to ensure safe towing. Used correctly, the cable can prevent accidents and potential injury by activating the trailer’s brakes should it become disconnected.
Safe towing is a serious matter. For information on other aspects of safe towing, please see our posts on how to hitch a trailer to tow it safely, proper trailer hitch height, and why your trailer tongue is crucial to safe towing.
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