Skip to Content

How to Connect a Trailer Breakaway Cable the Right Way

How to Connect a Trailer Breakaway Cable the Right Way

 


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.

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.

Sale
Fastway Zip 6 Foot Breakaway Cable and Pin 80-01-2206
  • 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
Trailer Cable, Trailer Brake Cable, RV Stainless Steel Spring Towing Coiled Wire, Heavy Duty Steel Wire Extend to 4ft Coiled Safety Cables Strap for RV Towing Trailer
  • ✅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...
Sale
CURT 52010 Trailer Breakaway Switch
  • 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.

A coiled breakaway cable

Breakaway cables come in a variety of lengths and are either coiled or straight. It’s important to be sure the cable isn’t too long or too short so that it will activate the brakes when pulled.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Free RVing Tips, Tricks, Reviews, Giveaways & More

Subscribe to our daily newsletter! We’ve been full-time RVers for 20 years (!) and share everything we’ve learned about RVing in our daily blog posts. Join our online community to receive a wealth of great RVing knowledge delivered right to your inbox.

Whether this is your first time on the road or you’re a seasoned full-timer, you’ll love the wide range of RVing topics we cover. Don’t miss a single article or any of our famous RV gear GiveawaysSubscribe today!

We'd Love It If You Shared This!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

David Dean

Tuesday 5th of September 2023

Why is there no mention of the trailer battery component in this article? If the battery is dead, or fully charged with a faulty connection, the breakaway cable placement is meaningless - the system will not work, and the brakes will not apply. This is increasingly important to check as the RV/battery ages.

TheRVgeeks

Tuesday 5th of September 2023

Thanks for catching that, David. Our reference to inspecting and maintaining the battery was inadvertently omitted during editing, and it has been added in. We appreciate your mentioning how important that component is.

Brett

Tuesday 5th of September 2023

Well explained. So many people connect the cable incorrectly or, as you point out, weave it through the safety chain. I've already done exactly what you suggest, a horse shoe bracket bolted (not screwed) to the tow vehicle. So much easier for connection too.

Mike Shippy

Monday 4th of September 2023

I believe you are referring to electric trailer brakes. Maybe you should note that this does not apply to surge trailer brakes that are found on boat trailers. I don’t believe you can “test” surge brake breakaway cables, that will permanently engage the brakes and the system will have to be rebuilt.

Steve

Saturday 2nd of September 2023

Great article. I don't know how many times I have nicely explained to people that have towed for many years that their safety cable, if longer than their chains, will not activate the brakes.

My brain still doesn't comprehend how much weight we can tow through a 1 inch ball shank.

David Dean

Tuesday 5th of September 2023

@Steve, Your point is well taken in the case of a broken ball but intact chains on a secure hitch. I have had my entire hitch assembly fall off due to rusted mounting bolts to the frame (thanks Michigan road salt!). I appreciate this article stressing the importance of an independent attachment point for the breakaway cable, which would have reduced the damage to my runaway trailer in the ditch.

TheRVgeeks

Saturday 2nd of September 2023

Thanks Steve! We know what you mean about such a large amount of weight on such a small spot being hard to comprehend. I drove semi trucks for a bit years ago, and the fact that ALL that mass could be safely held in place by that tiny little kingpin always had me wondering... LOL. We need to catch up with you sometime soon. Been too long!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

PLEASE NOTE: We're handy RVers, not professional technicians. We're happy with the techniques and products we use, but be sure to confirm that all methods and materials you use are compatible with your equipment and abilities. Regardless of what we recommend, consult a professional if you're unsure about working on your RV. Any task you perform or product you purchase based on any information we provide is strictly at your own risk.

We participate in affiliate programs from many companies (including the Amazon affiliate program), which provides a means for us to earn a small commission by linking to products there. But our opinions are our own and we only link to products we can recommend to friends with complete confidence. And using our links won't cost you an extra penny!