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Braking Prowess

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

BrakeBuddy’s newly redesigned portable Select II provides the confidence needed to safely decelerate while towing a dinghy vehicle

Towing a dinghy vehicle charges motorhome owners with the responsibility of using the proper equipment to ensure safety on the road. Contemplating the use of an auxiliary braking device should result in a quick decision: Most states and Canada require the use of a supplemental braking system, so compliance drives any conclusion. Finding the right system should be predicated on its track record for reliability and capability of doing a good – and safe – job slowing down the combo during stopping events. Portability is popular for obvious reasons and BrakeBuddy fits the bill as a strong contender in this segment of the auxiliary braking field. The BrakeBuddy has been around for a long time and is highly respected as a well-engineered product that is relatively easy to install initially, set up in the dinghy vehicle and operate. Parent company, Hopkins Manufacturing Corp., has recently released a new version, the Select II, that incorporates key design and function elements that enhance performance, shorten installation time and make the housing easier to maneuver.

The most obvious change is the body contour. Formerly sporting a more bulky profile, the new housing is dramatically slimmer, with pleasing lines, and features a built-in handle that unlocks from the body for carrying to and from storage and the dinghy vehicle. Other notable changes include an Easy-Pull Power Cord that plugs into the housing and a specially designed connector that mounts on or under the dash. Since all the wiring terminates at the connector, plugging the unit in to 12-volt DC power and the breakaway switch is a fast one-step process, and simple – and very secure.

BrakeBuddy kit includes everything needed to install the components on a dinghy vehicle – even additional wire.

BrakeBuddy kit includes everything needed to install the components on a dinghy vehicle – even additional wire.

One issue many owners of portable braking units have to deal with is battery discharging while on the road. Since the BrakeBuddy is powered by the dinghy vehicle starting battery, a small 15-amp battery charger is provided for integration during the initial installation process. This charger is designed to offset the power draw of the braking device mounted in the dinghy vehicle. Everything necessary for the installation is packaged in the kit and just a few tools are needed to complete the job; most do-it-yourselfers with a fair amount of mechanical aptitude can get it down in less than two hours.

The hardest part of the installation is mounting the breakaway switch and routing the wiring. A four-door Jeep Wrangler was recruited for the test and to begin the install a logical spot for the switch was located and then bolted in place. The wiring was routed to the pigtail that terminates at the connector, which was mounted on a low point on the dash. With the breakaway switch secured, the small-size battery charger was mounted to the firewall inside the Wrangler’s engine compartment and the wires routed to the dinghy battery and connector wiring harness; power for the charger is provided by the motorhome, tapping into an auxiliary 12-volt DC line in the seven-way connector and routed through the umbilical cord between the motorhome and dinghy vehicle.

With the under-hood work completed, the next step was to position the braking device on the floor, in front of the driver’s seat. The aforementioned redesigned housing fit nicely, other than the necessity to move it off-center a bit to locate the activation arm on the brake pedal. Here, a well-designed clevis (clamp) is attached to the brake pedal, which needed to be flipped around for our particular installation to fit properly. The instructions (with image) call for a different mounting position, but the clamp would not stay on the Wrangler’s pedal. A quick call to the Hopkins tech desk validated our attachment change; Hopkins should consider updating the instructions with this additional information to eliminate confusion.

Setting up the BrakeBuddy for the road is effortless. The handle is extended from the locked position, the housing placed on the floor with the seat less than a ¼-inch from the handle and the unit is plugged in. At this point the pedal must not be depressed and the engine is off. The red Auto Start button on the top of the housing is then pushed and the arm will automatically cycle five times to remove vacuum from the brake reservoir in the dinghy vehicle. At the same time the system will diagnose any errors in the setup. Air pressure is set using the provided chart that cross references the proper value with dinghy vehicle weight. The user can also set braking preference, with a choice of employing full braking when the motorhome brakes are activated or proportional braking that matches the deceleration of the motorhome.

Braking preference, as well as sensitivity can also be regulated on-the-fly from the wireless remote. This is a small communication tool (monitor) that can be temporarily placed on the dash in clear view of the driver. A “sticky” pad secures the remote to any flat location and can be moved at will without modifications. The monitor must be synced to the main unit and this is done by simply powering-up both devices and following a button-holding procedure, which is clearly described in the instructions. Once linked, the pressure and braking sensitivity should be the same on the main unit readouts and remote monitor panel.

While the main function of the monitor is to inform the driver of braking sensitivity – and provide a visual confirmation that the dinghy vehicle brakes are being activated – it also reports on a low battery in the remote and if there is trouble with the breakaway switch. A 12-volt DC power cord is included and should be plugged into an outlet in the motorhome dash when using the system. It’s also recommended to disconnect the main unit when stopping for the night or when the dinghy is not being towed.

To test the operation of the system, we set the controls for proportional braking and ran a predetermined course that provided a good sampling of normal driving. At one point, we placed an observer in the dinghy vehicle (on a little-used street) to check brake activation. The objective was to test how well the dinghy vehicle responded to braking events during light and heavy deceleration – and to make sure the brake pedal was disengaged properly when accelerating. Sensitivity was adjusted to ensure adequate dinghy vehicle pressure, and the system worked exactly as designed. Since using an observer in the dinghy vehicle is not safe or practical under normal driving conditions, owners can easily confirm that the system is not applying the brakes prematurely by checking the brakelights after a stop or asking someone to watch as he/she drives away.

Throughout the testing procedure, the dinghy vehicle brakes were applied as instructed by the remote-panel settings and we experienced no harsh braking that can lead to premature dinghy vehicle disc/rotor wear. Knowing that the system technology employed by company engineers was smart enough to ensure proportional braking was a confidence builder for safe towing. And BrakeBuddy’s departure from the bulky housing is a welcome improvement, making it easier to handle and store in real-life conditions.

Hopkins stands behind its BrakeBuddy Select II with a five-year limited warranty and a 30-day satisfaction guarantee. The warranty can be extended optionally by another two years (part No. 39307). The Select II carries an MSRP of $1,499 and can also be used on vehicles with electric power-assist brakes (hybrid).

Hopkins Manufacturing Corp. | 800-470-2287 | www.brakebuddy.com


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