As you know, one of the cornerstones of my overland adventure setup is my off-road camping trailer. Although not required by law due to its weight, it does have electric drum brakes. I like having trailer brakes because they are just as useful off-road as they are on-road.
The LJ already has a brake controller but my alternate tow-rig, which is a 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 5.7L Hemi V8, does not. After a little research, and talking with the team at REDARC Electronics at last fall’s Overland Expo East event, I decided to give their Tow-Pro Elite Electric Trailer Brake Controller a shot. The two things I liked about most were first the easy of install, and second it’s functionality.
Plug & Play Install
If anyone has ever installed a brake controller in the past you know what a pain in the but they are. You have to get up under the dash, find wires, splice into them, and then wedge the controller up in there in a way that is still oriented properly. Once all is said and done you have to pray no wires wiggle loose and then have something to bang your shin on for the rest of your life. Not so with the Tow-Pro Elite. REDARC made this a very elegant solution for installation into a modern vehicle.
What really makes this install easy is that this 2013 Grand Cherokee is equipped with a factory “tow prep” package. Last summer, shortly after the vehicle entered the family fleet, I installed a hitch to the back and the RV style 7-wire outlet. This was an equally easy install which required only a half dozen or so bolts and a pre-wired outlet that plugged into the factory installed vehicle harness.
Installing the REDARC controller is equally easy because part of the “tow-prep” package is a factory installed brake controller outlet. This makes installing an aftermarket brake controller like the Tow-Pro Elite very easy. No splicing required. REDARC makes this easy by offering a OEM compatible harness that is pre-terminated with their brake controller plug on one end and an OEM compatible plug on the other. Seriously folks, it does not get any easier than this.
Once the harness is plugged in it’s time for the “brains” of the system. Now, for those have have installed (or even used) an older style brake controller you know they need to mounted in a very specific manner with a level’ish orientation. Some models (like the one I used in the LJ) have an internal pendulum that require adjustment. This pendulum is designed to override the trailer brakes when it senses a change in momentum. Sadly it can also override the trailer brakes when you don’t want it to such as an off-camber or steep-downhill scenario when off-road. In some instances I was forced to manually dial-down the brake controller in the LJ and resort to use the manual override button. Not exactly an easy task when off-road. In contrast, the REDARC controller is able to be installed in any orientation and has a lot of features making it much easier and more pleasant to use both on-road and off-road.
Once the control box is plugged in you can now move on to the control knob. The Tow-Pro Elite control knob is a dual-function combined switch and dial. The switch is both a “click” style button (click and release) as well as a “momentary” button (push and hold). The dial turns from ZERO to TEN and is illuminated by a small LED at the top of the switch assembly.
I opted for the Tow-Pro Switch Insert which would make mounting the switch assembly a little easier. It would also give it a cleaner “OEM” look when finished. I might even go so far as to fill the embossed text with some white paint just to give it an even more polished look. As far as where to mount the switch, it’s as easy as drilling a hole (if you’re brave and have room on your vehicles dash to do so) or use an existing open switch slot in your vehicles OEM switch panel. Sadly I am not brave enough right now to drill a hole into a low-mileage Hemi Grand Cherokee — not matter how polished the finished product might look. I also admit that this vehicle will rarely see tow-duty given it’s daily-driver nature. As such, I found a more “creative” location for the switch inside the center cubby under the factory HVAC controls.
Calibrating the Tow-Pro Elite
Here is where reading the directions really pays off. In terms of functionality the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite Trailer Brake Controller is light-years ahead of the brake controller currently in my LJ.
Most older trailer brake controllers are pretty dumb in terms of functionality. The one in my LJ right now is either engaged (when the brake pedal or manual override button is pushed) or not. I can adjust the sensitivity a little bit, meaning if I tap my brakes (like when disengaging cruise-control) or press my brakes lightly the trailer brakes don’t engage. Beyond that it’s pretty much: press brakes = trailer brakes on.
What makes the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite smarter than a basic brake controller is that it goes through Active Calibration upon initial use. This will allow the control box to learn its mounted orientation and then use its onboard sensors to monitor vehicle telemetry. At this point, once calibrated, the brake controller will begin to function in Proportional Mode. At that point you can switch between modes (more on that in a second).
Using the Tow-Pro Elite
The REDARC Tow-Pro Elite has two modes. First is the default setting: Proportional Mode. This is where the control box progressively engages the trailer brakes based on the vehicles rate of deceleration. The setting on the knob (0-10) determines how hard the trailer brakes are engaged with relation to the vehicle’s deceleration. Although similar to how older brake controllers work, this is a smarter feature and is less fickle than older models equipped with things like a pendulum. Second, is a User Controlled Mode where the control box will engage the trailer brakes at the user-determined setting on the knob (again, 0-10). This is much closer to the manual functionality of older brake controllers where they are “on” or “off” based on the tow vehicle’s brakes.
The easiest way to think about the two settings is in User Mode (which is a blue LED on the knob) the trailer brakes will come on at the determined setting if the trailer’s brake lights are on. So, lights on = brakes on equal to the setting on the control knob. In Proportional Mode (which is a green LED) the trailer brakes will come on in a more gradual manner in relation to how quickly the vehicle is stopping. So, slam on the brakes = trailer brakes equal to the setting on the control knob; if you gently push the brakes = trailer brakes engage at a lower setting for a briefer amount of time. That said, it’s really something you’ll have to play around with. I highly suggest finding a large parking lot to do some stop-and-go runs with your trailer of choice as you get things dialed in. Luckily though REDARC makes the initial setup pretty easy with their calibration mode.
Switching between modes requires the vehicle and trailer to be stopped. At that point you can turn the setting knob to zero, depress the brake, and then “double click” the control knob. At this point you can release the brake and the controller will have changed modes as indicated by the change in LED color.
To manually engage the trailer brakes (known as manual override) you can press the control knob in a momentary fashion (press and hold). In Proportional Mode this will lightly engage the trailer brakes regardless of their level on the knob. In User Mode this will engage the brakes at the desired setting on the knob. Again, this is something worth experimenting with in a safe and controlled setting like a parking lot. This will allow you to get a literal “feel” for how the trailer brakes engage at their different settings. It’s also a good habit to briefly manually engage the brakes when you pull out to make sure not only the system is connected and functioning, but that they are in the correct mode and desired intensity. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to pull out and realized I had the controller set too-strong or too-weak based on what I was doing earlier.
Another trick feature of the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite is its Parking Brake setting. This means, while the vehicle is stopped, if the brakes are held for more than three seconds the control box will engage the brakes. This will help take the load off the vehicles brakes. This can be useful on hills in order to keep the vehicle from rolling while stopped. If the control box thinks the trailer brakes are not needed to keep the vehicle and trailer stationary (like on flat level ground) then it will disengage the trailer brakes.
If you’ve made it this far you deserve a cookie. I’m sorry for the wall of text up above, but there is a lot to this brake controller system. There’s also not much to take a picture of once it was all installed. That said, my first impressions of the REDARC Tow-Pro Elite Electric Trailer Brake Controller is very high.
First of all the components themselves are very well made. There is nothing present that doesn’t need to be there and everything that is there is well packaged. Things like the OEM compliant plugs and wire loom really show the attention to detail that REDARC puts into their products. Even optional accessories like switch panel show they care how their product looks (even as minimalistic as an install like this is) and want it to appear like it was there from the factory.
Secondly, the advanced features of this brake controller really show how seriously they take the functionality of their product. Being able to choose between progressive and user-defined modes and little touches like the automatic parking brake really separate this controller the rest. They also didn’t overly complicate things. There is one knob that is both a dial and a switch with one LED that tells you everything you need to know.
Thirdly, the install is super easy. The plug-and-play nature of installing the Tow-Pro Elite into a vehicle like the Grand Cherokee with a tow-prep package makes this such an easy install. It’s quick. It’s simple. It’s elegant. The pre-terminated harness made this install as easy as plugging your phone into charge. Seriously.
Lastly, let’s talk cost verses benefits. The Tow-Pro Elite itself retails for just over $200. The pre-terminated harness is roughly another $20. The universal switch panel breaks the bank at a whopping eight dollars and forty one cents. That means when all is said and done you’re under $250 for, what I consider to be, one of the best brake controllers on the market. Now, are there cheaper brake controllers on the market, sure. However when it comes to a much more valuable trailer and even more valuable tow-rig the last thing I want to be a cheapskate about is the trailer brake controller.
Anyway, I am not going to lie. Even at $200 the REDARC controller is roughly twice to three times as expensive as most basic controllers on the market. However, in my opinion, it’s worth it. So very worth it. The quality of the components means this controller is built to last. Having used some “budget brand” controllers in the past, they aren’t. The functionality of this controller is also more advanced than basic brake controllers, and those increased features are worth the increase in cost.
I know an install article and written review like this tells part of the story. It is my hope in the near future to do a review video that focuses on the features of the controller and how it works in the real world. In the meantime if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Disclaimer: This article is the result of an equipment partnership with REDARC Electronics for the 2020 season. ECOA is grateful for REDARC’s support this year. I am very picky when it comes to the partners I work with and the quality of this controller really shows how patience and being picky pays off. No financial compensation for this article or for any sales was received.