Give Me a Brake!

Surge BrakeOne would think that there was a weekend push, pull or drag sale on trailers. I once checked three of them on a Friday evening and found one that was too heavy for a surge brake, one that had no brakes functioning and a third that needed brakes but was not equipped with them.

The trailer without functional brakes was being towed by a class one driver, and the other two by drivers who likely didn't know any better. Electric trailer brake systems can be complicated to set up and are often misadjusted. Hydraulic surge brakes don't require anything of the driver except testing and maintenance.

It was clear that none of these drivers had done a pre-trip inspection of their trailer before they left the driveway.

A hydraulic surge brake cannot be used where the total weight of the trailer and it's load is more than 2,800 kg. When it is this heavy, the driver must have a means of applying the trailer brakes separately from the tow vehicle brakes from where the driver is seated in the cab.

A combination electric and hydraulic brake is most commonly used on boat trailers for this purpose.

The class one driver was clearly negligent. The breakaway brake activation lever and cable was missing entirely from his trailer. A quick look inside the master cylinder on the surge brake revealed that there was no fluid inside it. This trailer should never have left the yard.

The third trailer weighed just under 1,400 kg and the driver towing it said that he had been told by the business that sold it to him that it was not heavy enough to require brakes. The net weight (shown on his vehicle registration document) of the vehicle he had chosen to tow the trailer with was just over 1,800 kg. This means that the trailer and load cannot weigh more than half of that figure or 900 kg. if it is to operate without brakes.

All three drivers had no clear idea how much their trailer weighed. The only sure way to know this is to go to a scale and have it weighed. Once that is accomplished, it is time to consider brake requirements.

For the simplest cases, if the total weight of the trailer and load is under 1,400 kg but more than 50% of the net weight of the towing vehicle, brakes are required. If it weighs 1,400 kg or more, brakes are required. If it weighs more than 2,800 kg a surge brake cannot be used and a different braking system is required.

Lastly, a word about breakaway brakes. These are required on trailers that weigh 1,400 kg or more when loaded. They are designed to stop the trailer and hold it stopped for a minimum of 15 minutes should it accidentally disconnect from the tow vehicle. Don't attach the lanyard for activating the brake to the hitch assembly or safety chains! Attach it somewhere else on the tow vehicle so that if the hitch fails the brake will still activate.


Wonder what the penalties were for the people making poor choices with their trailer brakes. I’m sure even some of the forms reading the article could be prepared to move a trailer without brakes thinking about the chances of getting caught.

Possible penalties could be a bigger deterrent. Like if they couldn’t move it further.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

All ticketed amounts for offences under Division 5 MVAR (light trailers) are $109.

Fines for offences under Division 6 MVAR (heavy trailers) start at $138. There is an additional $598 added to that if 50% or more of the brakes are not functioning effectively.

Don't be confused by the definition of commercial trailer:

"commercial trailer" means a trailer, or semitrailer, or house trailer, with a gross weight of more than 1 400 kg, but does not include a towed motor vehicle that weighs less than 2 000 kg and is less than 40% of the gross vehicle weight rating of a motor home towing it via a tow bar;

In this case commercial simply means that the trailer and it's load weighs more than 1,400 kg. and not that it is being used for business purposes. For example, a flat deck trailer used to transport a vintage car to an auto show by a hobbyist can easily weigh more than 1,400 kg. It would be a commercial trailer for the purposes of Division 6.

Where an officer believes that the trailer is unsafe for use on the highway, they can order it to be immediately removed until repaired or the order is rescinded by the issuer.

This would typically be accomplished using a Notice and Order #1. This would mean a tow as the trailer cannot be operated on a highway until after it has passed inspection.

My question is, why is there no requirement from dealers/icbc/road safety bc... to ensure these drivers know how to tow and maintain a trailer.  I mean a guy can go pick up a used truck and a 26 foot travel trailer for pretty cheap these days... throw insurance on them both and head up through Duffy lake and down into Pemberton without even having a clue that there was 30% on the truck brakes when he started and metal on metal on the trailer.  But the guy that has a licence to drive a massive tractor trailer setup would probably have known in the back of his head the condition of the setup he had and was using the tow vehicle properly to avoid any failures.

But the guy that has a licence to drive a massive tractor trailer setup would probably have known in the back of his head the condition of the setup he had and was using the tow vehicle properly to avoid any failures.

The guy who drives semi-trailer trucks should know that with a rig, when the footvalve is applied, it would apportion the greatest braking effect to the trailer brakes. In fact, in the event of an unnoticed air loss, the trailer brakes would dynamite (self-activate the spring brakes) first, then the tractor unit would self-activate the brakes at the rear of the tractor if the air loss continued. It's the safest way for the forces to be applied, without locking up the steering axle or jack-knifing the rig.

Smart truck drivers always pay particular attention to the trailer brakes, knowing that many operators will use their hand-valve to slow the rig, just using the trailer brakes. So they will be most likely to require adjustment to ensure proper braking.

There is no safe way to operate a trailer with malfunctioning brakes, and if you need to brake firmly, there's a good chance that the trailer will push the tractor into a jack-knife.

And obviously, this includes guys with pickup trucks, towing trailers, no matter what class of license they hold.

Frankly, many of these guys aren't really all that smart. Expecially these days, when demand for truckers exceeds the supply.

Don't know when it changed. Back in the 50's and 60's one had to take your road test on a vehicle under 6,000lb. GVW. If it had an automatic you were restricted to driving auto. That meant most kids living in rural areas got two tests. One to drive the family car then another one immediately after to drive the farm truck or pick-up. In my case I got my car test on Monday and took what would now be the Class 1 test on Wednesday.

Not saying that the above meant people paid more attention when connecting a trailer but in most cases they were more aware of what the requirements were.

I believe anyone towing a trailer or driving a motorhome should be required to have more than a Class 5 licence. It should also be a requirement for any sales outlet to inspect the licence and go over how to do a pre-trip inspection. Wouldn't hurt if ICBC had their agents inspect that when registering a vehicle that the person has the correct licence.

Few years back CVSE started inspecting SkiDos coming in from Alberta. Didn't make themselves popular but it took off the road overloaded pick-ups and trailers that did not meet requirements. The rest of the Province should consider doing the same at all weight scales. Would catch a lot.

I believe anyone towing a trailer or driving a motorhome should be required to have more than a Class 5 licence. It should also be a requirement for any sales outlet to inspect the licence and go over how to do a pre-trip inspection.

Yeah, this comes down to trailer weight.

In simple terms, if the trailer has greater than 4,600 kg GVW, then one would be required to hold a Class 1 license. But in the last few years, in recognition of all the heavy duty pickups and massive trailers they can haul (oftentimes with a 5th wheel hookup), they've introduced Restriction 20. There's a pdf, here.

Personally, I've never been able to figure out why even at the basic Class 5 or 7 licensing level, applicants aren't required to demonstrate their ability to drive a simple stick shift; and yet, since 1965 if you can believe it, that basic restriction hasn't been applied in BC. Meanwhile, a BC driver currently moving to the UK would discover that they could only get a 'no manual transmission' driver license there, unless they had some proof that their original test was on that type of car. Meanwhile, here in BC, you'll be challenged to find a rental car with a stick these days. But in the UK, you still have to pay extra for an automatic rental car! A short while back, I found myself zipping around Cornwall and Somerset in some little Citreon C3 with a 3-cylinder diesel motor and a 5-speed (the only transmission choice).

And we must be thankful that here in BC, if a Class 1 applicant passes his/her test on an automatic tractor unit, his license will be restricted, as it should be. Whether or not they will later obey that restriction may be questionable. There's an awful lot of truck drivers out there - both in dump trucks and rigs - who really aren't very good at driving a roadranger, and you can hear it as they go by.


That makes me feel better knowing if you pass your Class 1 on an automatic you are restricted to driving automatic. I will also say if I was writing the regulations you wouldn't even be able to take the test on an automatic. Standard or nothing.

That said my days of driving Class 1 was over before the RoadRanger was accepted for anything other than highway rigs and even then most of us thought if you couldn't shift a 5x4 you shouldn't be on the road.