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Tow Vehicle and Trailer Braking Requirements

Are you thinking about towing a car behind your motorhome or towing a cargo or travel trailer? It is important for you to know about the legal obligations. Get informed on the legal requirements for towed vehicle braking in each state or province that you are planning on visiting. 

You could face heavy fines and inconvenience for towing a car or trailer more than the jurisdiction's weight capacity limits. You could also have an issue with your insurance denying an injury claim if you don't have a legal towing setup. This could put your entire wealth at risk. 

An example scenario is if the towed vehicle separates from your towing vehicle and kills or maims someone. If you have no emergency breakaway system in use, your insurance company could deny you coverage. This would leave you to foot the entire bill for damages.

The short answer to the question "Do I need a braking system on my towed vehicle?" is probably YES. Very few states or provinces allow anything but very small trailers to operate legally on their roads without an independent braking system.

Dinghy Towing Preparations

The first step is to consult the car or truck manufacturer's specifications for your vehicle and find something called "Curb Weight". This is the weight of the vehicle without passengers or cargo. Some vehicles will also have a value called the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR. 

If you have a GVWR assigned to your vehicle, use this value used to calculate the need for a supplementary braking system. 

If your vehicle only has a curb weight listed, estimate how much gear will be loaded into the towed vehicle. Add this to the curb weight and you will get the most accurate towed vehicle weight. The reality is if you tow a vehicle behind your motorhome, you will use it as additional cargo space. Therefore, you need to take that weight into account.

If you do need a supplementary brake system for your towed vehicle, the brands you will want to consider are:

  • Brake Buddy Classic 3, Select 3, and Stealth

  • Blue Ox Patriot

  • Roadmaster Even Brake, BrakeMaster and InvisiBrake

  • NSA RV Ready Brute Elite (a tow bar hitch with a built-in braking system)

  • Demco Air Force One, Stay-In-Play Duo, and Delta Force


Trailer Towing Preparations

For trailer towing, the process is much the same. In this case, you need to find the "gross trailer weight rating" or GTWR instead of the GVWR you looked for before. This is the maximum weight the trailer frame and suspension are designed to carry. 

tow bar

You want to maintain your ground clearance and operate the trailer combination safely. Use this weight to determine if your trailer needs its own braking system.

The other consideration is whether you will need a travel trailer sway bar. This is a feature either added to or built into a weight-distribution hitch. Trailer hitches with sway bars added on have a small ball on the trailer frame and one on the hitch. A trailer stabilizer bar is then attached between them. 

These sway bars for campers have friction built into them. When your trailer starts to sway, the friction will dampen the sway action and bring the trailer back to its true position.

The other type of weight distribution hitch has bars that move within a frame bracket. In this case, the friction required to stop the sway is between the bar and the bracket. Brands of this type of hitch include the Blue Ox Swaypro or Husky Centerline series. 

Towed Vehicle Braking Requirements by State/Province

Here is a map showing the maximum allowed weight capacity of a towed vehicle without having an independent braking system. (Map courtesy of NSA RV Products Inc.):

US Canada Tow Laws Map

Only a very small number of jurisdictions allow towed vehicles without a braking system other than the very tiniest cars and trailers.

Planning on traveling across borders? You will have to plan to be legal not only where you live, but where you are going. Jurisdictions offer reciprocal recognition of each other's drivers’ licenses. However, your vehicle and loaded weights must comply with the jurisdiction's laws while traveling on their roads.

Special Requirements in certain States/Provinces

In addition to the basic braking weight and breakaway requirements, some jurisdictions have special requirements as follows

  • Oregon - A separate braking system is not required, but you must be able to stop the vehicle combination within legal limits.

  • Wyoming, Kansas - Every vehicle combination must be able to stop within 40 feet. This is tested from an initial speed of 20 mph on a level, dry, smooth, hard surface.

  • Missouri - A separate braking system is not required except on fifth-wheel trailers.

  • Kentucky - Kentucky does not specifically mandate brakes on most trailers towed by passenger cars of any weight. However, all vehicles, separate or in combination, must be able to stop within distances specified in the statute.

  • New Jersey - Breakaway systems that both stop and hold the towed vehicle are required on every trailer or dinghy. New Jersey also requires a proportional braking system to be employed. This applies the towed vehicle brakes at the same proportion to the braking the driver is applying to the main vehicle.   The weight calculation is complicated here as well: Brakes are required on all wheels for all trailers over 3,000 pounds. The weight of the trailer or towed vehicle can't be more than 40% of the GVWR of the towing vehicle.

  • Delaware - The state says that the braking system must be sufficient to "control the movement". Also, it must be able to stop/hold the vehicle combination "including 2 separate means of applying the brakes."

  • Newfoundland - The brakes on a vehicle combination must be capable of stopping to a standstill under certain conditions. These are from 30 km/h in a straight line and within 10 meters of the first application of the brakes. This test assumes you are on a dry, level paved surface of clean asphalt or concrete.


How to Tow a Car or Truck Legally in any Jurisdiction

Towing a car or truck behind a motorhome can be referred to as:

  • Dinghy towing

  • 4 wheels down

  • flat towing


and the towed vehicle is sometimes referred to (cutely) as a "toad".

If your toad is overweight, the complete setup you will need to tow your vehicle will include:

  • tow bar with a safety chain or cable system

  • A vehicle-specific "base plate" bracket installed on the towed vehicle (to connect the tow bar to)

  • A supplemental braking system with a built-in breakaway system

  • A lighting kit to power your tail/brake/turn lights at the back of your toad. This is connected to the electrical system on your motorhome.


Because we have the expertise, RV Part Shop can help you configure a complete dinghy towing system. Please call one of our qualified parts specialists to assist you in getting the correct configuration for your vehicle combination.

Sources for Trailer Hitches and Towing Accessories

We offer the widest selection possible of all major brands of tow bars for sale. We also carry base plates for dinghy towing, including:

  • Blue Ox Tow Bars

  • Roadmaster Tow Bars

  • Demco Tow Bars

  • NSA RV Tow Bars

  • Blue Ox Base Plates

  • Roadmaster Base Plates

  • Demco Base Plates


We also carry receiver hitches, trailer weight distribution systems with built-in sway control bars, fifth wheel hitches, and gooseneck hitches, like:

  • Husky Weight Distribution Hitches

  • Equalizer Hitches

  • Blue Ox Hitches

  • Reese Hitches

  • Pullrite Fifth Wheel Hitches

  • Husky Sway Control Systems


We don't offer Andersen Hitches. However, the brands that we do carry are the best weight distribution hitches, sway bar hitches, and trailer anti-sway hitches. We can also help if you only require hitch parts, like: 

  • A hitch head assembly

  • Lift brackets

  • Hitch balls

  • RV sway bar

  • Frame brackets

  • Trailer anti-sway bars.


If you are thinking about buying a tow bar at Princess Auto is not the best option. They do not have the selection of specialized knowledge required to support the sale of car tow bars. RV Part Shop offers the best advice and retail customer order support. We're here to answer your customer order support calls when you need us.

LEGAL NOTE: We've made every effort to ensure that the jurisdictional information is accurate at the time of writing. However, states and provinces are constantly changing laws, so we cannot guarantee this accuracy. You should confirm with the applicable State or Provincial transportation agency for the most current towing requirement information. We cannot take any responsibility if you fail to confirm accurate information before traveling.

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