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Electric Brake Box Problems?

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  • Electric Brake Box Problems?

    Has anyone experienced truck battery drainage from an electric brake box hook up?

    This is when the trailer is not attached. The truck is not turned on. The truck is just sitting in the driveway.

    Long story short, I borrow the truck to pull my trailer. Very nice of the owner to lend it to me, so I paid to have the brake box put in - to upgrade her old one. Brake box was put in by a very reputable horse trailer dealer - they put in a Tekonsha Primus.

    Truck owner recently told me that she had replaced the battery in the truck last year (1999 Chevy), then last week the truck wouldn't start. She had Triple A jump it. Then she took it to her local mechanic. He claimed the brake box was draining the battery.

    So, the mechanic took it upon himself to disconnect the brake box himself. I wasn't there when all of this happened. I told the truck owner that I was unaware that these braking systems were meant to be disconnected within the truck when you weren't hauling a trailer....

    So, I have suggested taking the truck to a mechanic who is truck/trailer savvy. At my cost. But, I figured I'd first ask COTH folks if anyone has experienced a battery drain based on the electrial brake box?

    I am also not to happy that by disconnecting it, the mechanic has wiped out the power setting. But...

  • #2
    Something is clearly not right. End of story. Take the truck back to the dealer that installed the unit.


    • #3
      You can't disconnect it between uses, or you'll have to recalibrate it every time.

      When there is not a foot on the brake pedal is should be using a miniscule amount of power, so unless the unit or the install is faulty it should not be draining the battery.

      It's possible something is wrong with it, but it's just as possible that the mechanic was taking a (not entirely unreasonable) guess that the only thing that has recently been changed is the cause of the new problem. Not every mechanic is good at electrical diagnosis.


      • #4
        Yes, we've had a similar problem, and no, we've never really diagnosed or fixed it properly. Pulling the fuse to the brake controller if the truck is going to be parked for any length of time will work as long as you remember where you put it! Our truck also does something weird with the light in the bed, under the tonneau cover, and if we don't check to be sure it's off it will drain the battery. I'd be looking at all the odd lights and switches, besides the brake controller, just to be sure.


        • #5
          Could have been a short in box wiring that was draining power. We had battery drainage when trailer was left connected to the truck. The Hitch Shop put in some kind of blocker item along the wiring to prevent trailer having access to the truck battery. They also ran the wiring of truck and found the trailer was not grounded right (we purchased truck and trailer as a set) and fixed that problem. Trailer HAS two large batteries for the living quarters, but when it drained them by not being grounded right, it "helped itself" to the truck battery. That outfit had a LOT of wiring issues from truck not being correctly done when the flatbed was installed by previous owner. We had the Hitch Shop go over it all after having several issues with the outfit, fixed all the wiring under the flatbed. MANY pinched wires because the truck people didn't use the holes in the frame to run wiring! Total IDIOTS.

          Your hitch shop may have made one tiny mistake in the wiring, has a ground. They should fix it, though they will charge if that blocker item is put on the truck. We haven't had any electric problems with truck or trailer after our blocker was put on. Hitched or unhitched, in either truck or trailer. ALL the batteries work fine, never run out of trailer electric if we are careful while parked at weekend activities.

          My newest Tekonsha brake box is EASY to use, reset. You might want to just write down the settings if you always haul the same animal, have it handy to "dial-in" to the brake box if it gets changed by another driver. You could put a label on the inside of trailer door, since truck is not yours. Read the brake box instructions, I found it a lot easier to reset for changed horse loads than older models I had in the past. Easier to be able to use it, change or reset it, instead of worrying that you won't ever "get it right again" if you lose that setting for some reason.

          So I would agree, take truck back to the original hitch shop and tell them the problem of truck battery going dead since brake box installation.


          • Original Poster

            Thanks, all. Original hitch shop is a solid hour away. It is going to "The Boys" whom are just down the road, and whom have kept us local truck/trailer folk on the road for a long time. Becuase I didn't own the truck, I could not make the suggestion that it go there first. Now, I get to pick.
            They said, "no problem" when I explained my concern. They will check for a battery draw, figuring perhaps something is shorted out. AND I'll have a chat with them about recalibrating it as soon as things are back in running order. Just weirded me out that the first mechanic chose to simply disconnect the brake box, as the "fix."


            • #7
              Probably worth a quick call to Tekonsha to see if they have had any similar situations. Might save the boys a bit of troubleshooting. My guess is it is not related to the brake controller.


              • #8
                Several things that I do not understand.

                First, no one has mentioned the year, make and model of the trucks they are talking about.

                Second, every truck should be wired so that when the switch is off, everything is killed.

                You don't need brakes when the truck is not running, so power to the brake system should be pulled from the accessory side of the ignition switch.


                • Original Poster

                  OP here. Because you asked, the subject vehicle is a 1999 Chevy Silverado 1500. Oh, and its black. Pretty black truck. Been used for a moderate amount of towing by the owner before I started to borrow it and decided to upgrade the brake box.
                  Indeed, common sense says once the ignition is off...everything SHOULD cut off. So maybe there is a short somewhere.
                  Last edited by Calling Duck; Feb. 13, 2013, 09:15 PM. Reason: typo


                  • #10
                    I just pulled up the Tekonsha web page.....

                    And all of the controllers on that page appear to have the feature that allows you to remove them from the truck.

                    That would have to mean that they retain their settings.

                    I wonder if the installer thought that they must be powered up continuously in order to remember the settings.

                    I am not familiar with this controller as it has been 20 years or more since I used one. Since 2008 I have used the Ford tow/haul system and for many years before that I had a MasterBrake which I believe is now Brake Smart.

                    At any rate, I would not purchase a system today that did not have EPROM. EPROM allows memory to be retained when powered off.

                    My point is that these are questions you need to ask in order to understand how that controller should be wired.


                    • Original Poster

                      cssutton - thanks! I will call the facility where the box was installed and have a chat with them before I take the truck down to the boys.
                      I do not want to remove the box, don't want to have to disconnect it. It was not sold to me with the idea that I needed to unplug or remove it.
                      Memory retention is a lovely, practical idea.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by cssutton View Post
                        Second, every truck should be wired so that when the switch is off, everything is killed.
                        That's not true, and has not been for decades. There are lots of always on circuits in a car. Even in a simple, old one, you'll have things like the interior lights. In a modern one you'll have some of the electronics constantly powered.

                        Originally posted by cssutton View Post
                        You don't need brakes when the truck is not running, so power to the brake system should be pulled from the accessory side of the ignition switch.
                        No. Hopefully the truck had a built in harness location to make it easy, but if it did not and they installed it properly they would have run a new wire to the battery with a auto-reset circuit breaker inline.

                        Even if that model does not need power to keep its settings (I've no idea if it does) you should not hack brake wiring into an existing fused circuit. If the fuse blows (and it probably will now you've doubled the load on it) you'll lose trailer brakes.


                        • #13
                          All modern vehicles have a fuse box pre wired to the accessory side of the switch and all you have to do to hook up devices that you want on that circuit is to hook into that fuse box and put a fuse in the required slot.

                          Power winches, aux lights, whatever.

                          As for dome lights, I doubt that yours burn 24.7.

                          They may burn 24 but it won't be 7.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by cssutton View Post
                            All modern vehicles have a fuse box pre wired to the accessory side of the switch and all you have to do to hook up devices that you want on that circuit is to hook into that fuse box and put a fuse in the required slot.
                            You don't want a fuse for brake controllers. You want an auto-resetting circuit breaker.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by cssutton View Post
                              As for dome lights, I doubt that yours burn 24.7.
                              He said the circuit is powered, not that the light is on.

                              My brake lights work with the truck off, bet yours do too.


                              • #16

                                It has been a long time since I have wired one since my last two trucks were factory Ford Tow/Haul systems.


                                • #17
                                  Brake lights have nothing to do with the brake controller.

                                  Nor is that relative to the problem in any way.

                                  Your brake lights have no power at all until the brake is put to use.

                                  The question here is whether the brake controller must have power to it to keep its memory.

                                  If so, it must be wired one way. If not, it can be wired another.


                                  • #18
                                    I have a Tekonsha P3 and it doesn't drain my battery at all...it "goes to sleep" after a period of time. I was actually worried about this at first, but it's not an issue. Maybe that "Primus" model is different in that respect than mine, but...

                                    And, of course, if the dealer can't fix the issue, then the connector on the controller could be disconnected when the controller isn't needed. A small pain, but certainly an option if the issue persists.


                                    • #19

                                      I have googled a few brake systems and it appears that all of them are connected directly to the battery, which means that they need power to retain their settings.

                                      In other words, no EPROM.

                                      Even the MaxBrake, which is the latest and last to evolve from the MasterBrake that I had on my 1999 F350.

                                      I really liked that controller. Fantastic. I was disappointed that Ford came out with their Tow Haul system.

                                      But now having owned two F350's with Tow Haul, I find it to be a really nice system as well.

                                      So bottom line is that your friend's truck either has a battery problem and the trailer control is a coincidence rather than a cause or you have a bad or incorrectly installed controller.

                                      By the way, for those who might be interested, MaxBrake is at http://www.maxbrake.com/downloads/MaxBrake_TriFold.pdf

                                      There are lots of other links and some describe installations on over-the-road tractors.

                                      Your friend's truck could have something as simple as corroded battery cable clamps with the controller being only a coincidence.

                                      Time for someone to start at the battery and go all the way through to the rear trailer connection.

                                      My old MasterBrake and the MaxBrake have diagnostics that help the user find a problem if the problem is in the trailer brake circuit, but even they could not diagnose a dirty battery clamp.

                                      Sometimes you just have to get dirty.

                                      Good luck.


                                      • Original Poster


                                        Update - second mechanic ran a diagnostic on the battery, found no drain. Tested the brake box, no problems.

                                        Says that tomorrow he will hook up a trailer at the shop and recalibrate the brake box for me.

                                        So, my guess is that we have the Bermuda Triangle in the owner's driveway, slowly sucking the charge out of the truck battery.

                                        I will suggest to the owner that the truck get driven for more than just "going to get the Christmas tree" and me borrowing it a couple of times a month in the spring/summer/fall as that amount of work doesn't seem to be doing it much good.

                                        Thanks to all for your comments. We shall see where we are next time either one of us needs to drive it.