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Old 05-30-2016, 06:01 PM   #1
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Trailer brake cable damage

The good news is we are safe and had a nice weekend camping. But…leaving town on Friday morning I had my doubts. I got a “Trailer Disconnected” message from the F-150 while driving about 65MPH. Thinking this was another of the nuisance alarms we occasionally get I didn’t panic. That is until the trailer brakes locked up. I pulled over to the side of the Ohio Turnpike and stared in disbelief at the cable connecting the truck to the Escape.

It was still connected to the truck, but laying on the ground with about 12 inches of outer insulation gone. 2 wires (I think the tail lights) were stripped for about 3 inches but still connected, and the blue brake wire was broken.

I stayed calm (surprising my wife) and taped the bare wires, and reconnected the blue wires with a wire nut. Then I taped the whole thing up. I had a couple of tie-wraps in the tool box, so I secured the repaired cable to the frame, and we continued down the road. Now I know why that stuff is in the tool box. I’m adding 10 gauge stranded wire.

I had no idea the brakes would engage in that situation. Anybody know which wires are used to signal a disconnect to the truck? And when do the trailer brakes engage, other than the break-away switch?

Now I gotta fix that cable the right way… which probably means replacing it.

Glenn
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Old 05-30-2016, 06:35 PM   #2
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Yikes!
The trailer connection wiring popped off?
That happened to a friend of ours we replaced it with one of these:
https://www.etrailer.com/Wiring/Hopkins/H20046.html
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Old 05-30-2016, 06:55 PM   #3
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I noticed the cap over the female end/connector on the vehicle side has a lip that is intended to stop the plug from being pulled out and can easily not be positioned properly. On our vehicle the spring broke so the cap does not close and the plug could easily pull out. I use 5 mm cord with a cord lock wrapped around the cap and the plug to keep the plug from pulling out from the vehicle.
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Old 05-30-2016, 07:10 PM   #4
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Yes, I have always used a small bungee rap, similar to a rubber band to keep that cable in the plug. Surprisingly one time I forgot to replug after stopping at the border for an inspection, no error message, just a damaged end.
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Old 05-30-2016, 07:19 PM   #5
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Nope. The cable was still connected. Whatever was securing it to the trailer frame let it drag on the road. Didn't realize it was that long.
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Old 05-30-2016, 07:35 PM   #6
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They use plastic cable ties for the cord and the propane line along the street side of the frame, I had to remove some to install the Andersen frame part.
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Old 05-30-2016, 08:41 PM   #7
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Managing the electrical cable length is always a bit of a challenge, because different tow vehicles have the receptacle in different locations, so there is no single correct cable length. You just need to get yours plugged in with just enough slack to allow for turns and bumps, but no extra to let it drag, and then hold it in place (I use a nylon cable tie on my own trailer) to something on the trailer (the jack housing often works well). Even just wrapping the cable around the jack can take up excessive slack - an approach which can be useful on borrowed and rented trailers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SeldomSeen View Post
It was still connected to the truck, but laying on the ground with about 12 inches of outer insulation gone. 2 wires (I think the tail lights) were stripped for about 3 inches but still connected, and the blue brake wire was broken.
...
I had no idea the brakes would engage in that situation. Anybody know which wires are used to signal a disconnect to the truck? And when do the trailer brakes engage, other than the break-away switch?
The only way to engage the trailer brakes is to apply power across the two wires which run to the brake magnets. One of those wires gets power from the brake controller (via a wire which is usually blue) or the breakaway switch, and the other is connected to "ground" (the trailer frame, battery negative, and the usually white wire to the tow vehicle).

Modern brake controllers briefly pulse power on to the trailer brakes (on the one wire dedicated to the trailer brakes) occasionally, and if no current flows they report that the trailer is disconnected. They only use that brake wire (conventionally blue) and ground connection (conventionally white), whether operating normally or just testing; you could break or short out every other wire in the cable and it would make no difference to the brakes. In this case, since the blue wire in the cable was broken, there would have been no current flow and the controller correctly reported a trailer disconnection.

All the breakaway switch does is connect the trailer battery's positive to the brake positive wire, but that didn't happen here, because the breakaway switch plug wasn't pulled. To accidentally engage the trailer brakes, the bare blue wire must have touched a power source, such as the exposed tail light wire.
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Old 05-30-2016, 08:41 PM   #8
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I agree that the reasonable way to repair the cable is to entirely replace it. Apparently it goes to a termination strip in a box in the trailer, so you don't need to splice anything - just replace the entire length to that box. This type of cable is available as an assembly with the 7-pin plug already on the end, to avoid making the seven connections at that end. If you do buy the cable separately:
  • get the right kind - the 7-conductor cable used to connect commercial trucks to their trailers doesn't have the heavy-gauge conductors that you want for the ground and battery power, so you want cable specifically for the RV-type (or "blade" style) connection; and,
  • connect it in the right direction - the electricity doesn't care which end is which, but the cable has the colour-coded wires arranged the same way as the plug for easy connecting... but if you use the wrong end the wires will all be in a mirror image of where they should be.

Typical appropriate cable includes
  • 14 ga: red, brown, yellow, green (lighting)
  • 12 ga: blue (brakes)
  • 10 ga: black, white (battery charge and ground)
The commercial trailer cable is usually all just 14 or maybe 12 gauge, or at best all 12 gauge except one 10 gauge for ground.
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Old 05-30-2016, 11:20 PM   #9
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Yes there is a similar problem with the new Tacoma 2016 , 7-pin plug . It's mounted on it's side in the bumper beside the licence plate NOT on the hitch. So the plug has a sense that it may fall out in transit .
On the hitch type the locking cap was on top ... way more secure because the weight of the cable against the cap helped keep it in . Now its on the side it seems it may fall out at any moment . But I don't know if the brakes will lock if this occurs . I'm thinking a Velcro strap is in order to secure it in place . A total over sight by Toyota .
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Old 05-30-2016, 11:36 PM   #10
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During a trip in February I noticed that my trailer lights weren't working while I was towing. I stopped to find that the trailer's electrical plug was loose in the truck's receptacle. I pushed it in firmly and continued. This happened another time or two. Since that incident I've always towed with the lights on, so I can check the trailer's running lights in the side mirror to ensure that the electrical connection is good.

Although the trailer's power cord doesn't drag the ground in my case, I did have the cable to the safety switch drag the ground enough to fray it, so I replaced it with a coiled safety cable I bought at Camping World.
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Old 05-31-2016, 12:03 AM   #11
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Now its on the side it seems it may fall out at any moment . But I don't know if the brakes will lock if this occurs .
Unplugging by itself can't cause the brakes to be applied.

It is possible that a dragging cable could short the brake wire to the power wire, applying the brakes. This is presumably what happened to Glenn; although in his case his power wire was still powered by the tug, if the cable were unplugged from the tug the power wire would still be connected to the trailer battery so the same thing could happen.
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Old 05-31-2016, 12:56 AM   #12
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It's 2016 and I'm amazed there is still not a dependable, secure locking 7-pin receptacle for tow vehicles. What the hell?


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Old 05-31-2016, 01:10 AM   #13
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It's 2016 and I'm amazed there is still not a dependable, secure locking 7-pin receptacle for tow vehicles. What the hell?
The RV-style 7-pin or blade connector has been around for decades, and has become a defacto industry standard; our 37-year-old Boler has the same connector. The consistent and common use of one design is good, because it means that tow vehicles and trailers can be interchangeable. The unfortunate aspect of any unchanging standard is that it does not advance to better designs.

If you are willing to have a trailer which doesn't work with anyone else's tow vehicle and a tow vehicle which is not set up for anyone else's trailer - or you are willing to use adapters - there are better designs. One that I find interesting is the EZ Connector, which is held in place magnetically (and O-ring sealed)... although the wires are not large enough and I'm not sold on non-wiping contacts.

I certainly wouldn't consider the other 7-pin (the standard commercial trailer connection) to be an improvement. It has no locking feature, no advantage that I know of, and less current capacity.
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Old 05-31-2016, 01:43 AM   #14
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Quote:
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It's 2016 and I'm amazed there is still not a dependable, secure locking 7-pin receptacle for tow vehicles. What the hell?


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Or at least a clip on both sides to keep the plug from falling off .
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Old 05-31-2016, 07:41 AM   #15
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There are two problems. The cable dragging on the road was caused apparently by a broken cable tie that secured it to the trailer frame. And I agree that the brakes were applied simply because I was running with the lights on, and one of the bare hot wires must have touched the blue brake wire.

The internet is full of reports of Ford F150 nuisance disconnect alarms. The lights stay on...the connector is in place, but the truck thinks its disconnected. Nuisance alarms cause you to ignore them. ( I remember visiting a nuclear fuel processing site and the engineer's pager kept going off. He finally took it off and threw it in a desk drawer. But it wasn't a pager: it was a radiation detector!)

In the 19, there is a junction box under the dinette seat where the cable is butt spliced to the trailer wiring. And I'll make sure the new tie-wraps are UV resistant. That should fix the trailer side.
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Old 05-31-2016, 07:48 AM   #16
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You could also substitute some small hose clamps for the cable tie or even better use both, sort of like a belt and suspenders set up.
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Old 05-31-2016, 08:56 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cpaharley2008 View Post
sort of like a belt and suspenders set up.
Too Much Information Jim....................
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Old 05-31-2016, 10:00 AM   #18
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We were driving on I -35 south toward Des Moines, when the P3 trailer brake controller suddenly flashed red and reported no trailer connection. I found the first exit ramp, pulled off, and found the plug barely hanging in the tow's 7 pin socket.

The 7 pin receptacle was installed by my Toyota dealer when we bought the new Highlander and the spring on the flap seemed very weak to me - much weaker than the factory model that came on our Tacoma. With the Tacoma, the strong spring helped hold flap's tab securely against the plug's tab and help hold it all together very well.

The dealer agree to replace the receptacle, but the new one has a spring that's no stronger. I've since concluded that part of the problem is the spring connectors inside the cable plug, After years of use they seem to have more space between each of the 2 metal connectors that are supposed to securely make connection with the tow's pins and also help hold the plug and receptacle together. Before we go out on on out next trip, I'm going to try to see if I can do anything to push those spring connectors back closer together.

Ever since that disconnect on the freeway, I've kept a velcro wrap around the unit to keep it locked together and I think from now on I always will.
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Old 05-31-2016, 01:36 PM   #19
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The connector on my 2014 Silverado is not all that secure. The latch keeps it place but it doesn't mate very deeply. A couple of times we have had to give it a shove in when all the lights were not working during the preflight check. On the other hand, my old Trailblazer held the plug very securely.
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