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Old 08-23-2015, 12:27 PM   #1
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Brake Controller

Hi, We are finalizing our preparations for our trailer and are deciding on a brake controller. Does anyone have experience with the Prodigy RF by TEKONSHA? It's a remote controlled controller so nothing is mounted in vehicle. What other kinds of Brake Controllers have people had good experience with? We have an Audi Q7 tdi if that matters. Thanks so much!
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Old 08-23-2015, 04:16 PM   #2
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Yes, the Prodigy RF has been discussed a few times. Here's a Google search of EscapeForum for "Prodigy RF".
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Old 08-23-2015, 04:53 PM   #3
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We have an Audi Q7 tdi if that matters.
It most certainly does matter. The Q7 comes either with or without the factory wiring harness for a controller. If yours comes with the factory controller wiring, you can use a Tekonsha P3 or any high quality wired brake controller and just plug it in. If not, the RF might be a better option due to the wiring hassle.
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Old 08-23-2015, 07:30 PM   #4
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Radio or wire, the brake controller is still mounted in the vehicle.
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Old 08-23-2015, 08:01 PM   #5
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Radio or wire, the brake controller is still mounted in the vehicle.
The controller in the Prodigy RF system is mounted on the trailer. It measures deceleration, checks for brake light signal, determines the voltage to apply to the brakes, and controls that braking power.

The part in the tow vehicle is just a radio-connected display and adjustment panel; without it you can't change your settings (but the brakes still work), and you can't manually apply the brakes... but you still have a working controller (on the trailer). A Prodigy RF without the remote working is much like having surge brakes on the trailer.
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Old 08-23-2015, 08:09 PM   #6
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What does that mean "surge brakes on the trailer"?
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Old 08-23-2015, 08:47 PM   #7
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What does that mean "surge brakes on the trailer"?
Surge brakes are a system which applies the trailer brakes without any kind of control or power from the tow vehicle. When the tug brakes, the trailer pushes against it (though the ball), and that force on a mechanism in the coupler (the part of the trailer which latches over the ball) applies the brakes.

In North America, surge brakes are generally hydraulic, so the brakes at the wheels are just like brakes on a car. They're usually drum-style, but disks are available as well. The coupler pushing back on the trailer is just like a person pushing on a brake pedal. Boat trailers often have hydraulic surge brakes (to avoid submerging electrical components when the trailer is backed into the water; rental trailers normally have hydraulic surge brakes so that the tow vehicle doesn't need to be set up to match the trailer.

In Europe, small trailers normally have a surge system which is all mechanical (rods and cables), not hydraulic; they call it an "overrun braking" system. These cable systems are always drum-style. The only trailer sold in North America with this system that I have ever heard of was the original version of the T@b (which was built on a European chassis).

Surge brake systems don't use the electric brake components used for Escapes (and most small travel trailers).
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Old 08-24-2015, 05:10 PM   #8
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Prodigy RF with VW Touareg

I have experience with using the Prodigy RF with a Escape 19 and 2012 VW Touareg tow vehicle (built on same platform as Q7 and Porsche Cayenne). When I researched brake controllers for the VW, it became apparent after going on the Touareg Forum that hard wiring a controller was a real challenge, as the wiring under the dash is not a plug and play situation. Also, the controller would have to be mounted under the dash on the left of the driver, which would be a real knee banger. Also required defacing of the vehicle . So, I went for the Prodigy RF. Controller unit goes on inside of trailer tongue, and remote controlling unit plugs into 12V in vehicle. Once it is initially "paired" with the vehicle, a procedure which can be a bit troublesome, you are good to go. When you are not towing, you remove the remote so there is nothing left in the cabin. You can go on Tekonsha's website to view/download the user manual for the RF to get more detail. One thing you must do, however, is purchase a:
#20142 Trailer Connector Adapter w/ Lamp-Out Sensor Bypass - 7-Way RV to 7-Way RV - Vehicle End
from eTrailer (we purchased the Prodigy RF from them as well) which plugs in behind the controller on the hitch tongue, and the trailer is plugged into it. This is necessary since the German vehicles have lamp-out sensors which sense a drop in voltage draw if a light burns out, and alerts the driver. Escape trailers have all LED exterior lights. The story goes that when the trailer electrics are hooked up, there isn't enough power draw so the vehicle shuts off the power to the trailer. The adapter is a $20 part. We had a bit of trouble pairing our unit to the VW at the factory, but Rease was more than patient, and we finally got it. Seems the trick was to have the adapter plugged in behind the controller and the trailer battery switch off and 110 AC disconnected. Follow the Prodigy RF's installation instructions exactly, and should do the trick. If you're having problems, call eTrailer for tech advise. They were most helpful.
Also note that your Q7 Owners Manual probably says not to use an equalizer hitch. We just bought a hitch ball mount (again from eTrailer) to give the correct height for the ball (ask Escape). The Touareg's tow rating is 7700# max and 600# tongue weight. Our 19 is about 3200# the way we load it, and the tongue weight is about 330#. The VW handles it well -- the back only drops about 2 in. when the trailer is lowered onto it and the bi-zenon headlamps adjust to compensate for that. We have no sway control on the hitch, and with the 19's tandem axles, sway has not been an issue at all. It pulls like a dream.

Hope this helps,
Dave
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Old 08-24-2015, 05:39 PM   #9
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Dave, I know it is likely just me, but my eyes can't read your post very well at all, with it all jambed into one paragraph. Just an FYI.
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Old 08-24-2015, 06:21 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Owlbnthecar View Post
Hi, We are finalizing our preparations for our trailer and are deciding on a brake controller. Does anyone have experience with the Prodigy RF by TEKONSHA? It's a remote controlled controller so nothing is mounted in vehicle. What other kinds of Brake Controllers have people had good experience with? We have an Audi Q7 tdi if that matters. Thanks so much!
I have the Prodigy RF and installed it on my rig at the factory when I picked up my 19'. It took 15 mins. Pairing was pretty easy. It works well, but it took me some time to figure out the proper brake settings.

I like that there are no permanent fixtures inside my truck cabin. Although, a mount for the remote unit would be nice.

There is a trade-off to consider with this unit. On one hand, the remote unit can be transferred to any tow vehicle without a brake controller to pull the RV. Its nice if you have friends or family that want to borrow your RV or if you have multiple tow vehicles. However, its probably not a good option if you have multiple trailers because the braking unit is permanently mounted on the RV.
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Old 08-24-2015, 09:35 PM   #11
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I have too much experience with remote RF devices from military service to ever trust one to keep me/us safe. How does one know when the communication link between transmitter and receiver is lost, and then how do you restore the link?
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Old 08-24-2015, 09:38 PM   #12
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Loved that RF controller; would've kept it except it help sell our 17B. Murano wiring also fussy but hard to believe what one may have to go through with a VW. Shamwow not!
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Old 08-25-2015, 12:01 AM   #13
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I have too much experience with remote RF devices from military service to ever trust one to keep me/us safe. How does one know when the communication link between transmitter and receiver is lost, and then how do you restore the link?
The in-vehicle unit tells you that it is not communicating - it's a two-way link so either end can tell whether or not it is getting a response.
There is a re-connect method. I can't remember offhand if it can be done "on the fly" or requires stopping.

Even with the radio link lost, the controller still works. It would be either incompetent or reckless to make braking ability unnecessarily dependent on a radio link in a poorly managed environment, and I haven't noticed that Cequent (the maker of Tekonsha) is either incompetent or reckless.
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Old 08-25-2015, 12:06 AM   #14
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The in-vehicle unit tells you that it is not communicating - it's a two-way link so either end can tell whether or not it is getting a response.
There is a re-connect method. I can't remember offhand if it can be done "on the fly" or requires stopping.

Even with the radio link lost, the controller still works.
Think I'd have to play with one in person to figure out how communication to the brakes work without the radio link from the brake pedal (by way of the brake controller) functioning.
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Old 08-25-2015, 12:45 AM   #15
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Think I'd have to play with one in person to figure out how communication to the brakes work without the radio link from the brake pedal (by way of the brake controller) functioning.
The only role of the brake pedal in a conventional controller is to trigger the brake light switch to turn the brake lights on - that's what the controller uses as an input. The Prodigy RF (on the trailer) is connected to the brake light circuit in the cable from tug to trailer, so it gets that signal as well, at the same time.

In the Prodigy RF even when the radio link is functioning, the unit in the vehicle still doesn't send anything to control normal braking. The in-cab unit is just
  • for the driver's information,
  • to adjust the gain (or other) setting, and
  • to manually apply the trailer brakes.
I've never had a reason to apply the trailer brakes manually other than during the adjustment process, but it potentially is useful to damp down sway if that happens.

The biggest problem I see with using the light circuits is that the primitive four-wire system used in North American non-commercial trailers doesn't have a separate stop (brake) lamp circuit - it has left and right stop+turn circuits, and you don't want the brake controller to respond to turn signals. The controller can just look for both coming on at the same (which is what happens when you brake), but it still needs to filter out four-way flashers, and not pulse on and off when combining turn signalling and braking. It can do that, but it potentially adds a moment of delay.
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Old 08-25-2015, 01:01 AM   #16
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Prodigy RF

Once the RF is paired with your vehicle, it never has to be done again, as it pairs automatically every time you hitch up. Audi Q7 and Escape trailers use 7-pin plugs, so no issue as with 4-pins. Since controller with inertia sensor is on the trailer, trailer braking is modulated by deceleration. With hard wired controllers in the vehicle, the inertia sensor is located there. RF works very well. I highly recommend it for the Q7.
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Old 08-25-2015, 01:09 AM   #17
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To each their own, as the saying goes. My primitive four-wire North American non-commercial trailer system works well for me since I have three added pins, one for the brakes, on my truck.
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Old 08-25-2015, 01:19 AM   #18
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Audi Q7 and Escape trailers use 7-pin plugs, so no issue as with 4-pins.
Of those seven pins, only four are used for lighting (5- left, 6- right, 3- tail, 1 - ground)... the other three don't make any difference to the ability of the trailer-mounted controller to clearly detect the stop (brake) lamp signal: power (pin 4), brake control (pin 2), and the auxiliary circuit (pin 7). That auxiliary circuit can be used for a stop lamp circuit, but it is not wired that way in an Escape, is not normally wired that way in a tow vehicle, and it appears that the Prodigy RF doesn't expect to get a stop lamp signal on that pin so it wouldn't help to wire it up anyway.

The RV-style 7-pin connection is just the 4-wire (including ground) lighting-only connection, plus those three other pins. The Prodigy RF does need the power circuit, so it does need the 7-pin connection.
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Old 08-25-2015, 01:25 AM   #19
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Of those seven pins, only four are used for lighting (5- left, 6- right, 3- tail, 1 - ground)... the other three don't make any difference to the ability of the trailer-mounted controller to clearly detect the stop (brake) lamp signal: power (pin 4), brake control (pin 2), and the auxiliary circuit (pin 7). That auxiliary circuit can be used for a stop lamp circuit, but it is not wired that way in an Escape, is not normally wired that way in a tow vehicle, and it appears that the Prodigy RF doesn't expect to get a stop lamp signal on that pin so it wouldn't help to wire it up anyway.

The RV-style 7-pin connection is just the 4-wire (including ground) lighting-only connection, plus those three other pins. The Prodigy RF does need the power circuit, so it does need the 7-pin connection.
Good catch, just read the manual online myself since the 4-wire comment didn't make sense to power anything.
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Old 08-25-2015, 01:25 AM   #20
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To each their own, as the saying goes. My primitive four-wire North American non-commercial trailer system works well for me.
Because turn signals are not distinct from braking, it doesn't work well enough as a way to signal other drivers to be legal for vehicles in most of the world. On the other hand, the additional of centre-mounted high-level stop lamps (the "third brake light") helps somewhat... except on trailers, which don't have them.

Trailers are interesting to me, in part because they are such anachronisms. There's nothing in the design of a typical current trailer chassis that wasn't readily available half a century ago... just like the old-style light setup.
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