Is there a definable standard, or a rule-of-thumb for how much weight you can tow on a trailer before you should consider having brakes on that trailer?

I'm sure the individual vehicle plays into this quite a bit in regards to braking ability, but as someone with no towing experience looking to buy a trailer soon for my very under-powered, light car, I'm interested in finding out whether a trailer I intend to tow should have / needs to have brakes, and at what point they should be considered.

  • 1
    The car manual will have the towing capacities listed in it, showing the unbraked/braked limits
    – PeteCon
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 23:11
  • @PeteCon: why not make thin an answer?
    – sweber
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 6:06
  • @sweber: I don't see it as an answer, just a pointer to where the answer may be found, so I thought a comment was OK, but not worthy of an answer... Thanks for the thought, though!
    – PeteCon
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 18:21
  • 1
    us. federal law 3000 lb or 40% of tow vehicle weight roadkingtrailers.com/TRAILERLAWS2012.pdf (Note many states have additional restrictions )
    – agentp
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


It obviously has a lot to do with the weight of the vehicle.

For example a 1 tonne car would want brakes on a trailer weighing anything over around 600kg.

Weight distribution also plays a key part, where the trailer axle and load is will affect the rear brakes on the towing vehicle. The nose weight of the trailer (the weight applied to the hitch) is also very important and on cars - medium trucks usually shouldn't exceed 50-200kg

As a rule of thumb I would say a trailer should be braked when it weighs 50-60% of the towing vehicle.

In the UK when the towing vehicle is less than 3500kg the trailer must be braked when it weighs over 750kg.

Most car manuals have a section on towing and some should say the trailer unbraked/braked weights. There also maybe a plate on the vehicle.

  • Do you mean 50-60% of the maximum permitted weight of the towing vehicle, actual current weight of the towing vehicle or unloaded weight of the towing vehicle? Here in Finland, the 750 kg limit also applies, but your car's limits may be more restricting. For example, my 2011 Toyota Yaris had 550kg unbraked towing limit and (if I recall correctly) about 900 kg braked towing limit. The Yaris had about 1200kg unloaded weight. Now I have a RAV4 with 750kg unbraked and 1600kg braked limits; the car itself weighs about 1670 kg when unloaded.
    – juhist
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 16:32
  • Given the details you put in your comment, you should have the answer to your own question.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 16:55

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