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Towing Safety: Using a Trailer Breakaway Switch

A hitch on the back of a vehicle.

A hitch on the back of a vehicle.

It’s important to know about towing safety before you hook up a trailer to the back of your vehicle. In addition to ensuring that your trailer is properly secured and that you’re not exceeding the weight limit, consider getting a trailer breakaway switch to help keep your trailer under control.

Here’s what a trailer breakaway switch does and why you might want to use one next time you hitch up your trailer.

What Is a Trailer Break Away Switch?

A trailer breakaway switch is your fail-safe if your trailer manages to become disconnected from your vehicle while you’re driving. Whether the hitch wasn’t secure and slips loose, the ball mount snaps, or the safety chains break, the trailer breakaway switch will automatically activate the electric brakes on your trailer so that it comes to a safe stop.


You must have electric brakes on your trailer to use a breakaway switch. If you do, start by connecting the switch to the battery in the battery case located at the front of your trailer. The 12-volt battery in this case will have two wires if it charges via an external charger or three wires if it charges directly through your vehicle. The switch will end up mounted between the battery and the trailer.

What About the Pin and Cable?

There will also be a pin attached to a breakaway cable that’s roughly 4-feet long. The pin needs to be inserted into the switch, while the wire cable needs to be attached to your vehicle — there should be a hole or ring by your trailer hitch assembly that you can clip into. If your trailer disconnects while you’re driving, the car will pull the pin out, and the switch will know that the trailer has become disconnected. Once this happens, the electric brakes on your trailer will be activated.

What Happens When It Engages?

When the breakaway switch is triggered, the electric brakes on your trailer will immediately engage and bring the trailer to a stop. Once this happens, you’ll need to maneuver the trailer to a safe place off the road, chock the tires to keep the trailer from rolling away and ensure that whatever cargo you’re carrying is safe.

Whether you’re hauling live animals or just typical cargo, a trailer breakaway switch makes sure your trailer doesn’t roll away into traffic or flip over onto its side. It’s a simple fix for what can be a dangerous towing safety issue.

Check out all the trailering products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about how to safely tow a trailer, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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