Recreational Vehicle Breakaway Switch :
As you check out the exterior of the RV, you will eventually get to the defining characteristic of the fifth wheel RV and that is the hitch.
When looking at the hitch, you'll see there is more than just a mechanical connection – there is an electrical connection and then a baffling looking cable with a loop on it.
What the heck IS that baffling looking cable with a loop on it anyway?
It is a breakaway switch that, when activated (pray that it does not activate) it will turn on the electrically activated brakes in the fifth wheel trailer.
The RV gets the power to turn on the brakes from the 12 volt battery in the RV.
Lesson #1 is that you should tow your RV with a charged battery if you want these emergency brakes to work when the breakaway switch is activated.
How does this breakaway switch work?
The best way to explain how this switch work is to use an analogy. In this case, the analogy is VERY VERY close to the real thing.
RV breakaway switch and the treadmill analogy
Think about when you go to the the gym to work out. While you are at the gym, focus on the treadmill machine. On almost every treadmill I've ever seen is the “safety key”. The idea behind the treadmill safety key is that you clip the safety key to your clothing and plug it into the treadmill.
When you are exercising on the treadmill, if you lose your balance and consequently get too far away from the machine, the safety key will pull out from the treadmill and turn off the treadmill so you aren't repeatedly smashed into the wall or continually get a “belt burn”.
How the breakaway switch works
With the analogy of the treadmill in mind, here is how the RV breakaway switch works.
You fasten one end of the breakaway switch to your tow vehicle and inside the hitch the other end is already attached to the RV. In fact, the other end isn't just attached to the RV, it is attached to a special switch that will turn on the brakes if you pull on the cable hard enough to pull out the cable from the switch. The loop of wire that fastens to your tow vehicle is often called a lanyard.
The BIG IDEA behind breakaway switches
The overall BIG idea or safety idea behind the breakaway switch is this – if the RV comes unhitched, for any reason, the breakaway switch will be activated, the brakes will turn on strongly and your RV will come to an stop.
Hopefully if all this works, your RV damage will be minimal and people on the highway will be safe. Without the breakaway switch, the RV might continue to roll and cause more damage or even hurt another person by hitting a car headon. This braking mechanism is the best chance to get the RV slowed down, stopped, and then safe.
My recommendation is to double, triple, and neurotically quadruple check your hitch connection and pray that you never have to utilize your breakaway switch.
My next recommendation is to make sure your battery is fully charged prior to towing your RV. That way if you ever do need the breakaway switch services, the RV brakes have the power to engage.
Here is a picture of a breakaway switch so you can see what to look for :
Breakaway switches and cables on Amazon:
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