Camping trailer & Jeep JK Unlimited
All about the hitch, the harness, the suspension and the brake upgrade
The Jeep has a towing capacity of 2000lb, the Prolite Mini 13 camping trailer is around 1500lb when loaded and is equipped with electrical brakes.
Our Jeep DOES NOT have the tow-package installed, so this is the standard, unmodified Sahara 2013 model. We installed the hitch receiver a while ago to mount a bicycle rack and connected the 4-pin electrical adapter at the same time. The Prolite Mini trailer uses a round 7-pin connector. The MOPAR 7-pin wiring harness was not really designed for a brake controller and needed some minor adjustments. The Brake Controller is from Tekonsha and sits on the dash.
This setup works great but has a few flaws:
1. The trailer sits very low, so we decided to lift the trailer by about 2 inches.
2. The 100lb load on the hitch (tongue weight) pushes the Jeep down by more than one inch.
3. The car battery is getting drained.
To lift the Prolite Mini, we went back to the factory in St-Jérôme, QC.
To level the Jeep, we installed the Air Lift 1000 Load Assist Spring Kit.
Getting these parts and installing them was straightforward. The problem with the battery is another story documented in Battery Isolator and Charging
MOPAR Hitch Receiver Part #: 82210230.
Not much to the installation. No need to remove any muffler or bumper. The bolts for the MOPAR Hitch Receiver fit into the holes without problems.
Both the 4-pin and the 7-pin trailer adapters are active.
MOPAR 7-Way Trailer Tow Wiring Harness Part #: 82210214ab.
The wiring harness is supplied to the exact length. Follow the instructions to the point or you may be short when trying to connect to the battery.
Tekonsha Voyager 9030 Electric Trailer Brake Controller.
The center wire in the adapter is the actual power line from the battery to the Brake Controller and finally to the brakes. We found several recommendations for using an auto-reset fuse for the brake controller. If the circuit overheats, it will stop working for a while but reset again. A regular fuse will just stop working. See image below for battery connection.
We used 12 gauge wire for the brake controller installation. The Fuse is a 30 Amp Auto Resetting Fuse. The 2nd connection to the battery terminal is from the 7-pin wiring harness. The Tekonsha documentation explains the wiring, so no need to go into details here.
The brake controller needs to know when the brakes are applied. So one wire connects to the brake light. Most documentations refer to the switch above the brake pedal. A very awkward place to work. We decided to look for the center brake light cable above the spare tire. The wiring goes through the cabin, so it's just a matter of finding the correct coloured wire.
We pulled the trailer from the dealer all the way to the storage place. The dealer is located in North Bay and the storage place is in Milton. A 360km excursion and a good excuse to stop at Algonquin Provincial Park for a sleep-over. It was September 2016 and the heater in the trailer works like a charm. "Why do we know that?" you may ask. Well, it's loud enough to wake a hibernating bear, but we enjoyed every single BTU that was pumped into the living quarter. But back to the suspension.
When we picked up the trailer, we left North Bay late in the afternoon and arrived at night in Algonquin Park.
After connecting the Prolite Mini, the Hitch dropped just over one inch. Enough to cause problems with the lights at night and the suspension. We considered a Weight Distribution hitch and found out that the minimum tongue weight is 350lb. The Prolite Mini has less than 200lb. So this is not only overkill but would also add more weight on the hitch. And lastly, it would extend several inches below the hitch and takes away from the ground clearance. Absolutely not what we had in mind.
The weight distribution and/or sway control is not needed for our setup. We found a better option to solve the drop in the suspension. An air spring added to the rear axle.
Air Lift 1000 Load Assist Spring Kit - 60817. They are cheaper than any weight distribution system and also seem to perform better for our purpose. We ordered the kit from 4 Wheel Parts in Burlington, Ontario. The price for the complete set was below $200.
The "Balloons", or air springs to use the correct name, are placed inside the rear coil springs and provide up to 1000 pounds of levelling capacity. There is no need to make changes to the front suspension.
Image on the left: The first task is the Heat Shield installation.
Hoist the Jeep, remove the wheel and now we have access to the spring coil and muffler.
Image on the right: Clean the path for the Air Line. There may be some mud stuck inside.
Fold the Air Spring and insert into spring coil. There is plenty of space to get the deflated bag inside.
Insert the black Protector, connect the Air Line and done.
Air spring installed, view from the side.
We used wire protector (Flexible corrugated split tubing) to protect the Air Line from rocks and dirt. Also helps to keep the line from bending.
The Inflation Valve is in the gas tank compartment. This will keep the valve clean and makes it simple to check once a week (according to the manual).
Overall, the installation was simple but took about 3 hours plus the time to hoist the Jeep and secure it on the stands.
After hooking up the trailer, the sag is hardly noticeable . 15 PSI is about the right pressure for the Prolite Mini. We don't even have to adjust the pressure to the 5 PSI during our trips when the trailer is not connected. The Jeep behaved normal on paved roads and on Forest Service roads.
UPDATE June 2019: The Air Lift system works flawless. Never had to add air during winter. We deflated them to about 5 PSI. Never had to add air when fully inflated. Takes less than a minute to inflate, 10 seconds to deflate to 5 PSI. We did a few trips with the trailer and it does add stability to the rig. No adjusting of lights when driving at night. This is a very functional, low cost addition for any suspension when towing.
UPDATE September 2022: Thank you Air Spring, your lifetime warranty is truly exemplary. To be clear, the Air Spring didn't fail, but the coil springs in the Jeep. With over 300,000 km and many of them fully loaded to close the capacity of the Jeep, the coil springs needed to be replaced. So did the OEM shocks. We upgraded the shocks with the Bilstein B6 4600 (we have no lift). To make the switch, the Air Spring air bag had to be removed.
From the warranty claim: "When I pulled out the Air Spring, the rubber Protector (below the air bag) broke in several pieces on one side and the other side was completely missing. We must have lost it during one of our travels. The clip to secure the air line on the stem also fell apart. The Air Spring worked and I'm planning to re-install them. The red air bag is deformed to the shape of the spring, but they don't show signs of cracks, only some minor rough patches."
In short, we needed new clips and protectors. Within a week, we received the clips, the protector and new Air Springs (air bag).
Finding the perfect hitch
"One that drops enough to get the trailer level and that does not rattle"
We have found the one at Hitch City in Mississauga.
It is the CURT Adjustable Channel Mount #45901. We added an anti-raddle bolt which is basically a big bolt with thread and a nut inside the hitch shaft. The hitch itself has a screw to tighten the adjustable mount as well. So it is actually whisper-quiet.
This was my third time getting a hitch or rack solution from Hitch City. Without a doubt, they know hitches and racks. No time wasted with "Let me see if I can find something" as experienced in the Rack store just around the corner.
It is June 2019 and we upgraded the brakes. We had a close call in Nova Scotia and the OEM brakes didn't leave me with a good feeling. The weight of the loaded Jeep and trailer pushed the limit of the factory brakes. They worked ok, just the "bite" was missing. Reading reviews about brake upgrades is all about bigger wheels. EBC Brakes seem to be a market leader but come with a hefty price. We eventually installed the Power Stop Z36 front and rear brake kit. The price for the installation, including a brake fluid flush was about $2,500.
The kit includes the Drilled/Slotted Rotor and the Brake Pads, new Caliper both front and rear. It is a hefty price tag considering that the front brakes would have lasted to the end of the year. The new brakes work great, but the real test will be this summer when we travel out West.
UPDATE August 2019: We were driving from Williams Lake to Bella Coola in BC with the camping trailer attached. The road drops from the Heckman Pass almost 1200 meters within 40 km. This is all gravel, no road marking or guard rails, partially single lane and grades of 14% and sometimes more. Our brakes got so hot that they almost failed. We stopped early enough to let them cool down. This was with the new brakes and fresh brake fluid.
UPDATE September 2021: Excursion to the China Head Mountain in BC. No trailer, but the situation made us drive faster than usual. The full story is part of the West Coast & Rain Forest journal. The brakes failed and we waited for the brakes to cool down, but had to continue to catch the ferry. We descended the sandy, steep road in 4-LOW and made it on time.
IMPORTANT: The Power Stop brakes work perfectly fine. The overheating was caused by many external factors like vehicle weight (trailer), heavy brake use and possibly the sandy terrain. Knowing the difference between the OEM brakes and the Power Stop brakes, they do work better.
Braking impact with increased weight and tire size
How does the tire size and lift affect the braking power? This is almost a no-brainer, but let's review some properties that change the braking power.
Weight of the vehicle and the trailer. Radius of tires. Brake caliper piston, radius of brake rotor, brake pad friction, type of brake cylinder. The Jeep Wrangler has a front and rear disc brake system and our Power Stop disks are drilled & slotted.
Now we're getting theoretical. This information is based on multiple websites. Sources include brake manufacturers and brake force calculations.
Upgrading the tires on your Jeep from the 30.4 inch factory (Jeep JK) to 33" tires requires about 17% more Hydraulic Pressure (max force applied).
A 35" tire requires 30% more.
So far it looks simple, the calculation took the Jeep weight without added equipment into consideration.
Take an unmodified Jeep and add 390 kg for the roofrack and camping stuff in the Jeep (no trailer). Now you need 25% more Hydraulic Pressure.
Add a 400kg trailer and the increase is 60% from a mall-hopper Jeep.
When you add a 33" tire with a 400kg trailer plus equipment, the increase is 77%.
These numbers are strictly based on a theoretical calculation without taking the age of the brakes or the accumulated heat into account. And if we know one thing for sure, hot brakes will not work anymore. We used the last calculation and doubled the trailer weight and the Hydraulic Pressure is about double as well. As you can see, the situation is getting out of control fast.
How can you improve your braking power? Well, some of the factors are
Vehicle and tow weight
Rotation mass (big tires & heavy rims)
Lower center of gravity. Roofrack is bad and so is the lift (suspension).
When you spend money for big tires and a lift, consider upgrading your brakes. It took us one trip to the Maritimes to find out.
Did you know? Brake fluid is hygroscopic (water absorbing). Water in the brake system is super-ultra-extremely bad. It also means that every time you open the brake fluid container to check the level, it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. When you have to refill for whatever reason, follow up with a complete brake fluid flush. Replace any opened brake fluid container with a new, sealed container.
Trailer is lifted
May 10, 2017: All went as planned at Prolite in St-Jérôme, Québec. They took care of the problem right away. The trailer got a lift of about one inch.
Hard to see the difference, but noticable when pulling into our sloped driveway. No more scratching of the bottom rear corner, there is now about a one inch clearance.
We have more options to increase the clearance of the Prolite trailer. The most likely one is a one inch bigger rim and tire, an increase of about half an inch. Not in the budget this year, the tires on the trailer are still in good shape. This decision will be made when the tires need replacement.
|First published on April 01, 2019 |
Last revised on September 16, 2022
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