The operation of the electric brakes on trailers and fifth wheels is misunderstood by many RV owners. They are operating under the misconception that their electric brakes are always operating correctly. Electric brakes on trailers and fifth wheels are extremely important, they have to be operational in an emergency if the combination unit is going to be able to stop in as short a distance as possible and in a controlled manner. In order for this to happen the RV operator should periodically manually operate the electric brake control to see if, in fact, the RV brakes are operational. Many things could adversely effect the operation of electric brakes such as: moisture on the drums, poor connection at the trailer plug, broken or torn wires at each wheel or a defective brake control. It's much better to know if there is something wrong with your electric brakes so you can get them fixed before you need them in an emergency.
Every RV owner should read the literature that comes with their brake control so they understand and are able to set the brake control up so that it operates properly. The best way to set up a electric brake control is do it on gravel at low speed with a helper. Have your helper stand safely off to one side as you drive your unit past the helper. As you pass his position, slowly push down on your vehicle's brake pedal so that the electric brakes will be activated. Being on gravel the helper should see the trailer or fifth wheel brakes engage and start working before your tow vehicles brakes begin to operate. This will be very evident since the rolling resistance of a wheel on gravel is less than on pavement the helper should see the wheels on the RV start to lock up with this action be accompanied by a skidding with the gravel being dragged by the RV wheels.
The RV operator should repeat the operation until the desired affect occurs. In order for an RV to stop in a safe and controlled manner, it is imperative that the electric brakes not only are work properly but are being activated prior to the tow vehicles brakes. With the trailer or fifth wheel hitch being in tension rather than compression it will reduce the possibility of jack knifing occurring during an emergency stop.
Note: It's also a good idea to periodically pull the plug on the electric brake break away control on your trailer or fifth wheel to make sure it is operating. Since the brake away control is exposed to the elements it can become corroded to the point of being inoperable.