Unbraked vs Braked Trailers – What’s The Difference?

When asked about the difference between unbraked and braked trailers, the obvious answer might be that one has brakes, and one doesn’t.

While this might be accurate, there is a bit more to it than that!

There are additional considerations regarding load capacities and legal requirements that will come into play as well – so let’s start there in our exploration of the difference between unbraked and braked trailers.

Unbraked vs Braked Trailers – What’s The Difference?

Load Capacity And Tow Vehicle Rating

If you are choosing between braked and unbraked trailer options, your key consideration will be your towing vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). Your vehicle will usually have a different GVM rating for braked and unbraked. Your vehicle handbook (or information from your towbar manufacturer) should contain these specifications.

This is the maximum load you can haul including the weight of the vehicle and trailer. It is important not to exceed the GVM of your towing vehicle as this is dangerous and goes against New Zealand Transport Agency recommendations.

If your towing vehicle has a high enough GVM you might want to invest in a heavier, braked trailer option which allows you to carry bigger and heavier loads. If your towing vehicle has a lower GVM and/or you don’t need to shift large, heavy loads, a smaller, unbraked trailer (such as a trusty standard flatbed) might be the better option for you.

It is also worth mentioning that New Zealand driver licences also have trailer towing limits. However, these are up to 4500kg on class 1 Learner and Restricted licences and 6000kg on a Full licence – which the average driver is pretty unlikely to exceed.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has complete towing guides for all vehicle types available online.

New Zealand Trailer Braking Requirements

In New Zealand, trailer braking requirements are broken down by the GVM of the trailer (that is the total weight of the trailer and load combined and is available from the trailer manufacturer).

Up to 2000kg GVM

If the trailer GVM is under 2000kg, the requirements are relatively straightforward. There is no legal requirement for the trailer to have brakes, however, the towing vehicle and trailer must be able to safely stop within 7 metres from 30kmph. Most of the trailers for personal use (and some tradie trailers) will fall into this category, meaning the legal restrictions are pretty minimal.

The New Zealand Transport Agency further recommends that the loaded weight of an unbraked trailer should not exceed three-quarters of the unloaded weight of the towing vehicle. This makes it more likely that you will be able to meet the 7-metre stopping rule.

2000-2500kg GVM

The same 7-metre rule applies to this weight category, with additional brakes requirements. These trailers must have brakes on at least one axle (either cab controlled or override brakes), dual crossed safety chains OR an electric breakaway system.

Over 2500kg GVM

Now, this would be getting into the super heavy stuff, which needs significant braking power. The 7-metre rule applies, plus additional requirements for cab-controlled brakes, parking brakes and a breakaway system. Heavy transport regulations apply to anything over 3500kg GVM.

The Pros And Cons Of Unbraked And Braked Trailers

Which is the right trailer for your needs? Apart from the GVM, there are some other things to consider. So let’s look at the pros and cons of these two trailer types:

Braked trailers

  • Additional brake power enables a towing vehicle to stop more safely/quickly
  • Can carry bigger and heavier loads
  • May be sturdier to drive at higher speeds due to heavier trailer weight
  • More peace of mind when towing
  • More expensive to buy

Unbraked trailers

  • The towing vehicle brakes provide the braking power for the trailer
  • Cheaper to buy
  • Fewer maintenance costs on brake connections or systems
  • Most unbraked trailers in New Zealand are rated around 600kg-750kg, making them suitable for most at-home uses

Which trailer is the right choice for you?

Whatever you are looking for, the team at Lucca Trailers are here to help. Even if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for, our team can help you make the right choice.

Our range includes everything from standard unbraked trailers to braked enclosed trailers and car transporters. Check out what we have to offer online or give us a call or a visit.

Proud Sponsors

We are proud to support a number of great sports teams and organisations.

Need more info?

Whether you’ve got a question or you need some help choosing the right trailer, get in touch with us now.

Stay Updated

Get the latest trailer tips, news and specials directly to your inbox. Simply enter your details below and we’ll keep in touch.


Browse Our Product Range