I think I’m finally done

I’ve had quite a few busy and long weekends. Many of them spent under Subie, several of them spent under Cubie. I know the undercarriages and chassis of both of them better than I’ve ever known about any other vehicle I’ve owned. What makes that all worthwhile?

Everything worked. First try.

This weekend I completed the rest of the work required to tow Subie. We left our lovely spot at Jordan Lake (the photo at the top… steaks cooking, lake view. Hard to beat.) with Cat following me then pulled into a previously spotted mostly empty parking lot. There, I connected Subi up for the first time. There’s a lot of connections. The drop receiver, the tow bar, the tab connections on Subi (silver things on the front of Subie in the photo below), connect the tow bar to Subi, run the safety cables (blue cables), plug the big cord of electrical connections (red coiled cable) between them, connect the Ready Brake cable to the cable attached to the brake pedal (thin, black cable), connect the emergency breakaway cable (thin, red cable) to the other cable attached the brake pedal. It’s a lot.

The Ready Brute Elite tow bar, all connected up.
The Ready Brute Elite tow bar, all connected up.

Then it was time to try everything. First, the lights from Cubie to the new bulbs I installed in Subi’s rear light enclosures. The marker lights were already on, so those worked. Then I had Cat apply the brakes, and try the turn signals. Yes! All lights showed perfectly. I didn’t expect anything different as this was a fairly standard installation of an off-the-shelf product. I could have screwed it up, sure, but it just worked.

The next thing to test was brake indicator light I installed in the dash of Cubie that shows when Subie’s brake pedal was applied. In case it isn’t clear why this is important, I’ll try to explain. When towing, it’s very helpful to have the thing that you’re towing be able to help slow itself down. Depending on who you ask and where you live it may also be legally required and, if not, at least something that lawyers or your insurance could come back at you with if you’re in an accident. There are many products on the market that provide this capability. Our Ready Brute Elite has a braking system mechanism built-in. If you look at the picture above, amid all those cables there’s one thin, black cable that runs from a black handle-looking thing and connects to a loop at the front of Subie. That’s the cable I installed that runs from the front of Subie and attaches directly to the brake pedal. When the RV slows down rapidly enough, Subie pushes against the tow bar and overcomes an internal spring and shock which then causes that black handle to lift, pulling the cable which ends up pulling the brake pedal applying the brakes. Once Subie slows enough, the pressure will reduce such that the handle gets lowered and the brake pedal is released. It’s pretty simple and almost foolproof.

Among the most important things when configuring the system is getting the tension on that black cable correct. If it has too much slack, Subie will never apply brakes and slow down. If it’s too tight, Subie will either lock up the brakes or ride them. Neither of those is ideal, so it took a while to fine-tune.

What I want in my RV dash when we’re towing is an indication of whether Subie is applying brakes at all. So when I slow down, a quick glance should show me everything is cool with Subie’s brakes. If I’m under way and that light is lit, I know there’s something wrong with the Subie’s brakes or the cable and I need to address it before overheating them.

So. I’d gone off script with the brake indicator light. It shipped with three two-conductor wires with plugs on both ends. The idea being that the system was a “closed system”, with everything necessary to run the Subie’s 12v positive brake signal and a ground to the LED in the RV dash. You’d attach the 12v signal wire directly to the wire on the brake pedal switch, attach the ground wire to the Subie’s chassis, then run those two cable together so that the plug was at the front end of Subie. You’d then run a longer two-conductor wire from the back of the RV (with a plug at the rear) to the front dash where it would attach to the positive and ground connection of the LED in the dash. Then, when you hook up the vehicle for tow, you’d use a third, shorter cable with plugs on both ends to the plug at the front of Subie and to the plug at the rear of Cubie, completing the circuit.

That’s fine… but I already have a plug between Cubie and Subie. On Cubie, it’s a 7-blade connector and I selected a 6-round connector at the front of Subie. I bought a cable to run between them. Down that cable is the thing that makes all the marker lights, brake lights, and turn signals light up on Subie when Cubie lights them. Fortuitously, there’s at least one unused conductor in that cable and in the connectors. A conductor I could hijack to send the 12v brake indicator back upstream from Subie to Cubie. And, since with the auxiliary lighting kit I’d installed on Subie the two vehicles end up sharing a common ground, I didn’t need to send a separate ground for the LED. So that’s what I did, one connection between Subie and Cubie for that brake indicator. In theory, it should work just fine. But I’d never been able to test it.

With some trepidation I asked Julia to watch the LED in the dash of Cubie and let me know if it lit up then sat in Subie and pressed the brake pedal. It worked! First time, it lit up perfectly. I was so relieved.

It this point I’d verified all my electrical wiring. Now it was time to ensure my tensions were okay on the Ready Brake and also wire up the emergency breakaway cable (the thin, red cable nearest the camera in the photo above) which also attaches to the brake pedal but operates quite differently and hopefully I will never see it work. Essentially, it’s the safety system of last resort… if every other connection between Cubie and Subie falls off, that cable gets pulled and pulls down the brake pedal and doesn’t let go until someone resets a push button behind the driver’s side front wheel. That way Subie doesn’t continue rolling by untethered.

So I got the tensions seemingly set well and got the breakaway cable hooked up and it was time to test it.

Deep breath. I had Cat stand by Subie and I climbed in Cubie, put it into gear, took off the parking brake, and tried to pull out. Cat waved her arms yelling at me to stop. Subie’s rear wheels were locked up.

“Take the parking brake off!” I yelled back to her.

She popped back in, pulled the electric button to release the parking brake and we tried again. Same result.

“Take it out of gear!” I yelled back to her.

Repeat. Same result. Huh? Am I getting some kind of weird lockup or feedback from the wiring I did? Ugh, I hope not. Unplug the electrical connection and try again. Same result. What?

Cat broke out the Subie manual and I climbed in. The parking brake release didn’t feel like it was doing much. Finally, I turned Subie on and tried releasing the parking brake. That released it… big clunk while it showed me it didn’t like being dragged with the brake on. Next time: turn engine on after setting up for towing.

With that done, I got back in Cubie and pulling away. Still in the parking lot, don’t worry. Subie followed along gamely. Applied the brakes, looking down at the indicator light. Sure enough, the indicator light lit: Subie was braking! Got to a stop and the light went out. Subie released the brakes! Huzzah!


I had Cat now climb into Subie while I took loops around the parking lot, allowing her to watch the brake pedal to see how much pressure was being applied. While it’s hard to tell exactly how much braking it was applying, it was definitely some.

Then we switched. Cat climbed into driver’s seat of Cubie for the first time ever and took some laps around the parking lot.

Cat behind the wheel, taking laps with Subie in tow.
Cat behind the wheel, taking laps with Subie in tow.

First, I stood outside and watched the Ready Brake actuator to see how it behaved. Once I’d convinced myself it looked good, I climbed in Subie and watched the pedal for a while. Looks good to me!

Went and climbed in Cubie and told Cat “I think we’re ready!” Everything checked out.

I got behind the wheel, Cat sat in Cubie for the first time while under way and we drove to our house. Everything performed perfectly… although I chickened out on pulling all the way into my driveway for fear of scraping. I think I’ll try again because I’m almost positive I have clearance.

So, all those months and weekends paid off. It’s especially special to me because I am not a car guy. I’m not a mechanic. I’ve never done anything remotely close to this. And I did it, with everything working, first try. That’s pretty cool.

3 Comments on “I think I’m finally done

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