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What is Anti-Lock Braking (ABS)?

Have you ever slammed on your brakes to avoid a collision? Whether a car stopped suddenly in front of your or a green traffic light seemed to turn straight to red, there are many situations where a driver suddenly applies a significant amount of brake pressure. When this happens, you probably felt your brakes pulse. This is caused by your anti-lock braking system, or ABS. What is ABS? Learn more about this helpful safety feature, why it’s important and what to do if it isn’t working properly.

Understanding Your Anti-Lock Braking System

Applying a large amount of braking pressure to fast-moving wheels isn’t a good idea. Even with an impending collision, sudden, constant brake pressure can cause your vehicle to slide out of control. Locking up your brakes will typically cause them to completely lose traction, leaving your vehicle skidding uncontrollably.

To prevent this, most vehicles are equipped with an ABS. Since the 1970s, with Ford and Chrysler leading the way, car manufacturers have begun including ABS on their vehicles.

This system uses a number of sensors to detect the motion of your wheels. When brake pressure is applied, sensors determine whether the wheel will slow down or lock up completely. Before it locks up, the sensor transmits a signal to your ABS, which systematically pumps your brakes instead of locking your wheels. The timing of ABS brakes is carefully calculated to provide you with maximum stopping power while still preventing your wheel from locking out completely.

You’ll feel a vibration as you step down on your brakes. Some vehicles have an ABS light that illuminates to let you know the system is activated. Even if you hold down on the brake pedal, you’ll experience your brakes pulsing as your vehicle comes to a stop. You may not stop as quickly as if you’d locked out your brakes, but you’re also less likely to slide out of control. If your car lost traction, it could slide, and likely wouldn’t stop until it hit something.

ABS and Stability Control

The same sensors used to determine when to use your ABS are also used in many vehicles stability and traction control. Since 2012, vehicles are required to come equipped with traction and stability control. These innovative features are designed to keep your wheels on the road and avoid tipping when navigating sharp curves and other dangerous features.

Benefits of ABS

Anti-lock braking offers you a number of advantages, although the system is far from perfect. When equipped in a vehicle, an ABS reduces the chances of the following situations:

  • Being involved in a fatal crash
  • Sliding off the road
  • Frontal collision

In many of these instances, drivers attempted to lock out their brakes. Doing so would have caused their vehicle to slide out of control and potentially experience a life-threatening collision.

Potential Disadvantages of ABS

Of course, ABS isn’t a perfect system. There are some instances when it isn’t as helpful. For instance, ABS can increase the stopping distance of your vehicle. It decreases the risk of skidding, but it could cause a collision when you would otherwise have time to come to a complete stop.

ABS isn’t as effective on gravel roads or in icy and snowy conditions. It’s best suited for straight, dry and stable surfaces. For this reason, some drivers prefer to drive older vehicles that don’t come with an ABS. However, on average, your anti-lock braking system protects you from danger and helps you stay on the road.

Understanding Your ABS Warning Light

Most vehicles are equipped with an ABS warning light on their gauge cluster. This light is linked to a series of sensors that monitors your system and warns you of any performance issues. This light may mean that your system isn’t working properly.

When you see this yellow, orange or yellow ABS warning light, your ABS sensors or other electrical components have failed. This system, as well as your stability control and traction control, aren’t working properly anymore.

However, if you see a red warning light, or if you experience braking issues during normal driving situations, you may have an issue with your brake valve and pump. These components activate your brakes when your ABS takes control, so any issue with these could prevent your car from braking effectively.

Common Repairs

Either a red or yellow ABS warning light should be inspected and repaired promptly. Operating your vehicle without an ABS could put you at risk of losing control of your vehicle, but if the pump and valve also need repaired then you could be at risk during normal operation of your vehicle. Here are some common parts that need to be inspected and repaired:

  • ABS controller
  • Wheel-speed sensors
  • Wiring between controller and sensors
  • ABS fuse
  • Valve and pump
  • Brake pads

Whether you’re confident in a DIY electrical repair project or would prefer to take it to a reliable mechanic, it’s important to fix the issue. Some issues, like damaged wiring or brake pad and rotor replacement, are quick and inexpensive. Others, like a new valve or ABS controller, could be more costly. Either way, prompt repair work can restore power to your ABS and keep your vehicle safe from collision and skidding.

These components can be either damaged, clogged, or loose. ABS sensors can easily be covered in dirt and other grime, which prevents them from working effectively. The normal jostling of your vehicle could loosen wiring connectors, causing them to unplug from your controller or sensors. These issues don’t require any new parts purchases, but will need to be solved before your ABS is operational.

Keep Your Vehicle Braking Safely

While you’re checking out your anti-lock braking system, it’s a good idea to inspect your brake system. Worn-out brake pads, sticking calipers or low brake fluid could all prevent your vehicle from braking effectively when you need it most.

Now that you know what does ABS mean in a car, it’s time to solve your ABS warning light issue. Check out these common repairs or stop by your a mechanic to have an inspection. Discuss the parts you need and find a solution that will restore your braking power and keep you driving comfortably in between the lines.

Shop brakes

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