ABS – What is an Anti-lock Braking System? A Definite Guide

Anti-Lock Braking System

An anti-lock braking system, or ABS, is a built-in safety feature in many modern cars. Essentially, it helps the driver to stabilize the car and mitigate the risks of an accident in case steering control is lost.

This blog discusses anti-lock brakes in detail so that you learn about their importance, usage, and what to do in case there is a problem with the ABS while driving.

Let’s dive in!

ABS: Under the Hood

All drivers use certain systems in their cars every day without even knowing their technical names.

There are many systems that keep drivers safe and secure. But some of the most important features are related to keeping the engine running efficiently and smoothly.

An anti-lock brake system may be a known term for those drivers who have at least some expertise in car mechanics. However, other drivers may not be as knowledgeable about the services inside their engines.

To have a little fun with certain drivers, our team has interviewed some people. We asked them if they knew what it meant that their vehicle had ABS. Some vehicle owners believed ABS was a vehicle coolant system or a system responsible for A/C while driving. While others responded that it was the system to control gear shifts.

Unfortunately, these are not uncommon answers unless you have spent a lot of time with cars.

Today, we want to help all drivers discover exactly what ABS means.

So, What Is ABS?

Simply put, ABS is the system within your vehicle that stands for the Anti-Lock Braking system. In most brake systems, when a brake pedal is pressed hard enough, it automatically locks one or more wheels (e.g., rear wheels). Hence, the driver can gain steering control back and safely stop the car with locked wheels.

ABS systems do the reverse. Once the brake pedal is pressed, the wheel speed sensors send a signal through the electric control unit (ECU). The system then reacts to rapid deceleration by using a form of cadence braking. Instead of forcing the wheels to lock, it rapidly applies the brake multiple times without allowing them to lock..

Anti-lock braking systems aren’t common in cars only, they are also built into motorcycles and even aircraft.

If the tires of your vehicle were to lock up while braking, the traction on the road would not be sufficient to stop your vehicle. Therefore, ABS could be considered one of the most important safety features of modern vehicles.

The Anti-Lock Braking System gives the driver more control of their vehicle. It helps prevent skidding in dangerous driving conditions.

That means when it is snowing or the roads are icy, you don’t have to worry about sliding off the road after stepping on the brakes as the system ensures maximum braking force in that dangerous moment.

How Do ABS Brakes Work?

ABS is in place to help decrease the amount of distance your vehicle moves forward after braking on dry surfaces. However, in unsafe conditions such as slippery surfaces or loose gravel, the ABS system also offers protection in other ways.

Oftentimes, the ABS system may increase the braking distance but will help improve steering control. Essentially, the Anti-Lock Braking system is a computerized system found in all cars that helps your car remain in control.

When you step on the brakes, you are preventing your tires from continuing to move forward. Although the ABS controller system is handy and can potentially save your life, it shouldn’t be abused when speeding or tailgating.

The ABS program helps distribute brake fluid so that there is little movement in the tires and you don’t skid off the road. The same technique is used on aircraft where the hydraulic braking pressure mitigates the risks of slippage on the runway.

Unfortunately, like all systems, this important system can malfunction and create a dangerous situation for the driver. When the ABS malfunction light turns on, that means there is something wrong, and your vehicle may be unsafe to drive.

If your ABS light has turned on, our team of experts is here to help you figure out what the reasoning may be.

Why Is the ABS Light On?

To narrow it down to one reason would be impossible without knowing more vehicle information. The light can become illuminated because of many different factors.

The ABS light can turn on for a variety of reasons. But today, we will outline the most common problems.

One reason may be low brake fluid. Oftentimes, brake fluid can become low without the driver’s knowledge. It is important to regularly check your brake fluid levels.

If this doesn’t seem to be the problem for you, it could be that a fuse has blown in your vehicle‘s ABS program. Unfortunately, this problem requires more than just a fluid refill.

Other reasons for the ABS light could be a faulty system, the hydraulic pump may not run properly, or other reasons that may require the attention of your local mechanic.

In the event that your ABS light is illuminated without a reason, it is smart to ask an expert or use an ABS scan tool.

Sometimes, your ABS light may not stay on, but it may turn on periodically.

Why Is My ABS Light Turning On and Off?

When you turn on your vehicle, it is normal for the ABS light to come on and then turn back off. This is the way your vehicle does self-checks to ensure everything is running okay.

Often this is just what some may call a ‘bulb check’, it is a way your vehicle checks the lights on the dashboard.

However, if the light comes on and stays on, there may be more to the problem.

Additionally, it is possible that the ABS light could come on again later on after driving. A potential reason for this flaw is because of a faulty sensor within the ABS system.

Drivers should know that just because your ABS light comes on while driving, it is still safe to continue moving. That being said, you should be cautious about the driving conditions when it may be more challenging to maintain control. Merely because traction control can be affected due to faulty ABS.

If this is happening to your vehicle, it would be wise to use a car scan tool with ABS reading capabilities. With these types of ABS tools, you will be able to find the root of the problem.

What to Do When the ABS Light Is On?

As stated before, if your ABS light comes on, normally, it is still safe to continue driving your vehicle.

Although, there are other systems in your vehicle that depend on ABS to function properly. Just in case, you may notice some differences.

Pay close attention to the handling, control, and stability of your vehicle after the ABS light turns on.

There are a few things you can do yourself to double-check the safety of your vehicle post-ABS light:

  • The first and easiest step you can do yourself is to check the anti-lock braking fluid reservoir.
  • Some vehicles have two reservoirs within the engine. If both are low, this may be an indicator that there is a leak.
  • If you notice the levels are low, top off the brake fluid. But make sure you use the correct fluid needed for your engine!

Tips for Adding Brake Fluid

First and foremost, it is important to learn exactly what type of fluid is needed for your vehicle.

You can most likely find this information on the reservoir, the cap, or inside your vehicle owner’s manual.

It is important to use the correct kind of fluid because not all fluids are compatible with every engine.

Another point to consider is you should always use a newer bottle of brake fluid.

If you use brake fluid that has been sitting around for a while, it can absorb moisture from the air and change the consistency.

This can be a problem for the ABS system, and the driver may make it more difficult to brake their vehicle.

Other ABS Potential Problems – Visual Testing

If you open up the hood of your vehicle and notice your brake fluid is not the problem. There may be something else going on.

We advise you to try to find the ABS unit and check again that everything is plugged in correctly.

Sometimes, the electrical connectors can become corroded or loosely plugged in.

If everything looks okay for the ABS power unit. Another visual test could be along with the tire sensors.

Go ahead and get on eye-level with your tires. You should make sure the wheel sensors are plugged in tightly.

ABS Scan Tools

If all the visual tests do not give you a clear sign of the problem behind the ABS light, an ABS car scan tool may be necessary.

All you have to do is connect the device to your OBD2 carport and run an ABS test.

From there, you will have a clearly identified trouble code about what is wrong with the ABS.

With these types of car scan tools, you will have a clear diagnosis of what is happening within your engine.

Our team is a big component of ABS scan tools. These smart devices can save you a trip to the mechanic.

Additionally, beyond just giving you a clear reason for the ABS problem, an ABS scan tool can turn off the ABS light.

If it is not possible for you to purchase an ABS scan tool, you should bring your vehicle to a mechanic.

Bottom Line

It is always a pain when you are driving, and a service engine light comes on the dashboard. It’s important to keep a cool head and not let stress overwhelm you during your journey. Most of the time, engine lights are an indication of a potential problem, just like in the case of a modern ABS system.

For all drivers, it is safest to learn the meaning behind each warning light to ensure the problem is not too grave.

If the ABS light on your vehicle has turned on, you are not unsafe. But it is important to take caution while driving.

Once you have time to check the engine, first check the brake fluid levels and hope all you need is a top-off.

However, if the problem seems more internal, we recommend an ABS scan tool.

These tools pay for themselves with their quick response rates and easy-to-use design.

Even beginner users will feel like car mechanics and begin to understand the inner workings of their engines.

If you want to determine the reason behind the ABS light and solve the problem yourself, purchasing an ABS scan tool and keeping it for road emergencies is the best option.

Bonus: Transmission Problems: 7 Best Diagnostic Tools to Help You Out 2021

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