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    All you need to know about ABS in your car

    Have you ever had to suddenly stop your car from high speeds and wonder how the car stopped a few feet away from the car in front of you?

    The answer is ABS.

    Getting your car to stop quickly from high speeds can seem daunting, and the ABS takes a lot of pressure off the driver in such a situation.

    Understanding how ABS works can come in handy when you're behind the wheel.

    What is ABS?

    ABS or Anti-Lock Braking System is a safety feature that prevents the wheels of a vehicle from locking up under emergency or harsh braking conditions.

    In case of sudden braking, there is a possibility of an immediate loss of traction between the tyres and road surface, which in turn causes the tyres to skid.

    ABS prevents the wheels from locking and improves steering control while braking.

    Components of ABS

    Before we get to the functionality of ABS, let us understand all the components of the ABS.

    Speed sensors:

    Located at each wheel, speed sensors monitor how fast the wheels move.


    Located in the brake line, the valves block and release pressure by assuming three different positions:

    • In the first position, the valve is open, and the pressure from the master cylinder is passed right through the brake.
    • In the second position, the valve blocks the line, isolating that brake from the master cylinder. This position prevents the pressure from increasing in case the driver pushes the brake pedal harder.
    • In the third position, the valve releases some pressure from the brake.


    The valve and pump work hand-in-hand; the valve releases pressure from the brakes, and the pump increases pressure. These valves are filled with hydraulic fluid and apply pressure to the brake on demand.


    The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) monitors the speed sensors and controls the valves. It uses data from the sensors to determine whether or not to pump the brakes.

    How does ABS work?

    The ABS is one unit of the car's Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which in simple terms is the car's brain. The ESC prevents problems such as understeer or oversteer and is linked to the Electronic Control Unit (ECU).

    ABS constantly monitors the sensors on each of the car's wheels. If a drastic change is detected in the pressure applied to the brakes, the valves intermittently relax the brakes to stop the wheel from locking.

    When the speed sensor detects a drastic change in the speed of one wheel, the ECU sends signals to the valves of the other wheels to reduce the brake pressure, thereby closing the valves.

    The wheels start to accelerate again, and a signal is sent to ECU once again, sending a signal to open the valve and increase the brake pressure.

    This cycle repeats itself until the application of brakes becomes normal.

    How effective is ABS?

    The aviation and automotive industry swear by ABS, making it one of the most trusted safety features. ABS is now a mandatory feature in all new models of cars.

    ABS allows the driver to stay in control of the steering wheel. ABS ensures that the wheels do not lock when the brakes are applied suddenly and forcefully, enabling you to steer the car.

    Since the ABS prevents the wheel from locking up while stopping the vehicle, it avoids uneven tyre wear. It also reduces the wearing of brake pads and brake discs.

    But, how effective is ABS?

    • Cars equipped with ABS are less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
    • ABS reduces the chances of a frontal collision on wet and dry roads.
    • Vehicles with ABS rarely stray from the road ahead.
    • During an emergency, cars with ABS tend to stop at a shorter distance compared to cars without ABS

    Reasons why your ABS light may come on

    First things first, do not ignore the ABS light when it comes on; this is not a problem that goes away by itself.

    The ABS indicator on your dashboard indicates that something is wrong with the system, and you need to get your car checked.

    Few reasons why your ABS indicator is on are:

    1. Malfunctioning ABS Indicator

      ABS shares essential components with the Traction Control System (TCS). TCS is designed to keep all four wheels on the ground, ensuring that it does not slip while on the move.

      Both ABS and TCS share a control module and self-diagnostic system, and sometimes, one can interfere with the other. An issue with TCS can cause your ABS light to switch on as well.

      Get your car checked by a mechanic to determine if the problem is with TCS or ABS.

    2. Low levels of Brake Fluid

      The car's brake system is hydraulic; the car uses the cylinder's power to press against the brake fluid to close the brake pads and bring the car to a stop.

      This means that you need to maintain a constant brake fluid level in your system.

      If there is a leak or the brake fluid can evaporate, the amount of fluid will drop, and the brakes will not function properly.

      When the computer detects irregularities with the help of the wheel sensors, it automatically turns the ABS light on.

    3. Faulty ABS Module

      The ABS module can succumb to rust after a few years of usage; this is one of the most common problems with ABS.

      If the module is corroded, it cannot obtain information from the wheel sensors, which automatically turns on the ABS indicator on the dash. In such a situation, you will need to replace the ABS module.

    4. Broken Wheel Sensors

      The wheel sensors determine how fast each wheel is turning. If the computer detects an irregularity, the Traction Control System will make adjustments or shift power to different wheels to compensate.

      When the sensors are dirty or stop functioning, they cannot relay information accurately.

      Instead of making numerous adjustments, it usually disables ABS and/or TCS until you restart your vehicle or until the problem is rectified.

    5. ABS is turned off

      You can manually turn the ABS and Traction Control System on and off. When the system is turned off, the ABS indicator light on the dash will turn on automatically, informing you that this important feature has been disabled.

      Check to see if you accidentally pushed the switch; refer to the owner's manual in your car if you're not sure where it is located.

    Is it safe to drive your car with the ABS light on?

    As soon as you turn the key in the ignition switch, all the lights on the dashboard, including the ABS light, will turn on while it checks whether the systems are functioning correctly. Once the check is complete, all the indicators will turn off.

    If the ABS light remains switched on, there may be an issue with the ABS.

    However, this does not mean that the entire braking functionality is facing an issue. You will still be able to drive and brake to slow down the car.

    When the ABS light is on, your ability to make a sudden stop will be limited as you run the risk of the tyres locking under heavy braking. When the tyres lock, it increases the stopping distance drastically and prevents you from steering until the front tyres gain traction. If the ABS light blinks on your way to your destination, continue driving with caution as the system may not react if you brake too hard.

    The only time you should NOT drive your car is when the brake system indicator is on along with the ABS indicator. This indicates a much bigger issue; a problem with the brake system can indicate that you may not be able to brake at all. Call a mechanic and get your car checked out immediately before getting behind the wheel.

    Will ABS reduce the braking distance during an emergency?

    Most people assume that ABS helps reduce the braking distance, even in emergency stops.

    The primary purpose of ABS is not to help you stop the car faster; it helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles in sudden braking situations. ABS lowers the chances of skidding when the brake is applied suddenly and powerfully.

    The intermittent braking and relaxing of brakes could even increase the braking distance. So, do not rely on your ABS entirely; follow safety rules and maintain a safe distance from vehicles on the road.

    Before ABS, drivers were taught to pump the brake pedal if they had to stop suddenly. The tyres turn and grip the road each time the brakes are released. The rapid on-off braking brings the vehicle to a controlled stop. ABS mimics the same technique but much faster than humanly possible.

    The Anti-Lock Braking System is one of the most critical innovations concerning automobile safety. ABS not only prevents your wheels from locking, but it also allows you to stay in control of your vehicle even while braking at high speeds.


    While ABS stops the wheels from spinning while braking, the Traction Control System (TCS) stops the wheels from spinning while accelerating.

    The TCS works in tandem with the wheel speed sensors to measure the car speed and detect any slip occurring between the tyre and road.

    In case a slip is detected between the road and the tyre, the TCS ensures that only a minimal amount of torque is applied to the slipping wheel to generate the required amount of friction for the car to move.

    The most straightforward way to know if your car has ABS is to turn the key in the ignition until the lights in the dashboard illuminate.

    If there is a light with 'ABS' in the middle, you have ABS fitted in your car.

    When you have ABS installed in your car, you need to press down as hard as possible on the brake pedals. However, if your car does not have ABS, you will need to employ a different strategy.

    1. Slow down as much as possible before steering your vehicle.
    2. Take your foot off the accelerator pedal; push the clutch pedal down for manual vehicles.
    3. Hit the brakes with as much pressure until you feel the wheels lock and then release the brakes.
    4. Pump your brakes repeatedly by taking your foot off the accelerator and reapplying the brakes, mimicking the ABS braking functionality.

    ABS works best on clean and dry surfaces. They tend to be less effective on surfaces with loose gravel, snow or mud.

    ABS may misinterpret data from sensors and not respond accurately on these types of roads.

    The issue of slippery surfaces explains why off-road vehicles tend to turn off ABS. A locked wheel is more likely to dig into the road surface, anchoring itself when raced off-road.

    No matter what type of road you are driving on, do not rely solely on ABS.

    ABS Key Takeaways

    1. ABS can prevent your brakes from locking.
    2. ABS is not designed to shorten stopping distances.
    3. Having ABS reduces the chances of skidding.
    4. The ABS is not as effective on surfaces covered with mud and snow.
    5. Cars with ABS are less likely to be involved in a crash.
    6. If your ABS lights stay on while driving, call your mechanic.