ABS Problems? Here’s a Primer on How to Handle Them

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Source: The following is excerpted from Mike Allen’s Popular Mechanics post on how to address certain anti-lock brake (ABS) issues.

OCEAN ISLE BEACH, N.C. – Going over the river and through the woods was more dangerous back when cars had crummy bias-ply tires, rear-wheel drive and less effective drum brakes. In today’s world, you can feel confident driving home through several inches of fresh snow after a sumptuous holiday dinner. Your front-wheel drive car has excellent season-appropriate tires and an anti-lock braking system—commonly referred to as ABS.

You know there’s a problem when the ABS light turns on right before you eat the berm at the end of the driveway You notice some strange behavior when you’re slowing down for a corner, too. When you try to make a downhill turn, you blow right past it with the wheels skidding straight and the steering wheel cranked all the way into the turn.

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ABS became required equipment on every new car in the United States in 2013, but automakers started to include it as standard equipment in the late 1980s. If you have a car built in the past couple decades, it probably has ABS.

ABS sensors tell a computer (called a controller) when a wheel stops rotating while the car is in motion, which indicates that the brakes have locked up at that particular wheel. The controller then directs a hydraulic valve to release some brake fluid pressure to the wheel in order to let it rotate again. This process repeats many times per second until the vehicle stops or you lift your foot off the brake pedal. The ABS controller powers on to self-test every time you turn on the ignition. If that controller gets insufficient data, or a hydraulic pump or valve isn’t responding, it illuminates the ABS warning light on the dashboard.

ABS relies on a properly operating conventional brake system. If the rest of your braking system is in working order, you should usually still have normal braking without ABS. In that case, it’s safe to continue your journey. Remember what your drivers ed teacher told you about pumping the brakes when your car starts to skid? This is where that knowledge comes in handy.

But we have technology for that now! ABS can pump those brakes faster than even a racing driver can, and it can direct that pulsating brake pressure to the specific wheels that lock up. If you’re having trouble with your car’s ABS, look into it ASAP regardless. A malfunctioning system can have worse consequences than just lock-ups. It may pulse your brakes when you don’t need it to or disable other safety features on your car.

Your ABS light is on. Now what? First, make sure it’s really the ABS light and not the light that indicates an issue with your normal brakes. To rule that out, check out your regular braking system first.

If the light is really the ABS warning, the first thing to try is turning the ignition key off and back on. It’s like rebooting your computer. Maybe whatever transient issue that confused the ABS controller has passed and all is well. If the condition repeats, you need to do some further poking and prodding.

You have two options when your ABS light stays on. The first one is to find a shop with an ABS code reader that will talk to your ABS controller. Your dealership will have one, as will some aftermarket shops. For a modest service fee ($50 to $100), a technician will plug the code reader into your ABS controller and look for a trouble code stored in the controller’s memory. This code will at least give you an idea of where to look.

The entire post can be viewed by clicking HERE.

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