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How Do ABS Brakes Work?


While you don’t need to be a mechanic to own and operate a vehicle, it is still a good idea to have a general understanding of how your vehicle works. There are very few components of your vehicle as important as the brakes. Therefore, it makes sense to wonder how ABS brakes work.


What are ABS Brakes?

ABS stands for anti-lock braking system. They are just what they say they are: a braking system that prevents your wheels from locking up. When your wheels lock up, you essentially lose all control over your vehicle. Brakes without ABS can lock up on slippery surfaces or when you slam on the brakes for an emergency stop. By preventing your wheels from locking up, ABS allows you to retain control of your vehicle and stop more quickly. They are an important safety feature to any vehicle, so much so that many auto insurance companies offer discounts for vehicles with anti-lock brakes.


How Common are ABS Brakes?

ABS brakes have become more or less commonplace. On most all newer vehicles they are considered standard equipment and are at least an available option. You can even get ABS for 4-wheel drive and front-wheel drive vehicles. When renting a vehicle, you can generally expect it to have ABS, but you should still make sure by checking the rental agreement or by asking a representative.


Components of ABS Brakes

Most ABS brakes consist of 4 main components that work together to prevent brake locking and allow for greater stopping power.

ABS Warning Light

  • Controller: The vehicles computer that reads the speed sensors and controls the valves.
  • Speed Sensors: Tells the braking system that the wheels are about to lock.
  • Valves: Controls the pressure in the master cylinder by changing positions.
  • Pump: Builds pressure back into the line after the valves have released the pressure.


How ABS Brakes Work

The controller is continually monitoring the speed sensors, looking for extraordinary decelerations in the wheels. Your wheels can stop turning much faster than your car will stop moving, which results in skidding. When the controller notices a deceleration in the wheels that is faster than what the car can decelerate, it tells the valves to reduce pressure to the brake until there is an acceleration in the wheel. Pressure is then increased again for a more controlled deceleration. This is done very quickly before your tires have time to actually change speed. The controller, through the valves, controls the pressure in the line throughout the braking process to keep your vehicle from skidding but keeping it just on the verge for the utmost stopping power.


What to Expect When ABS Brakes Activate

When the anti-lock braking system is activated, you will notice several things. First, there may be vibration or pulsation of your brake pedal. You may also feel the brake pedal drop as the valves are managing the pressure in the brake lines. The valves ay also make noise, such as grinding or scrapping. Don’t let these feelings and sounds scare you; it simply means your ABS brakes are working, so keep your foot on the brake pedal.

There is no reason to operate a vehicle that does not have ABS brakes. It is a critical safety feature, protecting you, your family, your passengers and others on the road. As mentioned before, most vehicles do have ABS brakes, but it never hurts to double check.



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