The anti-lock brakes (ABS) are a part of your car that you rarely ever think about, but it’s probably your car’s most important feature. As the namesake implies, ABS helps manage tire lockup during hard braking circumstances. By effectively pulsing the brakes and modulating pressure to prevent your tires from sliding, ABS shortens the distance in which you can stop and prevents damage that would have occured had you not had ABS.
When you have a problem with your ABS, it’s best to take it to a pro and have them investigate what the issue is. ABS failure can cause a dangerous situation, one you may not be familiar with and may result in your vehicle wheels locking up. Even if you don’t end up taking your car to a mechanic, it’s always a good idea to know how to test drive your ABS.
Typically the ABS system comes in two different flavors that work in different ways. More than likely, your car or light truck is equipped with four wheel anti-lock brakes. This modulates the brake pressures at all four corners so that you can maintain control while bringing your car to a stop.
The other kind of ABS is for medium trucks and full size vans, whose weight and size create different challenges for the ABS system to maintain control. Because of this, these larger trucks and vans come with rear wheel drive ABS, which means that in theory the driver can still maintain directional stability.
Using this rear wheel ABS system, the driver of the medium size truck or full size van can still control the vehicle while coming to a stop, even with the front tires locked. So in order to know how to test drive your ABS, find out what kind of ABS system you have as the testing methods will vary.
How ABS Works
The job of the Anti-lock Braking System is a simple one, pulsing hydraulic brake pressure so that the front wheels do not lock, but it’s fairly complex in design. At the heart of your ABS system is your ABS computer. This unit uses the reference from your vehicle speed sensor (VSS) or the ABS rings at each wheel to determine speed.
When this computer detects a hard braking situation, your ABS relays trigger the electronic solenoids to begin modulating the brake pressure. This is done much faster than you could ever pump the brakes, creating the shuddering feeling when you brake firmly.
As your ABS brake system energizes and kicks into gear, you will often feel this action through the brake pedal. If you feel your brake pedal pulsing during emergency stops, this is a good sign that your ABS system is working just fine.
What to do when ABS Light is on
The instrument panel will have a spot for the ABS light, if your vehicle is equipped with ABS. When this amber light turns on, this means that there’s an issue with your ABS system. However if your brakes are still working properly outside of the ABS features, you should be A-OK so long as you drive carefully.
Just because your ABS light is on, doesn’t mean your brakes do not work. Remember during hard braking situations, that you will want to pump your brake pedal to help replicate the ABS modulation action. Drive carefully and don’t forget this step, as it can save you from a disastrous crash. If your ABS light is on, get it fixed right away before something bad happens.
If your ABS is working never pump your brake pedal, instead maintain firm pressure on the brake pedal and keep steering.
How To Test drive your ABS
Knowing how to test drive your ABS is nothing more than understanding how your ABS works and how it feels during a normal hard stop. Because every hard stop condition is different, knowing how your brake pedal feels during an emergency stop goes a long way.
If your ABS system is working correctly, try to gauge the pressure and modulation during the next hard stop. It should be even and uniform and you should be able to feel the vibrations through your brake pedal.
Test this in a dry area on a completely flat surface free of debris or dirt. Try a slow speed hard stop, while making sure nobody else is around you. Once you get used to the feel of your ABS braking, you can tell once your ABS system begins to have problems.
Every hard stop you take from that point onward should only build and give you more experience to the brake pedal. This is important to learn, because this will help diagnose ABS issues before they arise. Because you’re testing on a completely dry and gravel or dirt free road, make sure to keep a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you, and to try to maintain a constant speed and brake early and slowly.
In adverse weather conditions or even on roads with gravel or dirt, ABS cannot prevent all skids and sometimes it won’t be able to stop the car. When driving in these kinds of conditions, it’s important to remember to steer. Turning sharply or panicking in an ABS equipped vehicle could send you and your passengers into a skid or spin.
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