ABS System Common Complaints

Some motorists have no problems driving around with an ABS (Anti-lock Brake system) warning light illuminated. Since the brakes continue to function drivers can get into the mindset of putting off the diagnosis and repair. In this article we’ll talk about the difference between the red brake light and the amber ABS one and why it’s important to fix any problems right away.

ABS System Facts

ABS has been standard equipment for a long time. The purpose of this system is to prevent wheel lockup that can cause skidding during hard braking. This gives the driver more control of the automobile during panic stops and even hard braking on road surfaces with uneven traction conditions. When the amber ABS warning light is illuminated on the instrument panel the anti lock portion of the brakes may not function as per design intent. This depends on the actual failure that turned on the light. These systems will set trouble codes that can aid in diagnosis. However these codes are not standardized as they are with OBD II diagnostic systems and check engine lights.Let’s learn more about the different functions of the warning system. If the control module detects a problem the warning light can be flashed or it could be held on steady. On some vehicles a flashing indicator lamp means the control unit has detected a problem but has not suspended ABS operation. A solid light on the other hand indicates a problem has been detected and the anti lock function will not be available. In addition to the amber light there is a red brake warning lamp that will be turned on when the brake fluid level is low, the parking brake is set, or hydraulic problems exist in the base braking system.Since manufacturers are not required to standardize what the lights mean drivers should consult their owner’s manual for detailed information about each one on their specific year, make and model car or truck. Another problem with no standardization is that manufacturers will provide ABS test and scan tools with varying capabilities. Some testers are used simply to access the trouble codes where others may provide the ability to test different components such as wheel speed sensors, pump operation or activate solenoids.

How the Brake Pedal Feels

Drivers should be familiar with how the system operates when everything is working properly. This will help down the road in determining when something isn’t working correctly and needs service. One important thing to learn is what the brake pedal feels like when the ABS system is active. Mechanics often recommend that car owners use an isolated abandoned parking lot with no traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, to practice a few panic stops. Learn how the system feels and get use to judging the total stopping distance from different speeds. This is much better than being surprised by the first panic stop in an emergency situation. On older vehicles when the anti lock becomes active what they feel through the brake pedal can be surprisingly violent. On newer vehicles manufacturers will use dampening valves to reduce the harsh feedback that comes through the brake pedal as it pulsates. These pulsations are the result of brake fluid pressure modulation. A better description of this function would be bursts of high pressure are sent to the individual wheels instead of long steady pressure.

Proper ABS Operational Characteristics

Although ABS prevents complete wheel lockup it does allow for some wheel lockup for very short durations in order to achieve the best braking possible. This can generate some driver complaints as this type of braking may not align with the driver’s belief that anti-lock brakes means never locking. Another thing to consider when driver complaints are received is, anti lock brakes will feel and sound differently on some automobiles. When a driver has complaints about the way the brake pedal feels or noises coming from the automobile when the ABS is active it’s wise to seek out the same exact year and model car to verify if this is a normal condition or not. As a general rule of thumb the older the vehicle is the more noise it will make and the more violent the pedal will push back when the system becomes active.
It’s difficult to find an automotive system that has a larger impact on public safety than the brakes. Owners should become familiar with how long it takes to stop their vehicle from different speeds and how the brake pedal feels when the ABS is active. Learn what the amber and red warning lights signify from your owner’s manual so if they come on you know what to do. Often drivers will put off repairs when the ABS light comes on because they fear the possible costs involved with such repairs. When it comes to total stopping distance vehicles with properly functioning ABS brakes perform much better than cars without. Deferring repairs makes absolutely no sense when you think about the possible consequences of driving without them.