Understanding your ABS brakes

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ABS brakes are one of the best innovations in the standard car in the last 50 years. However, most people don’t know what exactly they are and how they work. It turns out this is pretty important to know if you ever need them. Read on to find out more.

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Mercedes-Benz invented ABS brakes in 1970 with the second generation introduced in 1978. The idea was that the anti-lock braking system (ABS) would allow drivers to continue to have steering control in an emergency braking moment. ABS became standard in most cars in the 1980s but became required in all US cars since 2013. Therefore if you have a relatively new car it will have ABS.

Wheels typically lock up on wet, slippery, icy, and snowy conditions or during an emergency brake maneuver. These situations will cause you to lose traction of your wheel causing the vehicle to spin. However, if the ABS kicks in it will stop your wheels from locking allowing you to still have control over the direction the car is turning. However, it is important to note that ABS is not designed to help the vehicle stop faster. On some surfaces like wet or slippery roads, it should still make a shorter stopping distance but on loose snow or gravel, it may result in a longer stopping distance. However, being able to steer in these situations is still a huge advantage.

The ABS system is highly intelligent as it can determine what speed you are traveling, and will not kick in if you are at a very slow speed. It is able to determine if the wheels are locked while the car is still moving at a high speed and then activates. 

The most important thing to understand when using ABS is that the moment you let go of the brakes is the moment the ABS disengages. This is important as while ABS automatically activates it will deactivate when you release the brakes. Therefore in a moment such as wet, slippery conditions you should not pump the brakes. This was advice that was given to drivers prior to the introduction of ABS but it would now be a dangerous activity as it would allow the ABS to disengage and could cause the wheels to lock again.

The way ABS works is to basically replicate the action of pumping the brakes (that we were once advised to do) however it does it far faster than we ever could. It essentially ensures maximum brakes without wheel lock. It is a good idea to test your ABS so you can understand how to use it. Go to an empty car park and drive above 17 km/h, slam on the brakes, and see how the car reacts and that you still have steering control.

When you slam on the brakes you will likely feel the brake pedal vibrating and clicking noise, perfectly normal. Keep your foot pushed on the brakes and do not release any tension and continue to steer to safety. If the ABS light ever comes on in your car, don’t worry. Your car is still perfectly safe to drive as the normal brakes are still functioning properly. However, you should take it to a mechanic as soon as possible to ensure all is working properly and to get the ABS sorted. 

The ABS light can mean a wide range of issues so it is best to take the car into your mechanic quickly as it may be an indication of a larger brake problem. The most important thing to know about ABS brakes though is that you do not pump the brakes of a car with ABS. As long as you know that you are ready to drive.