What is ABS and how does it work?

What is ABS and how does it work?

Learn how your car's anti-lock braking system works!
7 min read
✓ fact checked
Here's what you need to know

✔️  The anti-lock braking safety system was invented early in the 20th century.

✔️  It wasn't until the early 2000s it became compulsory in the UK.

✔️  All new cars come with it as standard.

Anti-lock brake systems (ABS) are designed to help drivers maintain control and avoid accidents when they stop their cars in an emergency. ABS works by preventing the wheels of your vehicle from locking up during hard braking situations.

With traditional brakes, if you encounter a slippery surface while driving, you could lock up your wheels, leading to a loss of steering control and an increased stopping distance.

What exactly is the ABS system?

ABS is an anti-lock braking system that allows you to maintain control over your vehicle under extreme braking conditions.

When you push on the pedal, the wheels turn, and your car moves forward. The problem with this is that if something comes into contact with the tire or wheel—a pothole, for example—and causes it to lock up, then your car would no longer be able to move forward. This can lead to a very dangerous situation where there's no way for you to stop your vehicle in time.

ABS prevents this from happening by keeping each wheel from locking up individually while still allowing them to rotate without any hindrance so that they can provide traction on slippery surfaces or when moving at high speeds (in other words keep you from skidding).

For the more technically minded, by definition, ABS is an automotive braking system designed to prevent wheel lockup under hard braking conditions by allowing individual wheels to turn faster than they would if they were locked up by hydraulic pressure from other spinning wheels' master cylinders.

It does this by using one or more transducers mounted onto each wheel - typically near its centre of rotation - which sample data about how fast each wheel is turning at any given moment.

If one or more wheel starts slowing down rapidly due to jamming against something solid like pavement then its inner drum turns faster than usual because there's less friction between its surface area. These increased signals are sent via electrical cables through lines running throughout all four tires until they reach electronic components in each caliper where they're converted into hydraulic pressure needed for actuation.

The system was invented by Gabriel Voisin in way back in 1929 but it wasn't until 1966 that the first passenger car was produced with it as a standard.

You should not need to pump your brakes at all if you have ABS.

You should not need to pump your brakes at all if you have ABS. If you do find yourself pumping the brake pedal, it's because the system isn't working correctly and you should have your car repaired as soon as possible.

When a car has ABS, it senses when one of the wheels is starting to lock up from braking too hard and releases pressure from that wheel so it can turn freely again. This prevents skidding or locking up and ensures that you can steer safely even under heavy braking conditions like in an emergency stop or on ice.

If your tires are locking up because of a bad driver, then there's nothing wrong with pumping them back into place! But if they're locking up because of an issue with the vehicle...then perhaps consider switching vehicles?

What are the components of the anti-lock braking system?

The way anti-lock brakes work is they rely on safety systems which have four main components. Your car uses the following ABS technology to monitor and correct wheel spin:

  • Speed sensors - These warn the system so that it knows when a wheel is going to lock up.
  • Valves - These can control the pressure in each brake line and relieve pressure if it gets too high.
  • Pump - If a valve releases pressure in the brake line, the pump can make the pressure go up again.
  • Controller -The computer in the car is responsible for monitoring the speed sensors and controlling the valves.

How does ABS work?

When you hit the brakes, your car's ABS system activates. This is done by a computer that analyses data from sensors located in the wheels, which sense when they lock up. The computer then releases a small amount of brake fluid to each wheel and slows down the spinning of each tire so that you can stop safely.

However, there are some situations where ABS cannot help you stop faster or prevent skidding when the car has poor contact with the road due to poor weather or road conditions:

  • You're driving on ice or in snow.
  • You're braking too hard or too fast.
  • Both wheels lock up at once.

If a wheel locks up, the anti lock brake system  will sense it. Afterwards, the computer will release some pressure from the brake and then reapply it.

This is done to prevent skidding—when both wheels on one side of your car are trying to stop at once, they can cause you to go into a spin or slide.

The ABS system can also help you when stopping on wet or snowy roads by keeping your tires straight even if they begin to lose traction with the road surface due to poor conditions

Does ABS affect driving?

ABS is a safety feature, but it doesn't mean that you can drive recklessly. If you're an inexperienced driver, ABS can help you avoid accidents. However, if you are a good driver and know how to control the car in all situations, ABS will not affect your driving at all.

How effective are anti-lock brakes?

ABS is an effective braking system, but it’s not going to stop your car from skidding on ice. If you can’t feel the difference when you press hard on the brakes and your wheels start spinning, then your ABS isn’t working and you need to take it in for service before using it in an emergency situation. The system will also fail if there is a leak or damage anywhere in the brake system.

According to research by Monash University from 2015, ABS helped reduce injuries by 33% in sensitive crash types. The safety system also resulted in a 39% reduction in severe injuries in these crashes.

If you have ABS, it doesn't mean that you don't need to learn how to drive safely with anti-lock brakes (or any other type of vehicle). The best way to use them is by being aware of what they do and when they're triggered so that they don't interfere with driving techniques such as smooth braking or heel-and-toe downshifting while cornering at high speeds around tight bends on slippery surfaces.

Problems with ABS

Anti-lock braking systems aren't the answer to all of your problems, especially when braking distances are involved. You, the driver, still need to exercise caution even if you own an ABS-equipped car. Electronic stability control and traction control (pretty much one and the same), will also be there to try to help regain control of your vehicle. However, there are still a few things to keep in mind.

The first is that the car may skid easily and it may not be possible to control it. This can be dangerous if you are driving on a road with other cars or other hazards.

Another problem is that your brakes might overheat when the car tries to prevent wheel lock, and you may need to put some distance between yourself, your car, and whatever else is around you before they cool down enough for safe use again.

Thirdly, since ABS relies on sensors within the car itself in order to detect when there's an impending loss of traction (and therefore loss of control), there's always the possibility that one day those sensors will fail and prevent them from being able to do their job properly until they're replaced or repaired correctly - which could take days or weeks depending on where you live!

However, according to Mobil, the most common problem is when the ABS sensors become contaminated with debris or metal shavings. If you own a car on subscription, you won't have to worry about expensive repairs because all maintenance and servicing are included in your monthly payments!

Does ABS work well off-road?

Yes and no. 'Yes' because most modern SUVs come equipped with electronic stability programs (ESP) which use technology similar but not identical; no because these systems should never be used off-roading anyway because they don't perform well under extreme conditions like rocks hitting underneath tires during high speeds. It can help you maintain steering control even if your car is either front-wheel or rear-wheel drive. You'd also, obviously, find this system on all electric vehicles.

What might cause the ABS light to come on

If you're wondering why your ABS light is on, there are a few things that could have caused it. First, check to make sure your brake fluid level is full. If it's low, fill up the reservoir. If the problem persists, you may need to bleed the brakes to get rid of any air bubbles.

The other possibility is that one or more of the following components needs attention:

  • Brake pads may be worn out or missing altogether.
  • Brake calipers may need cleaning and lubrication or replacement if they're damaged beyond repair (this would involve removing them from the wheel).
  • Brake rotors might be warped or scored unevenly from repeated overheating under heavy use—or from driving without sufficient cooling airflow over them—and need resurfacing by an experienced mechanic with an abrasive wheel grinder toolkit before being reinstalled onto their respective axles with new wheel studs and nuts/bolts/washers (note: don't forget about safety when grinding away at these parts!).
  • Brake lines can become brittle over time due to exposure to heat and cold cycles in extreme climates such as deserts (which we here in the UK don't really have to worry about!)

If the light comes on and stays solid while driving down a straight path without any turns or braking actions taken by yourself or another driver nearby then there may be something wrong with your car's anti-lock braking system

What if my car doesn’t have ABS?

It's very unlike that your car doesn't come with ABS. This safety technology became standard in 2004 in the UK but has been installed in new passenger cars since the 1960s. All new cars now come equipment with it., however if drive a car without it, here’s how to handle dangerous driving conditions:

  • React as quickly as you can and break fast. You’ll have more control over the vehicle if it slides in slow motion rather than at high speed.
  • Perform cadence braking (foot on and off the pedal).
  • Keep your foot on the brake pedal until the car has stopped moving.

Which vehicles are equipped with ABS?

All mass-manufactured new cars sold across now come with anti-locking brake system as standard. This includes all types of cars (eg pickup trucks, vans, commercial vehicles and SUVs).

Browse all cars available on subscription

There are hundreds of cars available via UK subscription companies.

More driving advice