Have you ever thought about how a relatively small amount of force from your foot onto a pedal can bring an entire car to a complete stop? I had never really considered it in detail until I happened to overhear an argument between a Dad and his son in the car park at the local shops. The Dad was obviously teaching the teen to drive and they were having fiery discussion about the relative merits of late braking at traffic lights. Poor Dad was desperately trying to explain stopping distances, road conditions and skidding however the teen refused to listen and stormed off into the shops shouting- “It doesn’t matter Dad, haven’t we got ABS anyway?”

This exchange got me thinking about the importance of understanding the braking mechanism and ABS function especially given that the majority of cars now have ABS as standard. When I first financed my car, even I can admit that the safety features weren’t even a consideration, let alone ABS. It was obvious that the teen had very limited knowledge, which is not surprising given his experience. However, research of more experienced drivers suggests that few people understand what ABS is or how it works.

Dashboard with ABS lit up on the left

ABS – Anti-lock Braking Systems

ABS Explained

ABS stands for Anti-lock braking system and is also referred to as ALB. In conventional braking when the driver presses on the brake pedal, the brake fluid in the brake lines is compressed which results in pressure at the callipers near the wheels. The increased pressure causes the brake pads to grip the brake disc and the friction created brings the disc to a stop. This coupled with the friction the tyres make with the road causes the car to stop. In good road conditions, this system can slow down the car without issue. However when there is little friction between the tyre and road, such as in wet or icy conditions or on loose surfaces, the wheels can easily lock up. ABS aims to overcome this issue by using electronic sensors at the wheels and an advance electronic control unit (ECU) to regulate the force of the braking applied. The ABS system senses when the wheels are going to lock up and releases the brake to allow them to continue spinning.

The brake pads are reapplied as soon as the wheels speed up to continue to slow the car down. This process is much likely “pumping” the brakes however occurs much faster than could ever be done manually (up to 20 times/second) and at the optimal rate to maintain steering.

When used correctly ABS brakes have been shown to have many benefits including improving steering and stability on slippery services or during emergency braking and generally reducing stopping distances. Therefore having ABS fitted greatly increases the vehicle’s safety. It is recognised however that many drivers do not know how to correctly use ABS and continue to pump the brakes manually. To make the most of ABS, a forceful and constant pressure needs to be applied to the brake pedal until the vehicle has come to a stop. It is common for there to be a fair amount of noise and vibration when the ABS is active which can be alarming when used in the first time.

The driver may experience a loud, groaning noise, vibration of the vehicle body and steering wheel, and kick back or dropping of the brake pedal. All of these responses are normal and a result of the “on-off” nature of the braking system. It is worthwhile to familiarise yourself with the ABS on your vehicle by reading up on the features in the owner manual and testing out the system safely in an empty car park. This means you will know what to expect in an emergency.

As for the Dad and his teenage learner, I hope that he gets the opportunity to safely test out the ABS in a controlled environment and takes a moment to listen to what his Dad has to say.

Sometimes having a helping hand is necessary, and just as ABS helps you come to a stop when you need to brake fast, 360 Finance helps you get into gear with all of your car finance needs fast.