How ABS works & How you should use your ABS


Posted by: Joshua-Philip Okeafor

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ABS or anti-lock braking system is a car tech everyone has heard about but few actually know how ABS works. Here's your chance to get the gist. See it!

There used to be a time when to have to brake suddenly, especially at high speeds almost meant certain accident, injuries, or even death. However, recently, we hardly see skid marks on the road, and that is all thanks to ABS manufacturers for anti-lock braking.

Come back to today, when people tried to slam on their brakes, the wheels of the cars would lock up and cause skids, which led to accidents as well. Do you know though how ABS works?


ABS provides a safety margin that is very commendable

What does a skid mean?

When a wheel stops rotating in the direction it has been moving and just slides on a surface, skidding is said to have happened.

A skid is caused when there is too much braking or when a vehicle tries to move sideways by turning (a wheel isn't supposed to rotate sideways).

When a wheel skids, it becomes extremely difficult or impossible to steer and doesn’t work in changing the direction of the vehicle. Upgrading ABS in your car can significantly prevent skidding.

In an actual situation, friction keeps the wheel, which is rotating against cornering forces as well as the braking, but in situations where it becomes too strong or great, the wheel overpowers the friction, and skid is inevitable.

The more the friction, the louder the skid becomes. The noise results from the energy converted to heat and sound created when slowing the vehicle.

When you hear the skid, the heat which had already generated melts the upper layer of the rubber on the road and that is what makes skid marks appear in long black lines. Here, the tire which is riding on a layer of melted rubber takes a while to stop than it would if skidding weren’t involved. The ABS comes in at this point.

What is ABS or an anti-lock braking system then?

What exactly is ABS? The ABS is made up of the ABS module. The ABS layout and four components of an ABS are the valves, the sensor, the Electronic Control Unit (ECU), and Hydraulic Control Unit (HCU). The hydraulic pressure to brakes is cut by elements referred to as electronic solenoid valves. This same hydraulic unit has a pump as well as an accumulator to maintain pressure to reapply the brakes.

The ABS functions as a prevention mechanism of wheels from locking by making use of a system of sensors and valves. These ABS valves and ABS sensors reduce brake pressure and make the wheels remain at a point where it is on the verge of stopping to rotate. ABS works on the rotation of the wheels as it (the vehicle) moves forward and backward. It is important to note that ABS cannot prevent a vehicle from sideway-sliding.

The only solution to this is the use of electronic stability control (ESC), which is an entirely different system. The ABS warning lights pop up when the vehicle ignites. It is just a normal check-up, so you are safe. However, if the ABS light on the car keeps on, it means the ABS is not working very well and needs to be examined. ABS increases braking distance, improves steering control, and has become great, and powerfully advanced over the years.

In some cases, ABS is referred to as the electronic brake force distribution or traction control system, which depends largely on the functions it performs.


The ABS system is easy to understand

 What does ABS stand for in a car then?

ABS reduces the overall stopping distance of a vehicle, and this is because the maximum braking effect happens just at the point the wheels almost lock. Right before, when ABS hadn’t come to light, most drivers used cadence braking, which means adjusting the brake pedal to maintain maximum braking after feeling that the wheels are about to lock up. Basically, it involved applying gentle pressure intermittently or pumping the brakes from time to time until the vehicle finally stops.

This process worked quite well for racing drivers who always anticipated when they needed to brake. However, there is a disadvantage when an emergency pops up, especially on unfamiliar road surfaces when driven by an average driver.

The technique here comes in handy by the race drivers not braking as hard as possible or causing a skid by braking too hard. ABS is so spectacular in that it allows drivers to slam on their brakes with much force and also gives room for the electronics to figure out where braking pressure should be applied.  


Cars without the ABS are that much more prone to braking-engendered accidents

How can ABS stop a skid?

Every wheel has an ABS sensor that is connected to a central controller, and it is responsible for monitoring how the sensors function per second.

This central controller knows how fast wheels can decelerate at a certain speed. An instance is if the car wheels stop or slow down too suddenly as against the rules, the central controller figures this out and activates a set of hydraulic valves, then reduces brake pressure and allows the wheel to turn again.

All these happen within a fraction of some seconds, and the brakes are immediately re-activated. The whole process occurs once or a couple of times, and the buzzing warning sound turns on and off, which is a function of ABS being activated.


ABS relies on good basic brakes structure

How can you learn to use ABS?

When the ABS function is activated, a vibration is then felt through the brake pedal. This feeling, if not experienced before, might make you suspect something is wrong. When you take off your foot from the brakes, it is soon normalized and you feel the pressure lessen. Driving an ABS car for the first time requires you to find a calm stretch of a straight road and gently build up some speed.

It is suggested you begin at 50kmph so that it would be easy to reduce this speed. You then give yourself some margin at the left-hand side and slam on the brakes. At this point, the pedal goes towards the floor, and the driver feels the vibration. You are to steer in a straight line before coming to a stop. Also, now try progressing at higher speeds to 100kmph; but be careful here to not repeat this process without giving time for the brakes to cool down.   

Finally, virtually almost all recent, modern cars have these microprocessor-controlled anti-lock systems (ABS), and they react very fast when wheels try to lock. It’s exciting to know that ABS can pump faster than a driver can, so drivers should get used to how ABS works and how they can effectively use it when situations occur. Pay careful attention to ABS warning lights, please. This is an early warning sign of a malfunctioning ABS system.

Learn more about ABS in this video:

Video: Understanding Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)!


Every driver can breathe easier, knowing that ABS is there to keep your car from going into a life-threatening skid. Knowledge of how ABS works is essential knowledge that every driver should know. Safe driving!

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Joshua-Philip Okeafor

Joshua-Philip Okeafor

Car buying & selling

Joshua, or KK as friends call him, is a Filmmaker, Writer and Director. A Christian, Joshua is a product of Nigeria’s foremost film school, the National Film Institute, Jos, where he majored in Writing/Directing. Joshua began his writing career at age 18 when an older brother gave him a four page outline of a children novel. Joshua intends to keep writing and directing. His screen name is sometimes Joshua Kalu Ephraim (Writing), and sometimes Joshua KK (directing).

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