ABCs of ABS: Things Drivers Should Know

ABS replaces the need to pump the brake pedal
ABS replaces the need to pump the brake pedal

Ask a driver how their ABS is and chances are you’ll get a blank stare.

Anti-lock brake systems are credited as one of the most advanced safety technologies in modern vehicles yet they are an enigma to many.

How do you know if your ABS is functioning properly? It’s part performance and part education.

“ABS enhances the steering and braking systems and help keep the tires in contact with the road while preventing wheel lockup, .said Wally Marciniak, director of technical service for Brake Parts Inc., an Illinois-based manufacturer that produces the Raybestos brand used by Roush Fenway Racing.

Most drivers were taught to pump the brakes to prevent their vehicle from skidding. Vehicles with modern ABS do not require this technique, Marciniak said.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states a driver’s foot should never leave the brake pedal during an emergency stop for vehicles outfitted with ABS. ABS pumps the brakes automatically you so you can concentrate on steering to safety, according to an agency report.  

Subsequent stops after the ABS performs should respond as usual during routine stops, Marciniak said. If the pedal reacts with shudders, vibrations or a spongy feel on standard stops, then the brakes need to be inspected.

Marciniak and the NHTSA offered the following advice regarding ABS systems:

  • Check your brakes annually. A professional will ensure the system is functioning properly or let you know what needs to be fixed.
  • Learn about your system. Reach out to your vehicle’s manufacturer and have them explain what to expect from your ABS.
  • Keep your foot down. No matter what happens, press the pedal for the duration of the emergency stop. It is normal for the pedal to vibrate or push back. Even a buzzing or scraping sound means the emergency system works.
  • Get into the habit of checking tire tread. Balding tires struggle to grip the road and lead to longer stopping times.

“Remember: brakes stop the wheels, tires stop the car” Marciniak said.