ABS or anti-lock braking is a little-known feature that all new cars come with that has probably saved your life at least once already. So, what is ABS and why should you care about it?
ABS has been around in some form since the early 1900’s but was originally designed for use on heavy machines like trains and used mechanical systems to modulate the fluid sent to each wheel. While this saw an increase in braking performance, the system was not viable for everyday use.
The 1950’s saw further improvement in these systems with anti-skid systems beginning to be used in aviation with fair success. The manufacturer of these systems teamed up with motorcycle and car manufacturer to test ABS brakes for road use but they were never able to implement them. It wasn't until the 1970s, and with the help of Fiat, that it made its way into the production of some cars.
So how does ABS help save lives?
In a traditional car, when pressing the brake pedal, the fluid acts directly on the braking components. This means that when too much pressure is applied the wheels can lock up causing braking distances to increase and a loss of control of the vehicle. When taking into account that heavy braking is often only needed when you’re about to have an accident, this leads to a dire situation.
Unlike traditional brakes, ABS braking systems utilise a computer and a small pump module between your foot and the braking system. When conducting an emergency brake, the computer recognises any slip or skid in the wheels and uses the small pump to allow the fluid to be released briefly, letting the wheel regain traction. This small action can occur hundreds of times per second and allows you to maintain control of your car in an emergency.
The pulsing or pumping from this motor is one of the ways you can tell that the ABS is working. When braking heavily, the pump will pulse on and off causing movement in the brake pedal and a loud noise, almost like a Wookie roaring.
To make sure your ABS is functioning, it’s best to take a couple of seconds when starting the car to make sure that the warning light goes out. This indicates that the system has done a self-test and is ready to keep you safe.