It wasn’t until we almost had a major accident on a recent trip in the mountains that I realized the importance of antilock brake systems. We were on our way home from a day of skiing. We were moving along at a pretty good speed, considering we were on I-70 at the same time as thousands of other cars, when almost instantly the car in front of us stopped. If we didn’t have antilock brakes (ABS) we would have had one big mess!
This is how antilock brake systems work. ABS works with your regular braking system by automatically pumping them. In vehicles not equipped with ABS, the driver has to manually pump the brakes to prevent the wheels from locking up. When your wheels lock up on wet and slippery roads or during a panic stop, (like ours) you may lose traction and control, causing your vehicle to spin. Antilock brakes keep your wheels from locking up, so your car maintains directional control and you can steer around hazards, if you can’t make a complete stop in time. If your vehicle has ABS, your foot should remain firmly planted on the brake pedal, while ABS pumps the brakes for you so you can concentrate on steering to safety. An ABS automatically changes the brake fluid pressure at each wheel to maintain optimum brake performance. There is an electronic control unit that regulates the brake fluid pressure in response to the changing road conditions or an impending wheel lockup.
There is more than one kind of antilock brake system. Four-wheel systems, including those found on cars and minivans, are designed to keep all four wheels from locking up. Rear-wheel only systems, found on some pickups, vans and SUV’s, keep the vehicle from spinning out of control, but the front wheels may lock up, resulting in a loss of steering control.
Some of you may be asking if vehicles with ABS stop more quickly than those without. Perhaps, but the main purpose the Antilock brake system was designed for is to help you maintain control of the vehicle during emergency braking situations, not necessarily make the car stop more quickly. ABS may shorten stopping distances on wet or slippery roads and most systems may shorten stopping distances on dry roads. On very soft surfaces, like gravel or unpacked snow, ABS may actually lengthen stopping distances. In wet or icy conditions, you should still keep a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you and drive carefully keeping the road conditions in mind.
To find out whether your car has an antilock brake system and what type, check your owner’s manual. You can also check your instrument panel for a yellow ABS indicator light that appears after you turn on the ignition. For more information about driver’s safety call the NHTSA Auto Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9153
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