Few systems on your vehicle are as critical as the brakes. They help keep your car under control. They help keep you safe.
Since brakes were first developed, designers have worked to make them better.
The very first cars were equipped with simple braking systems consisting of a lever or pedal connected to the wheels. These early brakes were not very effective, and they often failed to stop the car in a timely manner. With so few cars on the road, it had little effect. But it did spawn the next generation of brakes.
In the early 20th century, new technologies improved the performance of brakes. Drum brakes were introduced, which used brake shoes to press against the inside of the drum wheel. This design was more effective than the earlier mechanical brakes, and became the standard for most cars.
In the 1950s and 1960s, disc brakes were phased in. Disc brakes use a rotor attached to the wheel with brake pads that press against the rotor to slow down the car. This design is more effective than drum brakes and provides better stopping power. Disc brakes have now become the standard for most cars, and are used on both the front and rear wheels.
With more advanced materials and computer-aided design, braking systems continue to evolve. Today, you’ll find cars equipped with advanced braking technologies, including anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), and brake assist (BA). These systems use sensors and computer-controlled actuators to optimize braking performance and improve safety.
What does the future hold? Electric vehicles (EVs) are bringing in new brake systems specifically designed for EVs. These systems use regenerative braking, which captures the energy generated by the car’s brakes and uses it to recharge the battery.
If there is a way to make the braking system safer, car designers are finding ways to implement the technology. Sensors are and will remain an essential part of overall car design.
The role of anti-lock brakes
You don’t have to go any further than the name to understand the role anti-lock brakes play in the braking system. Anti-lock brakes are designed to prevent the wheels from locking up. If you’ve ever experienced this on icy roads, you understand how dangerous it can be. Anti-lock brakes avoid skidding or loss of control. It helps decrease the braking distance to improve overall safety.
The ABS keeps the tires connected to the road. Before ABS, pressing down hard on the brake pedal could lock the steering wheel and cause the wheels to skid. When you lose traction, you lose control.
ABS uses sensors to monitor the rotation of each wheel. It detects slippage, skidding, or wheel lock. When it encounters it on one or more wheels, the electronic control unit will send a signal to the hydraulic control unit, releasing braking pressure to improve the grip. With the lock position corrected, brake pressure is reapplied to keep the wheel connected and bring the car to a complete stop.
How an anti-lock brake sensor works
Anti-lock sensors are located at each wheel hub. These sensors constantly monitor the rotation of each wheel throughout the drive. They monitor every aspect of wheel cycling to see if any of them skid or lose control.
Speed sensors calculate the revolutions and continuity between each wheel. If it detects differences, the ABS engages and takes over the braking.
A speed sensor consists of a magnet wrapped in a coil, attached to a sensor ring connected to the CV joint hub. As these two meet, they create an electrical field that measures the number of pulses per second created between each coil and sensor ring. This converts to a digital signal that is transmitted to the ABS. The controller counts the pulses and evaluates when to control the braking.
What can go wrong with the anti-lock brake sensors
Different cars will have different anti-lock brake sensor configurations, with most of today’s vehicles having a sensor attached to each wheel. With more parts means there are more chances for a component to fail, activating a potential problem that can impact you while you drive.
With most vehicles, technology creates precise measurements and has a dynamic way of alerting you to potential problems. When an ABS sensor fails, it will warn you in several ways.
The ABS light comes on
The most apparent alert system will occur right on your dashboard. The ABS light will come on, alerting you it’s detected an issue with the ABS. Think of the ABS light as a similar warning signal to the check engine light. It’s a check system that alerts you to minor changes, giving you plenty of time to schedule a visit with your mechanic to determine where the problem lies. Never ignore warning signals. They’re there for a reason.
The goal for any driver should be to avoid heavy braking conditions whenever possible. Slamming on the brakes is never good, putting you, your passengers, and your car at risk. That said, systems like ABS are designed for unavoidable situations where hard braking is necessary. Over time, you may notice changes in the way your brakes respond. Does it take longer to react? Do you see tiny slips in what used to be flawless recovery? It might be an indicator of a problem with an ABS sensor. Since the ABS is crafted from just a few components, the problem may lie within the controller or the sensors. A mechanic can test both and find out exactly where the problem lies.
Less stability under poor driving conditions
We’ve had our share of bad driving conditions this year. The ice and snow have lingered for what seems to be a long time. Over time, you’ve developed a sense of how your car performs under different weather conditions. This is where it pays to focus on your car’s performance. A properly functioning ABS will minimize any traction loss. If you experience any traction loss or feel a slight slippage, it might indicate an ABS sensor failing. This is often caused by a problem within the module, or a component of the sensor that needs replacing.
The role of the anti-lock brake sensor – is yours working?
Today’s modern conveniences keep us safer on the road. It’s also possible for more problems to occur over time as things wear down.
When was the last time you had your car inspected? Schedule an inspection today if you think you have a problem with an anti-lock brake sensor.
It’s the best way to keep you safe and out of harm’s way.