How to Use Anti-Lock Brakes

by Staff Editor at

When the wheels of a vehicle lock up completely, be it during a panic stop or on wet and slippery surfaces, a loss of traction and steering control occurs, even causing the vehicle to go into a spin. 

Anti-lock Brake Systems (ABS) were created to prevent a dangerous lock-up from occurring, allowing your car to maintain directional control and avoid a collision if you can’t come to a full stop in time. 

It’s important to keep in mind that an ABS is designed to help you keep control during emergency braking situations, not bring the vehicle to a full stop more quickly. Although the ABS can shorten stopping distances on wet, slick roads or even very soft surfaces such as unpacked snow or loose gravel, the fact is that in many cases your ABS may actually lengthen the distance to reaching a full stop.

Fortunately, anti-lock brakes are a standard feature on vehicles today. Because they can prevent accidents, damage to your vehicle and others, you may qualify for a discount on your car insurance. If you have an anti-lock brake system be sure to check with your current or prospective Freeway Insurance agent.

ABS Fast Facts and Quick Tips 

  • An anti-lock braking system works in conjunction with the regular brake function of your vehicle.
  • Your vehicle will always maintain its regular braking system, even if the ABS were to fail.
  • The ABS activates only in slippery conditions or during panic stops when a driver slams on the brakes, causing them to lock up.
  • The ABS engages as wheel sensors detect when a vehicle’s tires begin to lock up, then rapidly applying and releasing the brakes in pulses to keep tires from skidding, It essentially pumps the brakes so the driver doesn’t have to.
  • The anti-lock brake system is speed sensitive, and will not activate at very slow speeds.
  • Some systems are designed to prevent only the rear wheels from locking up, commonly found on some older pickups and sport utility vehicles.
  • A rear-wheel ABS keeps your vehicle from spinning out of control; however, if the front wheels lock up, you will not have steering control.
  • All other anti-lock braking systems, including those for cars and minivans, are designed to keep all four wheels from locking up.
  • Four-wheel systems allow you to retain the ability to steer your vehicle while you’re still braking.
  • As the ABS engages and prevents wheel lockup, it helps your vehicle stay in a straight line.
  • If you retain steering control as the ABS engages, it is possible to avoid a crash by steering around hazards if a complete stop cannot be accomplished in time.
  • In vehicles equipped with an ABS, the driver’s foot should remain firmly on the brake pedal, allowing the system to automatically pump the brakes.
  • An ABS performs as if a person is pumping the brakes by automatically changing the pressure in your vehicle’s brake lines to maintain maximum brake performance just short of locking up the wheels.

Get to Know Your ABS

In order to take full advantage of the safety benefits of your ABS, it’s important to practice and familiarize yourself with the proper technique. An empty parking lot or other paved, open areas are ideal for performing emergency stops. Simply begin by testing your vehicle at a speed slightly above that an ABS activates (usually above 10mph), you’ll soon discover how to operate the system correctly.

How to Use Four-Wheel Systems

  • In a safe area, accelerate to above 10 mph. 
  • Slam on the brakes. The ABS should stop the wheels from skidding.
  • You may feel the brake pedal vibrate and hear a clicking sound – this is normal.
  • DO NOT pump the brakes (doing so actually DEACTIVATES the ABS).
  • Keep your foot firmly pressed down on the brake pedal.
  • Keep steering to enable the four-wheel ABS to work properly.

How to Use Rear-Wheel Systems

  • In a safe area, accelerate to above 10 mph. 
  • Slam on the brakes. The ABS should stop the rear wheels from skidding.
  • The front wheels on light trucks equipped with rear-wheel anti-lock brakes can still lock up like conventional, non anti-lock brakes. If the front wheels do lock up, ease up on the brake pedal with just enough pressure to allow the front wheels to roll again so you can steer.

Vehicles with an ABS have a dash warning light to alert the driver in the event of a system malfunction. If the lamp comes on whole driving, the ABS will become disabled, returning the vehicle to standard, non-ABS functionality. The vehicle can still be driven, but should be taken in and repaired as soon as possible. Think of the ABS like car insurance, you simply don’t want to drive without it.

Author: Brandon Park