Breaking Down Anti-Lock Brakes

Almost all modern vehicles have an Anti-Lock Braking System, commonly known as an ABS. It’s a safety measure that has greatly helped reduce the number of crashes in cars since their use became widespread. But how do anti lock brakes help? 

Brakes on That Banana Bike. You can see a brake working on a bicycle. You press the brake pedal, brake pads press down and stop the wheels from rotating. As you reduce speed, friction between the tires and the road makes the bike slow down. The same principle applies on your car.

Boring Physics Lesson. Wheels have two kinds of velocity – rotational and translational (a fancy word for going forward). These two forces work together, and balance each other. When you turn the front wheels, your car turns, too. Imagine, though, that it does not. Suppose you make a hard left turn, but your car continues to go forward. In this case, your tires are turned to the left, so they won’t roll; they’ll just drag along at an angle.

The only force that safely stops a car is friction, and when your car slides – like in the scenario above – there’s not a lot of friction.

Slip Sliding Away. This out of control sliding is what can happen when you brake. If your tires stop rolling, the vehicle will lose traction and keep sliding even when you turn the wheel and steer.  

Stopping the Skid. Back in the day, new drivers were taught to pump the brakes when they were in a skid situation. Pumping the brakes stopped the braking just before the moment of the skid – over and over with each pump. This increased the friction for just long enough to keep traction on the road.

Anti-lock Brakes Break Out. Anti-lock Braking Systems work on this same principle, but it happens automatically. Sensors on the wheels monitor speed, and when it detects locking, it essentially pumps the brakes, releasing and then reapplying the brakes many times per second. The pumping makes the wheels almost stop – but not quite. 

Practice Skidding. Don’t be surprised at the way that your ABS feels and acts. Give it a spin (pun intended) under controlled circumstances. Go to an empty parking lot (church parking lots are great during weekdays) and build up a bit of speed. Then, slam on the brakes. Do NOT pump. You’ll notice an unusual sound and you’ll feel the brake pedal vibrating. 

The braking system is one of the most important parts of your car. You and your family’s safety depends on it. We have years of experience with all types of braking systems. If you have questions or concerns about your ABS, we’re here to help! 

Image by Gerald Oswald from Pixabay

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