You may not know it, but the vehicle that you drive is equipped with a variety of different safety mechanisms that are designed to spring into action if certain rare conditions are encountered. One of these mechanisms is the anti-lock braking system, or ABS, for short. What is this and what do you need to know about it?
Taking over from the Driver
If you've ever had to stop your vehicle in an emergency situation (perhaps when a child ran out in front of you), then you may have noticed a strange sensation through the brake pedal and a rapid, "tapping" noise as the car slowed down. This is the ABS system in operation and its designed to ensure that the brakes do not lock up, causing your car to skid and go out of control. This system is fitted to all modern-day cars, although it was only introduced within the last couple of generations and was relatively unheard of in the early '70s.
How Does This Work?
The ABS system relies on sophisticated, hydraulic operation using speed sensors that are dialled into the central computer. It allows pressure to be sent only as needed to each of the braking mechanisms on the car, by opening and closing valves that allow the hydraulic fluid to pass through. Both the sensation that you feel through your foot and the noise that you hear are related to this valve action and are essentially related to the impact of the brake pad against the disc. The pad is released from the disc in a split-second during heavy braking, before being reapplied strategically.
In an emergency situation, it would be very difficult for an average driver to remember to brake in this way and human nature being what it is, panic would invariably cause the vehicle to go out of control.
Servicing the ABS System
Many drivers may go for months or years without activating the ABS system in the normal course of driving, but that does not mean that these components should be "out of sight, out of mind." Periodically, the speed sensors that feed information to the computer will need to be recalibrated and this will require the work of an experienced technician.
It's a good idea to schedule this activity when you next visit your repair shop for a full brake repair service. You want to be sure that you are as prepared as possible for the unexpected, so that you can maintain control of your vehicle at all times.