What is ABS?

Brake hard without losing control: how ABS helps you to avoid incidents to keep you and your family safe

BuyaCar team
Nov 27, 2020

Ever wondered about some of the acronyms that hijack car ads and leave you with more questions than answers? You will more than likely have come across 'ABS' if you've spent any length of time looking for a new car.

It stands for 'anti-lock braking system' and it's an extremely important and clever bit of technology that has contributed to the ever-improving safety standards of cars the world over. As stated on the tin, ABS stops a car's brakes from locking. So even if you're forced to slam your foot on the brake pedal and perform an emergency stop, you will be able to retain control and avoid spearing off into the nearest hazard.

Braking violently and suddenly in a car without ABS is likely to induce the car into a skid, especially on slippery surfaces. If that happens, the wheels stop turning and lock in one position. The car will then slide along the road, which firstly means you're not slowing down, and secondly means you lose the ability to steer effectively.

Fortunately, all cars deemed road legal have had ABS included as a mandatory requirement, so unless you're driving something older than that, you're car will definitely have this most essential of safety features.

How does ABS work?

The main component of an ABS system is a computer called a controller, which monitors data from sensors positioned at each wheel. The sensors record how quickly a wheel is rotating.

The moment that the controller detects a wheel starting to skid, it releases the brakes for a split second until the wheel regains grip. It then slams the brakes on again.

As the wheel loses grip for a second time, the process is repeated and this continues at a rate of up to 15 times a second. It slows the car down quickly but maintains grip so you can steer out of trouble at the same time.

When ABS is active, there's an odd sensation from the brake pedal, and it feels as if it's jerking or vibrating. But you've got to keep your foot hard on the brake to stop in the shortest distance. When the system is in use, an ABS light will usually flash on the dashboard too.


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