Why Is My ABS Light On?

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What Does ABS Mean?

ABS stands for antilock braking system and it is one of the most important safety features on any new car, truck, or SUV.

An ABS system uses sensors to help prevent your wheels from locking up during hard braking. This can help you maintain control of your car in an emergency.

How Does ABS Work?

ABS uses sensors mounted at each wheel, along with a series of valves and pumps, to monitor tyre grip and brake pressure during extreme braking conditions.

Let us say you are on a highway and traffic ahead comes to a sudden stop. When you press hard on the brake pedal, the ABS system springs into action. If the sensors detect a wheel has “locked up,” meaning the tire has stopped spinning and is now skimming across the road, ABS rapidly reduces and then reapplies brake pressure to help restore control and bring the car to a quick and controlled stop.

Before ABS, drivers were taught to pump the brakes to prevent wheel lock and loss of control. With ABS, this is done automatically.

Why is My ABS Light On?

Like many issues with modern cars, multiple problems could cause your car’s ABS light to illuminate.

In some cases, the warning could be a false signal that something is wrong. Simply restarting the car might cause the light to turn off. To be on the safe side, it’s smart to have the system checked by a mechanic anyhow.

Potential causes for an ABS warning light include:

A fault with the ABS tire speed sensors located at each wheel

Problems with the valves and related pumps that regulate brake pressure

Low brake fluid, which reduces braking performance, even when ABS is not needed

An issue with the fuse dedicated to the ABS system

If you have an OBD scan tool, you can plug it into your car, examine the trouble codes, and potentially learn more about the problem. However, you will still probably need a mechanic for the fix.

What Does the ABS Light Look Like?

The warning itself is easy to spot – it’s located in the gauge cluster directly in front of the driver. An ABS light shows the letters “ABS” within a circle; it’s illuminated in either red, orange, or yellow.

Can I Drive My Car With the ABS Light On?

If the car is still braking normally, any potential issue is likely related to the ABS system itself, and not the brakes. Still, the best advice is to make sure the car is safe to drive and get to a mechanic as soon as possible.

If the ABS light comes on and all braking suddenly feels abnormal, stop the vehicle and call for assistance. The last thing you want to do is make a broken brake system made worse by risking an accident.

What Does It Cost to Fix an ABS Problem?

That depends on what the problem turns out to be. Something as simple as low brake fluid or a blown ABS fuse will be relatively cheap and quick to remedy.

A laptop-based vehicle diagnosis might also indicate the problem is a computer glitch, not a damaged or worn part. Again, this should be inexpensive and easy to remedy.

More expensive issues would be related to items like faulty speed sensors, and whether the sensor can be repaired or needs to be replaced. Depending on the vehicle’s age, it might be a good idea to have all four sensors checked and replaced if one is showing extreme signs of wear and tear.

Another pricier fix would be if the valves and related brake pumps are damaged and need replacement.

Remember, just because a sensor is worn doesn’t mean you need to completely overhaul every aspect of your ABS. Get a detailed explanation of the problems, and ask to see the worn parts, if possible.

If the car is brand new and still under warranty, an ABS-related issue is almost certain to be covered.

Why is ABS Important?

ABS reduces the time and distance it takes for your vehicle to stop under hard braking. The shorter it takes to stop, the less chance there is of having an accident.

In the days before ABS, it was up to the driver to pump the brakes during an emergency stop to prevent the tires from locking up. When a tire locks up, grey smoke will come from the non-rotating tire as it scrapes against the road. It means the car is effectively out of control. Steering is difficult, because the tires have lost grip on the road surface.

Repeated incidents of locking up your tires under heavy braking could cause a multitude of issues down the road, including decreased tyre life and excessive wear on braking and suspension components.

How Do I Know If My Car Has ABS?

ABS has been a staple safety feature for more than 20 years. And since 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated that all vehicles must have stability control as a standard feature. Since stability control partially relies on the same components used in ABS, the law effectively made ABS standard on all passenger vehicles.

Your car’s owner’s manual will have the system listed, and whether it was standard or optional. If that doesn’t help, online research or calling a local dealership should resolve any concerns about whether or not your car has ABS.