Modern cars have many advanced electrical systems that ensure a safe and reliable ride. Thanks to these systems, vehicles today are much safer than before. That said, one of the biggest advancements regarding safety was the Anti-Lock Braking system, also known as ABS. It greatly reduced accidents happening by allowing the driver to control the vehicle during braking, which was simply not possible without it.
Today, every new car is equipped with ABS, as the system is mandatory in most countries in the world. However, since ABS is electrical in nature and has many components, it can break down over time. When that happens, an ABS light on the vehicle's dashboard will illuminate to tell the driver there is an issue with the system.
But problems with the ABS range from a bad fuse to faulty valves, and the ABS light, unfortunately, can't tell you exactly what the problem is. The idea behind the light is to give you an indication that the problem exists so you can bring your vehicle to the closest service center.
However, with servicing prices going through the roof, you might be tempted to fix the ABS light yourself. In most cases, that is doable, but you should know that some repairs still need to be carried out by a professional technician.
With that said, I will give you all the help possible in this article to guide you through the process of finding the culprit of the ABS light illuminating and how to turn off abs light. So, buckle up, grab your DIY spirit, and let's kiss that annoying ABS light goodbye!
- Understanding the ABS Light
- How to Diagnose ABS Light Issues
- Step-by-Step Guide to Turning Off the ABS Light
- When to Seek Professional Help
Understanding the ABS Light
The ABS light shines when there is an issue with the Anti-Lock Braking System. In order to better understand why it lights up, let's have a closer look at the ABS and its crucial role in road safety.
1. The Inception of ABS
The concept of the Anti-lock Braking System was first introduced to the world in the early 1950s for use in aircraft. The Dunlop Maxaret, which was a fully mechanical system, was introduced in the UK and saw notable use in some aircraft models to prevent wheel lock-up upon landing.
ABS made landing much safer and smoother, though it wasn't until the 1970s that it was introduced in passenger cars. Mercedes-Benz was the first car manufacturer to introduce a fully electronic ABS in a production car with the S-Class (W116) model in 1978.
The system greatly improved the safety credentials of what was the safest vehicle of its era, providing stability under braking and much shorter stopping distances on wet, snowy, and icy surfaces.
2. What is ABS and How it Works
ABS, short for Anti-lock Braking System, is a safety feature installed in modern vehicles to prevent the wheels from locking up (ceasing rotation) and skidding uncontrollably under heavy braking.
The system can greatly improve stability under braking, allowing the driver to have control of the vehicle's steering. Without ABS, when the wheels lock up, the driver can't steer the vehicle in any direction without losing control. ABS remedies that and allows the driver to steer the vehicle and avoid potential collisions.
But ABS has other advantages as well. Namely, tests have shown that cars with ABS allow for shorter stopping distances, particularly in wet, snowy, and icy conditions. Thus, overall, a car with ABS will be much safer to drive, especially in the hands of inexperienced drivers.
The system works by automatically adjusting the brake pressure to each wheel to prevent lock-up and increase traction. It uses the principles of threshold and cadence braking, which were used by professional racing drivers before the introduction of ABS.
Still, modern ABS systems are much more effective than the racing drivers of yore, thanks to the use of chips and sensors. Here is what constitutes a modern ABS:
- Speed sensors: these monitor the rotational velocity of each wheel and send the information to the ABS module.
- Control module: this part constantly monitors the signals it receives from the four sensors (one for each wheel). When it receives a signal that one of the wheels locks up (rotational velocity is near zero), it triggers a response that will release the brake pressure for a short period.
- Pump and valves: the control module controls the pump and valves inside the braking system, which can reduce the hydraulic pressure to reduce the braking force.
- Modulation: when the pump and valves reduce the pressure inside the braking system, the wheel will unlock and turn slightly. Then, the ABS control module will receive a signal that the wheel started turning again and will increase the pressure to maximize braking force. This rapid modulation happens multiple times every second on modern cars, where the module is powerful enough to process a lot of data at any given moment.
The ABS operation will continue as long as the driver has depressed the braking pedal to the metal, i.e., as long as there is high pressure inside the braking system. So, for most of your daily driving, the ABS might never engage. When it engages, though, you will feel strong vibrations coming through the brake pedal.
3. Why Does the ABS Light Come On?
The ABS light on your dashboard is a warning signal that there's a problem with your vehicle's anti-lock braking system. The light is controlled by the onboard diagnostics system and illuminates whenever some issue impairs the proper functioning of the ABS. In other words, it is similar to the check engine light, only for the ABS.
However, the ABS light only tells you that there is a problem – it won't show you the exact issue. To find the culprit, you will need proper diagnostics done at a service center or connect an OBD2 scanner and find the error code. Problems can range from low brake fluid and a damaged fuse to a faulty wheel speed sensor or issues with the hydraulic pump or valves.
It is important to note that while your car will continue functioning as usual when the ABS light is on, you should still address the issue promptly to ensure road safety.
Malfunctioning ABS can compromise your vehicle's braking performance and make it unstable in emergency situations. Let's not forget that by ignoring the issue, you are not only putting your life in danger but also the lives of other traffic participants. So, act quickly!
4. Is ABS Mandatory?
ABS is mandatory in most countries in the world. The European Union (EU) was the first to make the feature obligatory on new car models from 2004 and every new car sold from 2007.
Meanwhile, the USA and Canada issued a regulation that required all new passenger vehicles to be equipped with ABS starting from the 2013 model year. However, it's important to note that because of the EU's push for the feature, it was already standard on most cars sold in North America even before the regulation.
How to Diagnose ABS Light Issues
Although modern cars seem overly complicated, you can diagnose the ABS issue yourself. It's a beginner-friendly procedure and one that takes just minutes. Here is how to do it:
1. Tools You Will Need
Diagnosing the ABS light, fortunately, doesn't require taking apart the braking system. Instead, you can do it by connecting an OBD2 scanner to your vehicle – the connector is located next to the steering wheel on the left-hand side.
All that the OBD2 scanner does is reading the error codes that were already stored on the vehicle's onboard computer. However, some more advanced models can provide detailed real-time data, helping you find issues that won't show up when the car is stationary.
Still, for the ABS system, a cheap OBD2 tool that only reads error codes will do the job just fine. These scanners can be had for as little as $20 today, though professional models can cost a few thousand dollars.
Once you find the error, you will need either a multimeter if the problem is electrical in nature (like a fuse) or a basic tool set (socket set, screwdrivers, and pliers) to remove any potentially damaged ABS components.
It is important to note that addressing the issue isn't as straightforward as plugging in an OBD2 scanner and reading the error codes. You will need some basic DIY skills to change a fuse, but only more experienced DIYers should remove ABS parts. If you are not very skilled, I highly recommend bringing your vehicle to the service shop.
2. Understanding ABS Error Codes
When the ABS light illuminates, it signifies that the onboard computer has detected an issue with the system. When a problem is detected, the computer generates an error code that corresponds to the faulty part, which you can read with an OBD2 scanner.
ABS error codes can indicate a variety of issues, including a faulty wheel speed sensor, problems with the ABS module, a low fluid level, or an issue with the hydraulic pump or valves. Each code corresponds to a specific issue, allowing for targeted diagnosis and repair.
You can find what each one means by searching online with the error code, and your vehicle make and model. Nowadays, you can find pretty detailed information using an OBD codes lookup tool, which can help you quickly diagnose the issue. However, some advanced OBD2 scanners can also give you more detailed information.
Step-by-Step Guide to Turning Off the ABS Light
Are you feeling DIY-ey today? Then, let's dive into the issue and address the ABS light immediately! Here's a step-by-step guide to help you diagnose and possibly resolve the issue:
1. Check the ABS Fuse
In most cases, the ABS light illuminates because the ABS fuse went bad. Fortunately, this is an easy repair that anyone with basic DIY experience can do. Just follow these steps, and the ABS light will go into obscurity in no time:
- Step 1: Find the location of the ABS fuse inside the fuse box. In most cars, the fuse box is located under the hood or under the dashboard. Regardless, you can find the fuse box diagram in the owner's manual, where the manufacturer has specified the purpose of each fuse.
- Step 2: Open the fuse box and find the ABS fuse by comparing it to the diagram in the owner's manual. Then, remove the ABS fuse using the clip inside the fuse box. The fuse is enveloped in transparent plastic, letting you see whether the metal strip inside is broken or damaged. If that's the case, the fuse is blown and needs to be replaced.
2. Clean the ABS Sensor
Finding the ABS sensor isn't as easy as replacing a fuse, but it's still straightforward and doable by inexperienced DIYers. Here is what you need to do:
- Step 1: Use your vehicle owner's manual to find the location of the ABS sensors on each wheel. They are usually located on the backside of the brake rotors.
- Step 2: Once you locate the sensor, disconnect the cable that connects to it. You might need a screwdriver for this, but in most cases, you can only use your hands (working gloves are recommended).
- Step 3: Use a dry cloth to remove any dirt, grime, or metal shavings from the sensor. ABS sensors can get clogged over time simply because the act of braking produces a lot of brake dust, which can enter very narrow spaces. You should be able to clean it only using a dry cloth, but if necessary, use a soft brush. Never use chemicals or water because they can render the ABS sensor useless.
- Step 4: Reconnect the ABS sensor and see whether the ABS light goes off; if it doesn't, repeat the process on the sensor of each wheel.
3. Reset the ABS Light Using an OBD2 Scanner
Sometimes, a software issue, low battery voltage, or low fluid level can illuminate the ABS light. In these cases, you can reset the ABS light using an OBD2 scanner (though don't forget to top up the system with braking fluid). Here is what you need to do:
- Step 1: Plug your OBD2 scanner into the vehicle's diagnostic port. This is usually located underneath the dashboard on the driver's side.
- Step 2: Put the key into the ignition and turn it to the "On" or "Run" position. Make sure you don't start the engine, or this won't work.
- Step 3: Follow the instructions provided by your OBD2 scanner to read the ABS codes. Note the codes down, as they will help you or your mechanic diagnose the problem.
- Step 4: Use the OBD2 scanner to clear the error codes. Each scanner is different, so make sure that you carefully read the user manual before attempting this. Once you do that, the ABS light will go off.
- Step 5: If the ABS light comes on after you drive the car for a few miles, it means that there is an issue with the system that needs to be addressed. You can use the error codes to find the culprit or bring your vehicle to the repair shop.
When to Seek Professional Help
While you can resolve the most common ABS light issues at home, like a blown fuse or a dirty sensor, for other repairs, it's best to take your vehicle to a professional.
1. Persistent ABS Light Issues
If none of the tips I listed above worked, it's time to seek professional help. Having no ABS can be a serious safety issue, and experienced technicians with special tools are better suited to do the job.
2. Advanced ABS Problems
Some ABS problems are more advanced and may involve parts like the ABS pump or control module. If your ABS light comes on and you're experiencing other issues like unresponsive brakes or a car that pulls to one side when braking, you should take your vehicle to a professional immediately. Having any of those issues is a serious safety concern, and they should be addressed as soon as possible.
While I was writing this article, I thought about all of my friend's cars that have the ABS light on for months, like it's a feature or something. One friend told me that his car still stops when he needs it, so the ABS light might wait for another month or two before he addresses it because it costs money.
Now, I know that repairs cost a lot of money nowadays, and we don't want to spend our hard-earned money on issues like the ABS light. I mean, as long as the car drives, it's all good and well, right?
Well, it isn't because a faulty ABS is much more likely to lead you to an accident. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the United States, passenger vehicles equipped with ABS are 35% less likely to be involved in fatal accidents due to an uncontrolled skid.
Another study in Germany concluded that ABS reduced accidents causing injury by around 20%. Moreover, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that ABS reduces the risk of multiple-vehicle frontal crashes by 18%.
Remember that accidents will cost much more than replacing a fuse or even changing the whole braking system. Regular maintenance and timely repairs are crucial in cars, as they ensure you don't spend more money later on!
I’m Ivo Gievski, the content writer for Tireer. We built our website with over 15 years of experience and extensive research in the automotive and technology sectors. My dedication to delivering high-quality content is unwavering, and I strive to continuously hone my skills to stay ahead of industry trends and provide readers with informative, engaging, and valuable insights.