Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Susan asks: My car’s ABS light is on; is it safe to drive this car?
My reply: It’s as safe to drive your car as it is for me to drive wth my ’76 Pontiac, which never had anti-lock brakes. Both cars still have fully operational brakes, however.
The fact that your ABS indicator light is on indicates that there is some problem with the ABS system, which is designed to prevent the brakes from locking up during hard/emergency braking and so, the tires (and the car) from skidding. The major benefit being you can still steer the car, even while fully applying the brakes.
ABS uses wheel speed sensors which detect impending lockup and an ABS pump that applies and releases braking force automatically.
If the anti-lock elements of the system aren’t working, the brakes will work like a system without ABS – assuming the basic brake system parts (e.g., the rotors/calipers/wheel cylinders/master cylinder/power booster/hydraulic lines, etc.) are all in basically good order.
This does mean, however, that the brakes can lock up during hard/emergency braking – and if you don’t release braking pressure (by easing off the brakes a little or by pumping them manually, with your foot) the car will skid. It will slide in the direction of the skid, no matter how you steer – so long as the wheels remain locked up.
So, yes, you can still drive the car – but a different driving technique is needed. You must remember to avoid tailgating and always leave yourself plenty of room to stop. I strongly recommend learning the point at which your car’s brakes will lock up during hard braking by experimenting in a safe place, such as a large – and empty – parking lot.
You did not mention how old you are, but most people under 40 today learned to drive in a car with ABS and have never had to deal with lock-up/skids. They have been taught to just hit the brakes – as hard as they can – in an emergency slow-down situation.
But this is unsafe in a car without ABS – because the brakes will lock up and the car will skid. You will lose control of it.
So, my advice is to either get the ABS parts of the system fixed, or learn how to safely drive a car without ABS!
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