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In older vehicle generations, all brake systems were susceptible to locking up. If you’ve ever pressed the brake pedal hard and heard the screech of rubber on asphalt, you know exactly what the main problem with the systems was. Anti-lock brake systems were designed to help alleviate the problems inherent with locking up your wheels, namely sending your vehicle into an uncontrolled skid, resulting in the potential for significant damage and injuries.
Anti-lock brake systems get around this problem by monitoring the speed of the wheels. If one wheel is turning faster than the others, the system kicks in and automatically pulses the brakes on that wheel (up to a dozen times per second or more). This slows the wheel and prevents the brakes from locking up.
In order to monitor wheel speed, the system uses an anti-lock speed sensor, more commonly called a wheel speed sensor. There is a combination of magnetic and electronic components that are mounted at the wheel hub (in most instance), and measure the rotational speed of the wheel. They send a signal back to the ABS module which determines if wheel slip is occurring. There are three primary types of anti-lock system on the market, but all use individual sensors for the front wheels. Some use individual sensors for the two rear wheels, while others use a combined sensor.
Wheel speed sensors are subject to both temperature extremes and the potential for damage through collision with debris or during an accident. If the sensor fails, the ABS system cannot monitor the wheel’s speed, and will not engage, or may engage needlessly if an incorrect reading is given.
The anti-lock speed sensor on each wheel is crucial to the operation of the ABS system as a whole. It’s responsible for measuring the speed of the wheel and sending that information to the computer, where it’s compared to the speed of the other wheels. If the speed is too fast, the computer automatically pulses the brakes. However, if the sensor is damaged or has failed, the computer lacks enough information to turn on the ABS system. Have any ABS brake system problem inspected, diagnosed, and replaced by one of our expert mechanics immediately.
Without functional wheel speed sensors, your ABS system will not work properly. That can lead to uncontrolled slides if you lock up the brakes or increased stopping distances if the ABS brakes kick in needlessly. Have your brake system inspected and replaced by a professional technician immediately if you notice the ABS light on in the dash, or suspect there’s a problem with the system.