Take full control with ABS

06 February 2012 - 23:18 By Vuyi Jabavu
ABS brakes are a boon and could save your life in wet, slippery conditions
ABS brakes are a boon and could save your life in wet, slippery conditions
ABS brakes are a boon and could save your life in wet, slippery conditions
ABS brakes are a boon and could save your life in wet, slippery conditions

Then, along came ABS (antilock braking system). But there were no lessons for pre-ABS drivers to teach them how to forget everything they had learnt about braking, and to adopt a new system.

As with all things new, ABS came with a different set of rules and many people had trouble adapting.

There are many motorists with ABS-equipped cars, but they still brake using the old pump action, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of having ABS.

Salesmen punt ABS, but none will take you on a driving course to show you how to correctly use it, or what it sounds like, let alone what it feels like.

Hence perfectly well-functioning vehicles are written off simply because the drivers didn't know they had the ability to steer while braking.

It's time drivers learnt how to use ABS brakes properly, because this life-saving technology is here to stay.

Understanding ABS

Before learning how to use antilock brakes, drivers should know the effectiveness of the technology.

Although the system is useful, it does not help stop the car in all situations, as ABS works best at stopping vehicles (and reducing accidents) on roads made slick by rain or ice.

During hard or emergency braking, cars without ABS require the driver to pump the brakes. This prevents the wheels from locking up and the tyres sliding or skidding on the road.

How the tyre skids, is largely dependant on the condition of the tyres and the road surface. This is one of the many reasons you should ensure your tyres are in good nick at all times, with sufficient tread depth to ensure traction on the road.

But back to our out-of-control, skidding vehicle scenario. The driver will be unable to steer the car away from whatever obstacle he may be trying to avoid, he may panic and loose control of the car, gravely endangering herself, passengers and other road users.

No locking up

What ABS does, is prevent the wheel locking up and eliminate skidding during emergency braking, so that the driver can maintain control of the car.

The antilock braking system automatically and rapidly pumps the brakes on behalf of the driver as sensors monitor the rotational speed of the wheels. As the brakes are applied and the vehicle slows down, an electronic control unit determines when any of the wheels is about to lose traction and lock up.

The unit then signals for reduced brake pressure so as to prevent the wheels from locking up, and thus the brakes are pumped at a rate of 15 to 18 times a second.

No matter how many times you go to gym, there is no way a human being could pump that fast. So clearly, allowing ABS to do the hard work for you is much more effective.

Since the wheels don't lock, the vehicle remains stable in braking, drivers can steer around obstructions they would otherwise have hit.

This works on dry and slippery roads, but is more helpful on wet roads because wheel locking is more likely in those conditions.

The major issue is educating drivers how to use ABS.

Sadly, the idea of pumping brakes is too well ingrained.

But using ABS is easy. You simply need to keep your foot firmly on the brake pedal and not let up on the pressure. You should feel the brakes begin to pulsate, push back or make noises, all of which is normal. That is what ABS feels and sounds like.

Read the manual

Even though most people don't take the time to thoroughly read the owner's manual, they should. The manuals contain important information about how ABS technology works, how to use the system and how to care for antilock brakes.

If you would like to know how to use ABS, you are welcome to join me at my next defensive driving course.