How Do ABS Brakes Work – How ABS Brakes are Applied to Your Vehicle

Automobile brakes are an important safety feature of your vehicle. Brakes play an important role in stopping and steering the vehicle. Without them, you would be traveling at the vehicle's speed and would not be able to change your direction.

The brakes can also cause your vehicle to skid if applied too hard or too fast. ABS is an abbreviation for anti-lock brakes, a braking system found in vehicles today.

Why is it so important? Not only does ABS save fuel, but it also prevents unnecessary wear on brake pads, extending their life. Preventing the brake pads from dragging on the road reduces brake dust that can stain your vehicle's paint.

Here are some important facts about the ABS brakes that may give you a better insight into how they work

ABS brakes at a glance

ABS Brakes At A Glance

An anti-lock braking system consists of three main components: a control unit, a pedal position sensor, and an actuator.

By depressing the brake pedal, the driver activates a sensor that measures pressure, and this data is sent to the actuator, which instructs the control module to release or increase the pressure on each wheel.


In addition, the ABS brakes have a high-performance mode in case one of your wheels loses traction. They consume much fewer resources than conventional brakes.

How do the ABS brakes work?

ABS brakes work with electromagnets that control the movement of the brake pads. When the ABS brakes are engaged, a magnetic circuit is completed, interrupting the current flow to the control unit, which then commands the brake pads to stop moving.

Depending on the make and model of the car, your car may have different braking systems installed. These may include:

  • Electronic brake force distribution (EBD)
  • Pneumatic servo-assisted disk brakes (PSAB).
  • Hydraulic servo-assisted disk brakes (HSAB)
  • Floating Magnetic System (MLS)
  • Hydraulic disk brake system (HDS)

What are the advantages of the ABS brakes?

ABS brakes are widely used in vehicles today as they contribute to a safe and efficient braking system. Some of the advantages are:

  • ABS reduces brake pad wear, extending the life of your brake pads.
  • ABS prevents brake dust and particles from getting into your vehicle's paint, making it easier to maintain the appearance of your vehicle.
  • ABS prevents unintended braking in emergencies.
  • ABS improves fuel efficiency by preventing unnecessary wear on brake pads.

What is the point of ABS brakes?

What Is The Point Of ABS Brakes

With ABS brakes, you can reduce your risk of skidding and improve your braking performance. They use a hydraulic system triggered by sensors to detect deceleration and provide a more stable stop.

Using ABS brakes increases the safety of your vehicle by detecting when you are about to lose traction.

ABS brakes are fairly common on newer cars. Ninety-five percent of all new cars manufactured today are ABS braking systems, and they use much less fuel than conventional brakes and produce significantly fewer pollutants.

How do they work?

An ABS brake uses a hydraulic system that includes a master cylinder and two or more pistons. By pressing the brake pedal, you press the brake pads against the rotors of your vehicle, creating friction between them. This friction slows down your vehicle by reducing its speed.

Multiple sensors calculate how much pressure is being applied to each vehicle's brakes. This reduces the pressure on certain braking system parts to prevent skidding and improve vehicle control.

Your master cylinder releases pressurized fluid into the reservoirs, which is then forced into the lines from where it reaches all of your vehicle's brakes. The computer at ABS then determines how much force to apply to each line, slowing your vehicle and preventing skidding.

Anti-lock brakes with this feature make a noise or light up on your dashboard when they detect a loss of braking power. They use much less energy than conventional brakes and are also less expensive to maintain.

What are the different types of ABS systems?

There are five different types of ABS systems that exist in cars, including:

  • Standard ABS
  • Dynamic (DS)
  • Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
  • Adaptive cruise control (ACC)
  • Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) Uses far less fossil fuel than conventional brakes. ABS systems use only about one-third as much energy per mile as conventional brakes.

How to repair a defective ABS on your car

It's easy to spot a faulty ABS on your car. If you feel your brakes lock up while driving or start to shake when you brake, you know something is wrong. So how can you fix it? You can follow the steps to get the car running again.

  1. Make sure the car is secure before maintaining it.
  2. Turn off the engine, set the parking brake, and disconnect the battery negative terminal from the ground cable.
  3. Take the wheel out of service by pushing the brake caliper aside with a screwdriver.
  4. Make sure a wire brush is used to clean any rust, dirt, or debris inside the ABS wheel hub bearing (the part that controls brake fluid flow).
  5. Spread a thin layer of grease on both sides of the wheel hub to facilitate the installation of the new parts.
  6. Clean the old grease with a solvent or soap and water so you can apply new grease when reassembling your wheel hub assembly.
  7. Install new wheel bearings in each wheel hub assembly. Use a special tool, axle nut driver, or Allen wrench to install these parts.
  8. They consume much less fuel than conventional brakes and produce much lower emissions.

The methods & mechanics of how ABS brakes work

The Methods & Mechanics Of How ABS Brakes Work

A driver with an ABS system can maintain steering control when braking, even if the front wheels lock.

The hydraulic pressure provides additional torque that can be selectively applied to one or more wheel cylinders.

Bosch invented the system ABS in 1975, but not until 1984 introduced Japanese imports such as the Honda Accord.

The Honda Accord was the first vehicle equipped with a braking system from ABS as standard.

How an anti-lock braking system works to prevent tire slippage

The 3 main types of ABS braking systems and the differences between them.

The ABS braking system is used to control the motorcycle in an emergency. However, there are three different types of ABS systems. So which one is the best for you?

1) Tandem ABS brakes: ABS are usually found on sport bikes and are characterized by two front disks and one rear disk. Because they are actuated simultaneously, they offer greater braking power than other ABC braking systems.

2) The Combi System: Combi brakes ABS are found on many heavy touring motorcycles and all dual-sport motorcycles. Their two front brake disks can identify them

3) Distributed system: the ABS distributed brake system is most commonly found on cruiser motorcycles and cruiser-like sportbikes.

What Are the Drawbacks of Having ABS Brakes on your Car?

ABS Brakes have saved motorists' lives, especially when traveling on slippery or wet roads. ABS Brakes work by applying the right pressure to the brake pedal, depending on what the driver says.

ABS braking systems have some negative aspects that drivers need to be aware of. One problem with ABS brakes is that they reduce the car's braking power, which leads to hydroplaning.

If you drive on salty or salt-treated roads in the winter, ABS brakes may not be the best choice for you, as they are prone to corrosion and get damaged faster than other brakes.

How does ABS affect the brakes?

ABS (anti-lock braking) is a technology used in modern vehicles to prevent spinning out of control under heavy braking. It uses sensors placed near the front and rear wheels to measure how much force is applied to the brakes.

When this force exceeds a certain level, ABS increases the amount of brake fluid pumped into the brakes to bring the force back under control.

The ABS will cut off the supply of brake fluid completely if the force remains high even after several attempts to reduce it.

Does ABS control the brakes every time the brakes are applied?

An ABS monitors the forces acting on the brakes and adjusts accordingly. This means that ABS can always keep the brakes working properly, even if the driver applies the brakes very quickly.

An ABS can automatically adjust the brakes depending on road conditions, engine power, and speed. If the ABS detects poor visibility, it can slow the car down more than usual.

What are the ways to tell whether ABS is working?

You should verify that ABS is working by looking for signs of failure. You can find these signs in the following places:

In the instrument panel - Messages may appear on display indicating that ABS has failed.

  • On the steering wheel - A warning light may come on.
  • On the dashboard - A message may be displayed.
  • On the door handles - The handle may be difficult to pull.
  • On the pedals - The pedal may feel sluggish.
  • There may be warning labels on the seat belts.
  • On the headlight switch - The headlights may turn on and off repeatedly.
  • On the horn - The horn may sound continuous.
  • On the turn signal lights - They may flash intermittently.
  • On the windshield wipers - The wiper arms may move erratically.
  • On the heater - The air conditioner may not operate normally.
  • The mirror glass may be fogging up.
  • On the glove box - The glove box may not open easily.
  • On the fuel gauge - The needle may jump around.
  • At the fuel tank - The fuel tank may be leaking.
  • At the battery - The battery voltage may drop.

Decoding ABS Brakes: A Comprehensive Overview of Functionality and Safety

PurposePrevent skidding and maintain steering control during hard braking.
ComponentsSensors, Electronic Control Unit (ECU), Hydraulic Control Unit (HCU), and Wheel Speed Sensors (WSS).
Sensor FunctionMonitors wheel speed and detects when a wheel is about to lock up.
ECU RoleReceives data from sensors, processes information, and modulates brake pressure to prevent wheel lock-up.
HCU FunctionRegulates brake fluid pressure to individual wheels based on ECU signals.
Wheel Speed SensorMeasures the rotation speed of each wheel and sends signals to the ECU.
ABS ActivationActivates when rapid deceleration is detected; ECU adjusts brake pressure in milliseconds.
Pulsating BrakesABS causes a pulsating feel in the brake pedal, indicating controlled braking to prevent skidding.
Enhanced ControlAllows the driver to maintain steering control during emergency braking on slippery surfaces.
Safety ImpactSignificantly reduces the risk of accidents by preventing loss of control in emergency braking situations.
Common in VehiclesStandard in modern vehicles, especially in regions with diverse weather conditions.


  • A 1996 study found that cars equipped with ABS are less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than cars without.
  • Several studies have shown that ABS benefits drivers.
  • The number of non-fatal car crashes decreased by 6%, and the number of fatal crashes decreased by 8%.
  • Motorcycles equipped with ABS were 37% less likely to be involved in fatal crashes.
  • Pilots who immediately applied the brakes fully instead of gradually increasing the pressure improved their braking performance by 30%.
  • It also extended tire life and enabled takeoffs and landings in conditions where aircraft not equipped with Maxaret could not operate, as braking distance over ice and water was reduced by up to 30%.
  • On slippery surfaces, where an improvement of up to 30% was possible, braking distances were shorter than with locked wheels.
  • This reduced the risk of multi-vehicle collisions by 18 percent while increasing the risk of collisions with vehicles that ran off the road by 35 percent.
  • NHTSA's June 1999 study showed that ABS increased braking distance on loose gravel by 27 percent.
  • A 2010 study by the Insurance Association for Highway Safety found that motorcycles with antilock brakes are 37 percent less likely to cause fatal accidents.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are ABS brakes on the front or rear brakes

Most cars have ABS brakes on both the front and rear wheels. However, some models have ABS brakes on only one side, while others have no ABS brakes.

Are ABS brakes electric brakes?

Not necessarily. Some ABS systems use electric motors instead of hydraulic pumps to pump the brake fluid. Some ABS systems use electric motors to assist in normal braking.

How do you activate the ABS brakes?

To activate the ABS brakes, firmly depress the brake pedal and hold it down for a few seconds. Then release the pedal and let go. The ABS will then take control.

Why does my ABS stop working?

You may have a variety of reasons for why your ABS brakes have stopped working.

  • ABS brakes work by monitoring the forces acting on the vehicle's wheels. When these exceed a certain threshold, the ABS applies the brakes.
  • Typically, this occurs because the tires are worn. As the rubber wears, the tire's force on the ground increases. This causes the ABS sensor to trigger the brakes.
  • Another possible cause is that the sensors themselves have failed.
  • If the ABS cannot determine which wheel is locked, it may apply the brakes to all four wheels. This may result in an inability to control the vehicle.
  • Another possibility is that the ABS has been damaged.
  • Some ABS modules will need to be replaced, including the whole ABS module.
  • It may be necessary to replace only the faulty component of the ABS.
  • To identify the problem, we recommend contacting an authorized dealer as soon as possible.

Does ABS work on all wheels?

  • No, ABS brakes only work on one set of wheels at a time.
  • When you turn on ABS, the brakes are applied to the locked wheels.
  • This means that you cannot benefit from ABS until you have replaced the tires on those wheels.

Has ABS activated automatically?

Yes, ABS is always active, and it will only be deactivated if you intentionally turn it off.

Why do the brakes of ABS? 

As already mentioned, the brakes of ABS work by monitoring the force exerted by the tires on the road.

When a certain force is exceeded, the brakes are applied.

However, sometimes the force exerted by the wheels becomes so great that the tires begin to slide across the road surface. This is referred to as "locking.

  • Locking occurs because the tires lose traction on the road surface.
  • Usually, this happens when the tires are wet or covered with mud.
  • However, ABS brakes also react to other factors such as worn tires, excessive speed, low oil pressure, etc.

What are the causes of the ABS brakes locking?

The following things can cause ABS brakes to lock:

  • Worn tires
  • Excessive speed (over 80km/h)
  • Low oil pressure
  • Wet roads
  • Mud or snow on the road
  • Brake failure
  • A sudden change in driving conditions

In some cases, the brakes of ABS may lock up even without an obvious cause. In these cases, the driver must avoid causing the situation again.

How long does it take for ABS to lock up?

The severity of the situation determines the length of time. Usually, it takes less than 1 minute; however, it can take several minutes in extreme circumstances.

Can I drive after my ABS brakes stop working?

ABS brakes are designed to prevent the vehicle from rolling back, and they are not intended to provide full braking power. Therefore, once ABS is activated, it should remain activated until the vehicle has come to a stop.

If your ABS brakes fail while traveling at a speed of less than 30 km/h, you should still be able to bring the vehicle to a controlled stop. However, if your ABS fails at higher speeds, you will likely collide with something.

What happens if my ABS brakes fail in an accident?

If your ABS brakes lock up in an accident, they will not function properly. In an accident involving another vehicle, both drivers will likely be injured.

If the accident occurs on a public road, the police may issue you a ticket for failure to control your vehicle. You could also face fines or penalties under the Highway Code.


When an ABS brake is not present, the wheel can lock up, causing the vehicle to lose control in a sudden and potentially dangerous way. ABS brakes reduce the likelihood of a vehicle collision and help minimize the risks associated with a collision. 

John D. Archer

John D. Archer is a mechanical engineer and writer based on the area of automotive accessories at, A resident expert and professional, John is passionate about all things automotive and loves to share his knowledge. He has good experience in all kind of automotive accessories. He has worked as a chief mechanical engineer in some reputed automotive garage firm.