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When are anti lock brakes (ABS) most effective?

Bradley Jando | Friday 4th June 2021 10:27am

Wheel with brake pads showing

Anti Lock Brake systems are some of the best innovations for vehicles since motoring really took off. From a safety perspective, ABS systems have stopped a huge amount of accidents, and therefore saved a huge number of lives. But what exactly are anti-lock brakes, how do they work, and when are they most effective?

What is ABS?

Anti-lock brake systems are essentially a computer-assisted way to brake more effectively. Traditional braking systems relied on putting as much pressure on the brake discs as possible in order to stop the wheel from rotating. The braking process then relied on the friction of the tyres to slow the car down.

However, there are many instances where this causes the car to skid rather than continue slowing down. When trying to stop while driving at speed, or when suddenly braking on wet or loose ground, for example, you’re at significant risk of skidding. What’s more is that when there’s irregular wetness or looseness on the road, such as puddles to one side, you’re likely to go into a spin.

How does ABS work?

Well, rather than clamping the brake pads onto the brake disc when you suddenly press the brake pedal, an ABS system is able to monitor the forces in the wheel and release the brakes temporarily before the wheel skids. It’s able to release and re-clamp many times a second – which means you’re far less likely to skid, and still able to steer while braking.

This is actually a technique that was originally used by high-level drivers, such as racing drivers or those performing advanced manoeuvring for police or military purposes – as well as some particularly advanced everyday drivers. However, anti-lock brakes are able to do this ‘pumping’ action far faster than most drivers would be able to. So it essentially lets you focus on steering your way out of trouble, rather than the technique of pumping the brakes precisely.

When does ABS work best?

Whenever you need to suddenly slow down while still retaining the ability to steer (which, essentially is any time you need to suddenly slow down), ABS can be a lifesaver.

That said, it’s not just something for when you need to come to a screeching halt. It’s vital for maintaining control on surfaces with uneven resistance. When you think about a road that’s wet on one side, there’s a big difference between how much resistance is on each side of the road. This means that if you apply an even braking pressure along both sides of the car, the wheels on the dry part will slow down faster than the wheels in the wet part.

An ABS is often able to tell that certain wheels have less resistance than others, so can even out the amount of braking force applied to each wheel in order to keep the car steady.

Need your brakes checked?

If your car is pulling to one side when you brake, or your brakes don’t seem to be as effective as they used to be, then you should book your car in for a brake inspection at your local Kwik Fit.

Any facts, figures and prices shown in our blog articles are correct at time of publication.

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