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What You Should Check If The ABS Light Came On

by Joan Newsome
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The ABS light in your car warns you of any issues with the anti-lock braking system. There are several possible reasons behind those issues, and several solutions. Here’s what you should check if the ABS light came on.

What Is an Anti-Lock Braking System

Back in the day, pressing the brakes in a car simply stopped the wheels from turning. At higher speeds, this could lead to skidding and, as a result, loss of control. Experienced drivers would “pump the brakes,” i.e., they would press and release the brake repeatedly to prevent the wheels from locking. Today, the anti-lock braking system, or ABS, accomplishes the same thing automatically.

All modern cars are required to have an ABS, so it’s important to understand how it works. Each wheel has its own sensor to gauge its speed. If one of the wheels is moving slower than the others while braking, the ABS computer will quickly release the brake on that wheel, effectively “pumping the brakes” and preventing a lock-up. For that reason, you should never pump the brakes in a modern car, as it won’t have the same effect as in the past.

What Can Go Wrong

For ABS to work, the wheel sensors, the central computer, and the connections between them all have to run smoothly together. An issue with any of them could be the reason the ABS light came on. The problem could also be a blown or missing fuse not supplying power to the ABS.

The ABS light coming on does not necessarily mean the system is broken, but it is a warning signal. It tells you that some part of the system needs maintenance. That could mean:

  • Faulty or dirty wheel sensors
  • A faulty wire
  • An issue with the computer
  • A blown fuse
  • Low brake fluid

What You Should Check

The simplest place to start is to check the brake fluid level. If it is below the designated mark, you’ll need to buy a bottle and refill it. While it is important to keep the level high enough, it’s also easy to do.

If the brake fluid is not the issue, check your fuses. You can find a guide in the manual, and sometimes a chart in the car itself. It’s a good idea to always keep a set of spare fuses in your vehicle. Replacing a blown fuse is pretty urgent, but also not beyond most people’s ability.

If neither of the above is the problem, you might be looking at a larger investment — and a job for a professional. One thing you can still do is to check the wheel sensors for any dirt build-up. To do this, you will have to remove the wheels, so you’ll need space and tools, not to mention a service manual.

Finally, if none of the above is the problem, there is probably an issue with the ABS itself. The good news is that the brakes should still work until you get the system fixed. The bad news is that you probably won’t be able to do it yourself. So if your ABS light came on and you can’t determine the cause, you’ll have to call a professional.

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