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What Are Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS)?

Feb 4, 2021 ·

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Have you ever been driving down the road and suddenly had to hit your brakes to avoid a collision? This can be scary, but it is something almost everyone has encountered at one time or another.

Thanks to anti-lock braking systems (ABS), today’s vehicles are safer than ever before. ABS is now standard on almost all new cars and motorcycles, and it helps with traction control and the driver’s ability to steer while braking.

So what exactly are anti-lock braking systems, and how do they work? Keep reading to learn all about these systems and what automotive technicians need to know.

What Are Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS)?

No matter how good of a driver you are, you’ve probably had to step down hard on the brake pedal to avoid a collision. When this happens, the wheels of your car can lock up, preventing the vehicle from stopping.

As a result, the wheels can lose traction and cause the vehicle to skid across the road. It can also cause the driver to lose the ability to steer, resulting in the vehicle spinning out of control.

Anti-lock braking systems, which are also referred to as anti-skid braking systems, are designed to prevent this from happening. Essentially, they keep a vehicle’s wheels from locking up when braking.

When Was ABS Invented?

Anti-lock brakes were first tested on railway cars and aircraft in the 1950s. Around this time, the braking system was also implemented on motorcycle prototypes to help prevent skidding and loss of traction.

By the 1960s, the system was used on the world’s first four-wheel drive Formula One car. From here, Daimler and Mercedes-Benz began working on a system that could be applied to cars. After much trial and error, Mercedes-Benz revealed the technology at a Daimler test track in 1978.

From then on, anti-lock braking systems were implemented in more and more cars. Today, it’s a standard in almost all cars — and it's safe to say ABS has greatly improved the safety of the roads we drive on.

How Do Anti-Lock Brakes Work?

At this point you might be wondering, “How do anti-lock brakes work?” To better understand the answer to this question, let’s break down the main components of anti-lock braking systems.

A Breakdown of the Anti-Lock Braking System

Anti-lock braking system graphic

Image Credit: How Stuff Works

  • Speed sensors: Detect how fast the wheels rotate
  • Valves: Located in the brake line, these stop and release pressure on the brakes
  • Pump: Applies pressure to the calipers, or brake drums, and are filled with hydraulic fluid
  • Controller: Takes data from the sensors and controls when to pump the brakes

Not all anti-lock braking systems are the same, but they generally work by pumping the brakes when the driver is heavily braking. The sensors on the wheels help monitor when the brakes are applied, and then will release and reapply the brakes to prevent locking from happening.

How Effective Are Anti-Lock Brakes?

According to a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation:

  • ABS reduces the overall crash-involvement rate by 6% for passenger cars and 8% for LTVs (light trucks, including pickup trucks and SUVs)
  • Fatal collisions with pedestrians, bicyclists or animals decrease with ABS: by 13% for cars and 14% for LTVs
  • Culpable fatal involvements with other vehicles on wet, snowy or icy roads were reduced by 12% for passenger cars

Additionally, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the rate of fatal crashes is 31% lower for motorcycles equipped with ABS than for the same models without them.

One thing to note is that while anti-lock braking systems have proven to be very effective on normal road conditions, they can be less effective in certain conditions, such as if there is ice, snow and gravel on the road. These elements can bring additional challenges and make it harder for the vehicle to stop, even with ABS.

When driving during extreme weather, it’s important not to assume ABS will work exactly the way it would in normal conditions. Always exercise caution by driving slowly, allowing more room for the vehicle to stop, and by paying close attention to how your car is reacting to the road.

What Automotive Technicians Need to Know

It’s important for automotive technicians to understand all of the different components of modern-day vehicles, including anti-lock braking systems. This allows them to diagnose, maintain and repair the vehicles they work on, which helps keep their customers safe on the road.

Some automotive technicians choose to train for their career on the job, but many employers prefer to hire those who have completed a formal training program, like UTI’s Automotive Technology program.1

Over the course of just 51 weeks,7 students in this program learn everything from engine service and repair to service writing, electronic systems, powertrains and transmissions. Students also take a course that exclusively focuses on vehicle brake systems, where they learn to diagnose anti-lock braking systems.

Completing an automotive training program can open the door to a variety of career opportunities, whether it be at a dealership, repair facility, rental agency or even a race shop. If you love working with your hands and solving problems, this might be the perfect career path for you.

Train for a Career in the Auto Industry

UTI’s Automotive Technology program is available at campus locations across the country. Classes begin every three to six weeks, so you can get on track to your career sooner.

To learn more, visit our program page and request information to get in touch with an Admissions Representative today. In the meantime, feel free to check out these helpful resources:

UTI Campuses That Offer Automotive Technician Training

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1) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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