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Car Brakes: All About The ABS Brake System & Brake Types

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While driving, you hardly think about the inner workings of your car. Until something unexpected happens and you quickly step down on your brake pedal.

At that point, you’re glad that your car brakes are at 100%, preventing a nasty collision.

But have you ever wondered how car brakes work
And if your car has an ABS brake system to stop your vehicle in a hurry? 

In this article, we’ll explain how car brakes work, what an Anti Lock Brake System is, its main components, and its advantages. We’ll also discover the five Anti Lock Braking System types and address some FAQs on brakes. 

This Article Contains: 

Let’s brake right in!

How Do Brakes Work? 

While your vehicle is moving, it produces a lot of kinetic energy. You need friction that converts this kinetic energy into heat to reduce the vehicle speed and stop your car. 

Your car brakes provide this friction. 

How? 
All modern vehicles come equipped with hydraulic brakes. When you press the brake pedal, you force a connected piston into the master cylinder. The master cylinder contains hydraulic fluid (brake fluid) and is connected to a wheel cylinder (drum brake) or brake caliper (disc brake) on each wheel via a brake line. 

As the amount of brake fluid or hydraulic fluid being pushed into a wheel cylinder remains the same, it creates hydraulic pressure. The hydraulic system multiplies the force applied on the brake pedal and splits it between the four wheels of your car. 

Depending upon your car’s brake type, the brake fluid pressure reaches the wheel cylinders or brake calipers. The hydraulic pressure presses the brake pads against a rotor disc (in a disc brake) or brake shoe against a drum (in a drum brake.) This action produces enough friction to stop your vehicle. 

Usually, modern cars have disc brakes with a rotor on the front wheels and a drum brake on the rear brakes. But, expensive models may have a disc brake on all four wheels. 

Today, both disc brakes and drum brakes come equipped with several safety features, like an ABS braking system or traction control, to give you better control in different driving conditions. 

So what’s an ABS brake system? 
Let’s find that out next. 

What’s An ABS Brake System

ABS brakes or the Anti Lock Braking System is a safety feature incorporated in aircraft and land vehicles like cars, trucks, and motorcycles. This brake system prevents wheel lock-up and skidding during sudden braking or when braking on a slippery surface. 

So how does an Anti Lock Braking System work? 

The Anti Lock Brake System is an automated system based on threshold braking and cadence braking. 

In ABS brakes, the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) monitors a car’s wheel speed via wheel speed sensors (ABS sensor). 

When a wheel sensor detects a possible wheel lock, it relays the data to the ECU, which releases and applies braking pressure rapidly (20 times per second) to prevent the wheel from locking up. 

This helps maintain control over your vehicle, even during sudden braking or heavy braking. That said, ABS may increase the braking distance while improving steering control.

Curious to know more about anti lock brakes?
Let’s go over its components.

4 Main Components Of An ABS Brake System 

Here’s an overview of the primary ABS components:

A. Wheel Speed Sensors

A wheel speed sensor determines the speed of an individual wheel. These sensors use a toothed wheel and an electromagnetic coil to generate a signal.

B. Valves

Each brake line contains a valve controlled by the antilock braking system. When it’s in position one or open, the brake fluid pressure from the master cylinder reaches the brakes. 

At position two, the valve blocks the line and isolates the brake from the master cylinder to prevent pressure from rising further during hard braking. 

In position three, the valve releases the brake fluid pressure. 

C. Pump

The pump’s function is to restore hydraulic pressure to the ABS brakes after the valves have released brake pressure.  

D. Controller

The ABS control module (or controller) is an electronic unit that receives data from an individual wheel speed sensor. 

If a wheel loses traction, the wheel speed sensor sends the signal to the ABS controller, which limits the brake force. 

The ABS control module often works in tandem with traction control and electronic stability control to offer a safer driving experience, especially during emergency braking. 

Now that you know what an ABS braking system is, it also makes sense to know the different ABS types. 

5 ABS Types

You can differentiate ABS braking systems based on the number of channels or valves individually controlled by the ABS controller and the number of wheel speed sensors (ABS sensor.) 

Accordingly, anti lock brakes can fall under five categories. 
These are: 

1. Four-Channel, Four-Sensor ABS

A  four channel or four wheel abs has a speed sensor installed on each front and rear wheel, and has a separate valve for each wheel. 

The ABS control unit monitors each wheel individually to ensure maximum braking force. 

2. Three-Channel, Four-Sensor ABS

This anti lock brake system has a speed sensor on each wheel and a valve for each front wheel. But there’s a common valve for the rear tires. 

3. Three-Channel, Three-Sensor ABS

This ABS system has a speed sensor and valve on each front wheel. But there’s only one valve and one sensor for both rear wheels. The rear sensor is located on the rear axle. 

This type of ABS is commonly found on pickup trucks. 

4. Two-Channel, Four-Sensor ABS

This variation has a speed sensor on each wheel but only one valve for both front and rear tires. 

So, when the ABS controller detects a wheel lockup, it pulses the valve for both front or rear car wheels. This system is commonly found in old passenger cars. 

5. One-Channel, One-Sensor ABS

This anti lock braking system has only one valve for the rear brakes and one sensor on the rear axle. 

Both rear wheels need to lock up for the ABS system to kick in. It’s commonly found on pickup trucks, SUVs, and vans. 

But why are ABS brakes the toast of the town? 
What are the benefits? 

Let’s find out. 

4 Advantages Of ABS

Here are the four primary benefits of having an antilock braking system in your vehicle:  

1.  Enhanced Stopping Power: ABS brakes significantly reduce the chances of a wheel lock during hard braking. This prevents vehicle skidding, especially on a slippery surface. 

2. Decreased Insurance Costs: ABS brakes can lower the risks of accidents, thereby keeping your insurance payments under check. 

3. Enhanced Resale Value: ABS is a standard feature in most vehicles today. Not having one means that your vehicle will have a lesser resale value

4. Improves Traction Control: ABS systems and advanced traction control share the same infrastructures. This makes it easier and cost-effective for manufacturers to install traction control along with ABS in the factory. 

With all that ABS info under your belt, let’s move on to some brake FAQs. 

3 FAQs About Car Brakes 

Here are answers to some common car brakes related questions:  

1. What Are The Different Types Of Car Brakes? 

There are generally three types of car brakes: 

A. Disc Brakes

A disc brake comprises a disc rotor (brake rotor) attached directly to the wheel and a wheel caliper that holds the brake pads against a brake rotor. 

The hydraulic pressure from the master cylinder causes the wheel caliper to press the brake pad on either side of the brake rotors. The resulting friction from a brake pad slows and stops your vehicle. 

B. Drum Brakes 

Drum brakes feature a brake drum attached to the inside of the wheel. 

When brake force is exerted through the brake pedal, it causes the hydraulic pressure to press the brake shoe with brake lining (friction material) against the brake drum. 

This generates the braking force, causing your vehicle to stop. 

C. Emergency Brake

Also known as a parking brake, the emergency brake is a secondary braking system in your vehicle. It works independently of the conventional brakes and is powered by cables to apply mechanical brake pressure on all wheels.  

A parking brake helps keep a vehicle stationary when parked. But you can also use it for emergency braking if the conventional brakes fail. 

2. Do All New Cars Have An ABS Brake System?

All new brakes (hydraulic brakes) come with an anti lock braking system as standard. 

As of September 2012, the USA’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated ABS brakes and Electronic Stability Control on all vehicles. 

Likewise, since 2004, ABS has been mandatory on all new passenger cars sold in the EU. 

3. What To Do If I See My ABS Light On?

An illuminated ABS light indicates that your ABS brakes are failing and might stop working soon. 

However, ensure that the light points to a malfunctioning ABS and not the primary brake kit. So check your primary brake system first for issues like:

Else, if the brakes feel squishy, it could indicate air in the brake fluid, for which you’ll need to bleed the brake line

Wrapping Up 

Car brakes with an anti-lock braking system are a crucial feature that can help prevent a nerve-wracking incident on the road. 

So if you’re facing any glitch in your car brakes or the ABS, contact RepairSmith.

With RepairSmith, you get:

Contact us, and our mechanics will drop by to do any brake repair, like fixing squeaky brakes, replacing brake calipers or pads, tire rotation, or installing a new brake kit right in your driveway!