Car Corner
ABS - Does it work?

January 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis

Well much to my disappointment, I did not get a chance to test drive a Mustang Cobra. So this month I will give you the promised article on ABS brakes. Do they work? We will see.

What is ABS

A quick update... ABS (Anti-Lock Braking System) has been around in one form or another for quite a few years. The basic principle is that when you slam on the brakes in a panic or slippery situation the system kicks in to modulate the brakes. This modulation is what the experienced driver is supposed to do when they pump the brake pedal to avoid skidding.

The bottom line is that you can slam on the brakes as hard as you want and the braking system should be able to generate the best possible braking distances. Remember, skidding lengthens braking distances, even if it looks cool in the movies and on TV.

Does It Work

Does ABS work? In a word, Yes. When cars started coming out with ABS, many of the automotive magazines would claim that anyone could stop a car as fast as a professional driver. It was braking nirvana for all the lead footed people out there.

So What's Wrong

If ABS was so good when it came out, why is there such a controversy over them now. In a nutshell, as people have gotten used to ABS equipped cars, they have changed their driving habits. People tend to brake lighter to prevent the ABS from kicking in. There are many reasons for this, but I think the most common is that people don't trust it. Do you really want your car braking on autopilot. What we have here is people are not braking hard enough to stop their cars quickly enough.

Another problem exists that is a direct benefit of ABS. When a car skids you lose steering control. When ABS kicks in, you can still steer your car to avoid obstacles. The problem is people are steering their cars into more trouble. More and more people are driving off the road in an ABS situation. When going off the road they are causing damage that might not have occurred, or they are causing more damage.

What To Do

What are we supposed to do. Simple. Test your ABS system in a safe environment. This way you will be better equipped as a driver to know what to expect in emergency situations. Every couple of months I try and skid my car. In both wet and dry conditions. I know how my car will react, and I am not afraid to trust it in an emergency.

It Does Work, I Know

I have kept track of the number of close calls I have had with my 93 Camaro Z28. To date, the ABS system has saved me from 5 accidents. That's right, ABS works. I am a panic breaker, and because I practice panic braking with the ABS, I am confident in its ability to stop the car in far shorter distances than I could.

The Key Is Training & Education

The problem with ABS is not whether or not it works, but with proper education and training of the driver. Please practice using your ABS. It is worth the time when you get in a panic situation. I love ABS, and would have extremely high insurance rates without it (due to those 5 accidents it avoided). I will never get another new car without it.