While you are driving, your vehicle constantly monitors sensors throughout the car to ensure that everything works as intended. One of the systems being monitored is the anti-lock braking system (ABS).
The ABS monitors the wheels to make sure that they are all turning at approximately the same speed. The system can then use the brakes to keep the vehicle under control during slippery situations.
What the ABS light means
The ABS system uses sensors at each wheel to monitor their rotational speed. A computer monitors the signals from all four wheels and the position of the brake pedal to make sure that the vehicle is stable and under control.
If the computer notices any abnormal signals, or the lack of a signal from any of the sensors, it will turn the ABS light on, to alert the driver of an issue. In addition to monitoring the wheel speed sensors, the computer can turn the ABS light on for other reasons like low brake fluid levels or a blown fuse. Some ABS systems may flash the light a few times and then leave it on constantly. The number of flashes refers to a trouble code and can help you identify the issue. Refer to the vehicle repair guide or information online to determine what your ABS system is telling you when it flashes.
What to do when your ABS light is on
When the ABS light comes on, the first thing you should do is find a safe place to stop the vehicle, shut it off, and then start it up again. This will make the computer recheck all of the sensors for any abnormalities. Just like your computer at home, doing a simple reset may fix the issue and the light will shut off. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s not this easy and there may be something wrong in the system that needs to be identified. Your best option is to have a certified technician hook a scan tool up to the car and check any trouble codes that are present.
There are a few things you can check at home if you have some tools handy. You can remove the wheels to inspect the wheel speed sensors and wires for any damage.
Double check to make sure that the fuse for the ABS system hasn’t blown either. Keep in mind that replacing a blown fuse is only a temporary fix and the fuse will likely blow again at some point. You will need to identify what is causing the fuse to blow in order to fix the issue entirely, and a scan tool will most likely be necessary.
Is it safe to drive when the ABS light comes on?
Keep in mind that the vehicle may still be okay to drive even when the ABS light is on. Unless there are other brake warning lights on along with the ABS, you will still have normal braking capabilities. The vehicle won’t be able to assist you in the event of skidding however, so take extra care when driving.
The vehicle should not be driven if you feel any loss in braking power when this light is on. In this case, have the vehicle towed to a shop or have one of our certified technicians come to you to help diagnose why the ABS Light is on.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Does the ABS Warning Light Mean? and was authored by Spencer Cates.