Anti-lock braking system - what you should know

Ever had to put your foot on the brake pretty hard, and felt a juddering from your car? That would have been your ABS - but is ABS and why do we have it?


By Marmalade Author

Updated on Aug 3rd, 2022

Ever had to put your foot on the brake pretty hard, and felt a juddering from your car? That would have been your ABS - but the heck is ABS and why do we have it? Anti-lock braking system (ABS) is a safety system fitted into the majority of cars, which allows the driver to remain in control of the vehicle under hard braking. It works by allowing the wheels of the car to remain in contact with the road surface by preventing the wheels from locking. ABS avoids uncontrolled skidding and can help reduce your stopping distance. So, you’re driving along and you spot a danger ahead which means you hitting the brakes hard, your ABS will step in and stop your brakes and wheels from locking. If your wheels did lock, you would more than likely lose control of the vehicle completely.

It is highly likely that your car has ABS fitted. Since its development in 1929, and further development in the mid-1980’s, nearly every car these days has ABS. Not only does it help with sudden and harsh braking, but it also helps stabilise your car when cornering.

How does ABS work?

If the ABS system senses a wheel locking when the brakes are applied, it will automatically use a set of hydraulic valves to open and close the braking pressure, giving the impression that you are pumping the brakes. This will help prevent your car from skidding and veering off the road - pretty clever right?!

What happens if my ABS fails?

ABS ‘pumps the brakes’ faster than what you can do manually, which is why they are featured on the majority of cars these days. If your ABS fails, or you have an older car where it's not fitted, then it’s good to know what to do. If you’re driving along a slippery surface and you brake hard, your wheels may lock and your car will skid. If this does happen, you can release the brake pedal and firmly pump it up and down. This is the same action as the ABS and should unlock the wheels and help you to gain control of the vehicle. Remember, make sure you drive normally and steer at the same time. Although a scary experience, it may end up being worse if you don’t try and remain in control of the vehicle.

My stopping distance..?

ABS is great, but you shouldn’t become reliant on it. Having ABS fitted is not an excuse for speeding in hazardous conditions, late braking, or tailgating. Even though you may have ABS fitted, you still need to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

Get set for the open road!

No fuss black box insurance helps young drivers stay safe and build confidence on the roads
Get a quote on telematics insurance and see how much you can save!

By Marmalade Author

Providing tips and advice for young drivers on all aspects of driving - from getting through the driving test to buying and running your first car.

Related Blogs

In-car tech: Cruise control

As part of our in-car tech month, we’re looking at cruise control and how it could be a bigger help than you may have thought.

Knowing your dashboard lights

Ever wondered what that light on your dashboard means - and when to worry? Well we've got all the information you need right here.


Parent advice

Advice and guides for parents helping their learner driver on their driving journey.

black box myth busters

Black Box Mythbusters

There’s a lot of misconceptions around driving with a black box – we’ve got the facts on what’s true and false!

friends happy on phones

Visit the Driver Hub

Check out the latest stories and blogs from young drivers

ICS member logo
Customer Service Excellence Awards
BIBA scheme provider logo
First car award 2019 winner logo