Your instrument panel is a hub of information on how the systems in your car are running, so when you see your ABS light come in, it can be a little concerning. Here’s everything you need to know about what happens when your ABS light turns on.
The ABS light will turn on when there is a malfunction in the system monitoring the wheel speed and braking system. When it’s not working properly, your ability to stop suddenly can be impaired.
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid driving when your ABS light is on and have it fixed as soon as you can. The anti-lock braking system is an important safety feature that you need in your car.
When your truck has some miles on it, some things will start asking for maintenance and the ABS system may be one of them. With regular maintenance though, an occasional light on the dashboard is nothing too serious that can’t be taken care of with a visit to a repair shop to tighten things up and keep going.
Can Dirty Brake Fluid Make the ABS Light Come on?
Bad brake fluid can certainly make the ABS light turn on. In a similar vein, if your fluid levels are too low, then your ABS warning light might turn on to indicate that you need to resolve the problem.
Many brake systems operate on a hydraulic system and require fluid to push the pads and calipers to stop the wheel. A leak in the brake line can cause your brakes to be less effective, which is why it’s good practice to check your fluid levels as soon as you notice the ABS lights.
When the fluid is dirty it means there are particles in the oil that may get lodged inside the system and prevent the fluid from traveling freely through the system. This may affect the sensors and could thow a fault activating the ABS light.
In this situation you can have the system flushed and re-filled with new fluid. This may cost a couple hundred dollars to get done in a shop.
If you are a DIY kind of person, you can start by pumping out the fluid inside the reservoir with an external pump, then fill it with new fluid. Now, go to each wheel and remove the wheel so you can get to the brake bleeding nut. Loosen the nut at each wheel one at a time and make sure to have a bucket or something to catch the fluid into as you pump the brakes.
Then get in the vehicle and pump the brakes a few times slowly. Pump it 3 full times, then go and close the bleed nut and go to the next wheel and do the same. As you do this, MAKE SURE that you check the reservoir before moving on to the next wheel and fill more fluid into the reservoir to keep it at full level. You don’t want to run out of it as this will put air into the lines and we don’t want that.
After you flush each side of the car, close the last bleed nut and fill the reservoir with new fluid. You should have a clean system now and the light should turn off. If it doesn’t, you may need to take it into a dealer service station for them to reset the light. They may want to check over the system before they do that for liability reasons.
Can a Blown Fuse Make the ABS Light Come on?
Fuses help to regulate power throughout the systems in your car. When one goes in the fritz, it’s referred to as blown. In particular, the ABS system has a fuse going between the battery and controller to monitor the power transferred between them.
Thankfully, this issue can be fairly easy to diagnose by yourself. Open up the engine compartment and check your fuse box.
Consult your owner’s manual to determine which fuse is for the ABS system. Pull the fuse out with a pair of pliers and check the filament inside. If it’s shot, replace it to see if your ABS system is working again.
Can Low Tire Pressure Make the ABS Light Come on?
Low tire pressure can be another cause for the ABS light to appear on your instrument panel. The wheel speed sensors play a role in the monitoring of the ABS system, so if your tire pressure is low, it may cause anomalies that warrant turning on the ABS light.
Stopping by a gas station that has a tire pump station and evening out the tire pressure will help with this. These tire pump station usually have a pressure indicator that will tell you the pressure in PSI (Pressure Per Square Inch) that you can use to make sure each tire has the same pressure. A normal car or pickup truck requires an about 35 PSI of air pressure in the tires. Some more heavy duty trucks will go up to 45 PSI. You can usually find out what your tire requires by reading the indication right on the tire wall.
Other Common Causes of the ABS Light
Something that your mechanic will probably check when you take your car to the shop is how well the ABS controller is working. The controller module takes the data from the wheel sensors and determines how the braking needs to be adjusted.
When malfunctioning, your ABS light may come on as a result. Similarly, if any of the ABS sensors sending information to the controller aren’t working due to a buildup of dirt and debris, they may provide incorrect readings and cause the ABS light to come on.
Don’t mistake a faulty sensor for a problem you can ignore—the controller modifies the microprocessor controlling the brakes, and if your sensors are providing inaccurate information, the ABS won’t be able to slow the car down properly.
Last of all, you might want to check if your car has an option to turn off the ABS from the cabin. Depending on where this switch is, it can be quite easy to hit by accident, causing the ABS and traction control systems to be disabled. Consult your owner’s manual to find the switch and see if it was turned off by accident.
Is It Safe to Drive a Car with ABS Light on?
You shouldn’t be driving if your ABS light is on. While it may not impair your ability to drive in general, a malfunction in the ABS system can cause serious injury to you or others if you need to hit the brakes hard.
Anti-locking is incredibly important in slowing down the vehicle faster, and an essential safety feature. If you need to slam the brakes, remember to pump them to keep traction and stop your wheels from seizing up.
If your brakes are locking, unresponsive, or extremely difficult to press, it might be worth having your car towed to the auto shop.
Although the braking ability does not disappear when the light come on, the ability to stop suddenly may be impaired.
So if someone pulls out in front of you and you need to stop all of a sudden, you would still be able to stop normally but the antilock system that manages the wheels from locking up and skidding while braking will not be working correctly so you will probably skid to a stop, which takes a longer length of road to come to a complete stop. During an emergency stop you may not have such a luxury as extra length of road to use.
Can ABS Light Be Reset?
The only way to reset your ABS light is to get it checked out at an auto repair shop, perhaps even one that specializes in brake systems. Using a code reader, they will be able to diagnose the source of the issue. As a matter of course, they will check the entirety of the braking system for other malfunctions to make sure you’re clear to drive on the road again.
On most cars the regular OBD2 reader from an auto parts store that you can borrow will not reset the light but on some it will, so before taking it into a shop, I would stop by an auto parts store and ask them to borrow the reader and see if you can reset it.
How Do You Diagnose an ABS System?
In general, it’s best to leave braking systems to the pros. Not only is the ABS system quite complex, but if you’re not mechanically minded, then making repairs to the ABS system yourself could put you in more danger. You can, however, potentially save a little money on labor if you get a code reader and try to diagnose the problem yourself.
Repair Costs for ABS Problems
ABS repairs can vary in price, but two of the most common replacements needed are sensor replacements and module replacements. Sensor replacements will run you $150-$250, while the module replacement can cost up to $600, depending on the type of car you have.
The ABS light is an important indicator that you shouldn’t ignore under any circumstances. This system provides crucial information so that your car can brake properly when you need to slam on the brakes.
If you see this light appear, the best course of action is to take it straight to a mechanic. After all, driving with impaired brakes on the road is a hazard to you and those around you.
Valik loves tinkering in the garage and is currently restoring a 2000 GMC Sierra 1500 truck. He also writes about the progress on this blog. When not in the garage, Valik is also a web developer and a blogger. I know, strange, a hand in two completely different worlds. And that is the way he likes to keep it.