How Much Do You Know About Anti-Lock Brakes?

By: Bambi Turner
Image: Getty Images via Kosmozoo

About This Quiz

You keep your eyes on the road, maintain proper following distance and keep your car in top shape -- but none of that matters if your car skids off the road while you're trying to brake. Fortunately, anti-lock brakes can keep your car from skidding, but do you really know how to get the most from this feature? Take our quiz to find out!

Everyone knows you should pump your brakes if you feel your car skidding, but what if your car is equipped with anti-lock braking, or ABS technology? This feature, standard in most modern cars, uses special sensors to keep your wheels from locking up -- which can be a huge help when you feel your car sliding toward a ditch.

While it can be easy to take this technology for granted, it takes an incredible amount of coordination of the systems in your car to keep ABS performing as it should. Special sensors in the car sense rapid deceleration -- that's you slamming on the brakes -- and alert a series of valves to quickly adjust the pressure to the wheels. This helps to control acceleration, reduce sliding and increase traction, and all you have to do is put your foot on the brake pedal.

Think you know everything about this important safety feature? Prove it with this quiz!


Which of these is correct regarding anti-lock brakes?

Before anti-locks brakes, pumping the brake pedal helped you maintain control of the car during a skid. If you pump the brakes in a car with ABS, you're defeating the entire purpose of the system -- and putting yourself at greater risk. That's why '90s safety campaigns used slogans like "Stomp, Stay and Steer."

What is the primary benefit of ABS?

The primary benefit of ABS is that it prevents the wheels from locking up -- which means you retain control of the steering. While this technology can reduce stopping time or distance, this isn't always necessarily the case.

What happens if you pump anti-lock brakes?

While it's true long-ingrained habits can be tough to break, you really, really should train yourself never to pump anti-lock brakes. As soon as you take your foot off the brake, the ABS stops working, which means your car just keeps moving.

Why do non-ABS brakes cause problems if you stop too quickly?

When you slam on the brakes in a car without anti-lock brakes, the wheels can lock up. This means you lose steering control, and the car can skid off the road. Anti-lock brakes help you retain control and prevent the wheels from locking up.

Which of these is not one of the main components of an anti-lock braking system?

A standard anti-lock brake system has four main components. They include the sensors on the wheels, the valves on the brake lines, the pump attached to the brake lines and a control panel or computer to control the entire system a whole lot faster than you could possibly pump the brakes manually.

What are the sensors in an ABS system designed to detect?

When you instinctively slam your foot on the brake, the tires decelerate rapidly -- way more rapidly than a car could possibly stop, which leads to skidding. The sensors in an ABS system detect this deceleration and react quickly to control it.

What does it mean when your brake pedal pulses while you try to stop?

Modern ABS systems cause the brake pedal to pump up to 15 times per second when the system is engaged. Relax -- this pumping might feel disarming, but it means the system is working like it's supposed to.

What is the computer in an anti-lock brake system called?

Modern anti-lock brake systems are controlled by computer systems that regulate the pressure in the brake lines and control each wheel of the vehicle independently. This advanced computer may be called a CAB for computer anti-lock brakes.

What's the best way to find out if your car has ABS?

Never assume your car does -- or doesn't -- have ABS. Instead, check the owner's manual to be sure. You can also look for an ABS symbol -- the letters ABS in a circle -- on the dashboard when you turn on the ignition.

Which of these affects whether anti-lock brakes work as intended?

A whole host of factors determine whether ABS brakes work or fail. According to the National Safety Council, common causes of failure include user error -- that would be pumping, or driving too fast -- as well as worn brake linings, under-inflated or bald tires, or dirt in the brake fluid.

Most anti-lock brake systems only impact the rear wheels.

For cars and most minivans, ABS systems use sensors on all four wheels. Some light trucks and SUVs use ABS only on the rear wheels, which means only the rear wheels are controlled by the ABS system while the two front tires are not.

In what year did the federal government require ABS in all new vehicles?

Believe it or not, it wasn't until September 1, 2011, that all new vehicles in the U.S. were required by the federal government to be equipped with ABS. This ruling came in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard #126.

For Which of these were the earliest anti-lock brakes created?

The earliest attempts at ABS were made in the railroad and aircraft industries, not the automotive world. Attempts at ABS-like systems on railroads were developed as early as 1908, while aircraft manufacturers came up with ABS-like systems in the 1920s.

Scientists from this country filed the first patents for anti-lock braking technology.

German engineer Karl Wessel filed the first patent for ABS in 1928, while another German engineer named Robert Bosch filed a similar patent in the 1930s. Neither produced a commercially viable version of ABS, so their contributions to the technology have largely been overshadowed.

How much did anti-lock brakes reduce braking distance on '50s aircraft?

By the 1950s, aircraft manufacturers in the U.K. were using an ABS system that cut braking distance by 30 percent. Known as Dunlop Maxaret, it not only helped planes stop sooner, it also made tires last longer and allowed takeoffs and landings in conditions that wouldn't have been possible in prior years.

With its Sure-Track technology, this automaker was the first to use anti-lock brakes in a car.

Ford utilized the Sure-Track anti-skid system in passenger cars starting in the late '60s, making it the first major automaker to do it. Available only on the rear wheels, Sure-Track was available on both the Thunderbird and the Continental Mark III and IV.

In 1971, this brand was the first to use ABS on all four wheels.

Chrysler became the first major car maker to use anti-lock brakes on all four wheels with the 1971 Chrysler Imperial. This Sure-Track option was priced around $350 -- on a car that started at around $6,000.

How many times did the brake pedal pulse per second on 1971 Chrysler Imperials equipped with the Sure-Track anti-skid system?

Compared to today's ABS systems, the Sure-Track system used on the 1971 Chrysler was fairly basic. Thanks to a less advanced computer and sensors than those used today, it pumped the brake pedal only around four times a second -- compared to the 15 times a second or more that modern ABS systems are capable of.

What percentage of Chrysler Imperial buyers in the early '70s chose to spring for the ABS option?

In the early '70s, the Chrysler Imperial was one of just a few cars equipped with ABS in the form of the Sure-Track anti-skid system. Only around 5 percent of buyers splurged on this option, and Chrysler quietly dropped it as an option in the 1974 models.

This company was the first to use an electronic four-wheel multi-channel ABS system in its S-class sedans starting in 1978.

Despite earlier efforts by Chrysler and Ford, it was Mercedes that introduced the technology closest to the ABS in use today. Starting with the 1978 W1116, the company offered an electronic four-wheel, multi-channel ABS system that had been in development for more than a decade.

What effect does ABS have on the rate of multi-vehicle crashes on wet roads?

A 2007 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the use of ABS reduces the rate of multi-vehicle crashes on wet roads by 24 percent overall.

An ABS increases the risk of single-vehicle accidents.

A 2007 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that an ABS doesn't always reduce crash risk. In fact, it increases the risk of non-fatal single-vehicle crashes -- including rollovers and impacts with fixed objects -- by 19 percent.

How much does a two-wheel anti-lock braking system cut rollover risk in non-fatal crashes?

Two-wheel ABS is fairly common on some trucks and SUVs. This technology is associated with a 30 to 40 percent reduction in rollover risk and a 15 to 30 percent reduction in side impact crashes compared to vehicles without ABS, according to a 2007 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

What is the overall, long-term effect of ABS on fatal crashes?

A 2009 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveals that the use of ABS has a near net zero effect on fatal crash risk compared to the risk faced by cars without ABS. This is because ABS cuts the risk of multi-vehicle accidents while increasing the rate of single-vehicle, off-road crashes.

What impact does greater ABS use have on pedestrians?

A 2009 study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the widespread use of ABS has a net positive effect on pedestrians, cyclists and animals -- reducing the risk of a fatal crash by 13 percent for cars.

Which of these should be combined with ABS for greater safety?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one-third of all fatal crashes could be prevented if all cars with ABS were also equipped with ESC -- or electronic stability control systems. ESC takes ABS to the next level to maximize the driver's control of the vehicle.

ABS actually increases stopping distance on this surface:

A 2009 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that ABS increased stopping distance on gravel by around 28 percent. The same report noted that ABS decreased stopping distance by 5 percent on dry concrete and 14 percent on wet concrete.

What year did more than half of passenger cars come equipped with ABS for the first time?

While ABS has been around since the '70s, it didn't really become widespread until GM added it to all its vehicles in the early '90s. By 1994, more than half of all passengers cars were equipped with ABS.

What does ABS do to help you when you skid accelerating too fast around a curve on a dry road?

Remember -- ABS only works when you're braking. It won't help at all if you're skidding because you've accelerated too fast around the curve.

How does ABS affect steering?

ABS is designed to help you maintain control of the steering wheel during a skid. When ABS kicks in, steering and controlling the car will be easier than it would be on a skidding car without ABS.

How does ABS affect motorcycles?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveals that the use of ABS can be hugely beneficial for motorcyclists. In fact, bikes with ABS have a 31 percent lower crash risk than bikes that are not equipped with this technology.

What is the standard number of ABS channels on a passenger car?

A standard ABS system on a passenger car uses four channels, or sensors. This means that all four wheels can be monitored and controlled independently.

Which of these is most important for driver safety?

All the latest and greatest technology won't help much if you're not practicing safe driving skills. While ABS can help, driving safely, maintaining your vehicle and keeping your eyes on the road are some of the most important factors contributing to driver safety.

What happens if your anti-lock brakes fail?

Like any system in a car, anti-lock brakes can fail or malfunction. When this happens, your brakes will still work just like the normal brakes on a car that isn't equipped with ABS.

What happens if you take your foot off the pedal when you have ABS and your car is skidding?

When you skid in a car that has ABS, you must keep your foot on the brake pedal for the ABS system to work. As soon as you lift your foot, the ABS system stops working and the brakes are no longer engaged.

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